Grandma Rocke, A Self Help Book

In a portion of my recent interview with my dad’s mom, I was shocked and humbled by some of her responses. I asked her for a fond memory of her parents…and she launched into the details of her dad’s premature death, and the fact that she then became her mother’s right hand. While these were details that I did want to know, it didn’t answer my question, so I redirected her to “fun” family nights, vacations, weekend getaways, etc.

Silence. Vacation? “No, honey. The first time I took a trip was with your grandfather for our honeymoon.”

My mind flashed to the camping trips my parents took me and my four siblings on every summer of my youth. We camped in every state except for Hawaii and Alaska, and while we were always on a budget, we did incredibly fun outdoors activities, like white water rafting in Oregon, camping next to the California Red Woods, and hiking down into Crater Lake. One year we even splurged big time and went to Orlando for Christmas.

My grandmother, however, had not been privy to these childhood luxuries. She helped raise her siblings, cooked, canned, and gardened at a young age; she dropped out of high school her sophomore year when she joined the church. After committing her life to the Lord, the expectation was that she was grown enough to quit school and get a job; her situation was taking up a job as a nanny with a local family, making $2 a week in turn for caring for two children.

She didn’t attend school dances, participate in local activities, sports, or otherwise usual childhood experiences. She helped her mother, raised her siblings, and served the Lord.

Nicholas and I recently booked a cruise to the Eastern Caribbean, and it’s literally the only thing we talk about at night…we read cruise reviews until we fall asleep, and check our “cruise countdown” app every morning.

I recognize the stark difference in my current life and that of my grandmother, and I listened in awe of her as she spoke so matter-of-factly about her life. Her voice didn’t resound with an invitation of pity or empathy for the childhood she experienced, the challenges of being married to a beekeeper who often didn’t make enough money to get through the Midwestern winter, or her current situation as a patient/guest at the nursing home; she speaks of her past with the same tone of voice she does about the Chinese food she had on Monday for her 98th birthday celebration. She sees the world through a lense of thankfulness. She’d never dream of being ungrateful of her experiences or wishing for more.

Every time I call her, and ask her about her care, she raves about the nursing home: the food? “Amazing. I couldn’t dream of more. Do you know they have unlimited ice cream? And for my birthday, they were willing to go to any local restaurant and get me anything I wanted. Of course, I asked for Chinese food.”

She’s incredibly resilient, and has so much to teach me.

I keep ordering and reading books about leadership, inspiration, and otherwise “self help” type books for my new career. The reality is, all I really need to do is keep interviewing my grandmother, and replay the audio when I need to refocus. Her life stories, experience, and wisdom is more powerful than any book I could order from Amazon—and I get the bonus of hearing her sweet, raspy voice with each replay on my audio. What a gift she is to me.

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Long Distance Calls and A Pending Interview

Phone chats with my grandmother are some of my happiest minutes, especially when the minutes turn into hours.

As I child, I loved time with my mom’s parents, as they were easy to love, patient beyond what I deem normal, and had pretty wild imaginations. From “Honky Tonk’s Pizza Parlor” (see an early post dedicated to this) to the jaunts to a local lake in the summer, and basement billiard lessons, they really were a bag of surprises.

As close as I felt to them growing up, I would have never imagined that as a 30-something, I’d be lucky enough to still have regular, lengthy, important, and grounded conversations with my now 93 year old grandmother.

Tonight on my trek home from Kentucky, I chatted with her for more than an hour, and as usual, we covered recent news in about ten minutes, and then launched into the good stuff—old stories from a time I can only stretch my mind to imagine as I hear the age in her voice, her childlike laughter over old valentines she found from 1915, and the jagged cracks of emotion when she retold something about grandpa.

I sometimes feel guilty for moving away, because I only visit a couple of times a year, and there’s never enough time in a dinner or evening with her. But the truth is, it was the moving away that instigated the phone chats, and I imagine we talk a lot more than we would if she was right under my nose. It’s easy to say I’d visit all the time, and maybe I would, but I wouldn’t trade anything for those long distance calls.

I made a laundry list of questions that I want to know about her younger years, her marriage to grandpa, her perspective of the egg business, etc. and asked her tonight if we could “schedule” some interview time. It’s selfish, really…I want to capture as much of her spirit as I can; I lost this chance already with grandpa and don’t want to squander the present with her. So her interview begins this weekend (especially if she’s snowed in–I’ll have a captive audience!) 🙂

At work last week, the trainees were asked to think about our motivation–why we want to be successful, and what our goals are. When thinking about what motivates and inspires me, I saw her face in my mind and remembered her voice on the phone a couple years ago when I was telling her about my master’s degree. She told me she was proud of me for working so hard–and that’s a moment I’ll never forget.

I can’t wait to start her interview, as I know it’s more time I get to hear the great stories of our family; more importantly, it’ll be a document that can outwit time.

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Fish Filet Lessons, Rocke Style

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When I was kid, I was pretty “squeamish,” as my mom would say.  I hated the sight of blood, despised butchering day, and wouldn’t even consider touching a worm long enough to get it on my fishing hook.  I suppose this is probably par for the course for most girls, but as a “farm girl” with three brothers, I think the expectation was that I should be a little tougher.

This summer, my youngest brother, who is the closest person I’ll ever know to a real cowboy and professional fisherman, was catching and filleting fish in mass quantities at my sister’s lake house in central Illinois.  The family was all in town for the 4th of July, and what I assumed would be a leisure day in the hammock, turned in to a blood bath of catfish and walleye.

I kept watching Jeff skillfully turn a flopping lake catch into two fine filets of dinner, and decided I really  needed to know how to do this, too.  I think he thought I was kidding when I asked him to teach me–my white ruffled skirt was trimmed in delicate lace, and I had a pretty fresh manicure, but I was ready to take over the knife.

I’ll spare the bloody details, but after a few rounds of coaching, I did a pretty decent job of prepping a good size catfish for the fryer.  It sounds terrible, but after I did a few, I wanted to filet every fish that was unfortunate enough to be hooked that day.  We dredged filets in this yummy cornmeal called “Fish Fry” and golden-fried fish all day.

I know I didn’t master something crazy hard, but I was oddly proud of myself, and felt like I added a “skill” to my arsenal that I just may need some day.  You know, just in case I ever get stuck in the wilderness with a stream and a knife.

I still have a pretty weak stomach and am certainly not signing up to help with butchering day ever again, but the next time we’re all gathered and fishing at my sister’s, maybe I’ll give the knife lessons. 🙂

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September Resolutions

I know it’s a little early for New Years resolutions, but my cousin, Jolynn Hodel, posted a new blog tonight; it was her final post about their journey to a new home this past year, and I got to thinking about all the changes you never imagine will happen, and the hindsight that allows you to realize it’s all in a perfect plan.

I lost two great men in my life this year, my grandfather in March and my dad “Poppi” in July. My husband left a 14 year career without a new job secured, and my parents sold the only childhood home I ever lived in. I ended the only “career” I’ve ever known and have two degrees in a file folder that are, at the moment, irrelevant. And if that wasn’t enough change, an age old friendship ended abruptly this summer without explanation.

I’ve written before about change and transition, and at the risk of sounding redundant, I wanted to wrap up the changes like a Christmas present, and take this time to be thankful, press forward, and make some resolutions.

I resolve to have faith, in spite of the the need I have for control.
I resolve to spend time with the people closest to me because tomorrow is never promised.
I resolve to not be complacent in a job just because it’s easy.
I resolve to only maintain the relationships in my life that are positive and good for me.
I resolve to always remember where I came from, and keep calling my grandmothers every week.
I resolve to continue “Sunday gravy,” Italian style, even though very batch of red sauce stings a little.
I resolve to worry less about money, but keep shopping at Aldis.

And I resolve to eat a few more greens and drink less wine. 🙂

I know it’s just September, but a cooler night reminds me again that the seasons start over, and so should we. So here’s to a new season, a few resolutions, and a reminder that the only constant in life is change.

Random Tips and Tricks: A Partial List

Today I was planning the menu for my sales meeting on Friday, and as I pondered ideas of possible soups, Paninis, flatbreads, and crostinis, I thought about my former colleagues who are probably already knee deep in essays to grade; it’s funny how quickly we can adjust to new things in life.

Anyway, I’ve been thinking a lot about little tips and tricks, (mostly for the kitchen, but a few others) that have become “normal” to me, although I didn’t learn most of them until I was an adult. While they may be fairly common, I wanted to share a few—just for giggles—in case anyone discovers a new tidbit here. (And I apologize in advance if these are too obvious, but I went at least 20+ years not knowing most of this list.)

The inspiration here began when a friend/salesperson for the company I work with met me at my house to grab food samples. I opened my freezer to snag appetizer bags, and she’s like, “Why do you have bags of Ziploc-ed Doritos in your freezer?” I always freeze my chips. They taste better, and never go stale. Plus, if they’re out of sight I don’t eat them in one sitting. But seriously, try some frozen Cheetos. They’ll blow your mind.

So here’s a few random tips and tricks that are common place in our home:

  1. Keep your chips in the freezer. Any and all of them—they don’t actually freeze. They just get super cold and are delicious.
  2. Dry your sheets (or any blankets) with a few tennis balls. It’ll make a bit of racket, but your goods won’t get as tangled up, and thus are less wrinkly.
  3. Add any type of fruit that you have in excess (or is about to go bad) to ice cube trays, fill with water and freeze. I pop them out, keep them in a Ziploc bag in the freezer and love to dress up water or cocktails with colorful cubes.
  4. Don’t crack eggs on the edges of bowls—that’s how I always ended up with shells in my cookies. Instead, gently crack them on the counter, or any flat surface—you’ll never have an egg shell escape in your food again.
  5. If you burn votive size candles in the glass holders, pop them in the freezer for an hour or two after they’ve burned out. The wax shrinks and pops right out so you don’t have to pry it out.
  6. Use an ice cream scoop to make perfectly round cookie-dough balls, put each scoop in a muffin tin, and freeze. Then Ziploc the dough balls and you can bake a few cookies at a time instead of the whole batch. (I make big batches of the kind we like, and I prefer a 10-minute bake for a fresh cookie versus keeping some pre-baked in the freezer.)
  7. When making any boxed-mix of muffins or bread, use apple or orange juice instead of water—your finished product is moist and flavorful, but people never say it tastes fruity–It’s more of an enhancer than a flavor profile change.
  8. Rub your skin with baby oil after your shower, then dry off. Your skin will stay super soft all day without the need for any lotion. (This is especially nice in the winter when the air is dryer.)
  9. Invest in a $3.99 bunch of wildflowers at Aldis. They last about 2-3 weeks and one bunch is enough to make 3-4 ball jars worth of flowers for the bathroom, table, etc. It’s a small price for the splash of happy it brings.
  10. I know by now I sound like a freezer nut, but keep your grapes frozen. Wash them, Ziploc them, and freeze them for a quick treat. They freeze part way, but are still soft enough to bite through, and there’s something about the sugar that intensifies when they’re frozen. It’s our favorite pool snack.

I know it’s silly, but picking up quirky tips from family and friends—mostly family—is one way I always feel connected. Nona (Nicholas’ mom) taught me about the eggs, my Aunt Jane always kept her chips frozen, and my mom loved her baby oil. I like to think we’re just a pretty montage of the most important people in our lives, and the tidbits and quirks that make them, and us, unique.

In Honor of Our Favorite Guy

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Yesterday we honored and remembered Michael Scordino in a beautiful service at Christ Lutheran Church. He’d have loved the stories that were shared, the line for communion to the back of the church and the laughter between the tears. At his dad’s request, Nicholas D’Amico wrote a beautiful eulogy in honor of the man who raised and influenced all the best parts of him. His words are as follows:

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Thank you all for coming today. You know, it’s a strange thing to be asked to share the eulogy at someone’s funeral. It’s like a part of a foreign conversation that you don’t want to be having. But, when Pop asked me to write and share the eulogy a his funeral, I immediately agreed. Partially because I knew our family, and thought about other people who might be able to do this instead, and quickly realized (with all the emotional spirits we are) that I’d most likely be the only choice. I also admittedly, didn’t really ever believe that I’d have to actually do this – because for so many years that I’ve seen Pop’s health be in the balance and we thought we’d lost him – he’d rally back with all the love and vitality that he was known for. We’ve always known from the first time he came into our lives that he had a history of heart problems – I remember my mom trying to explain it to me, when she felt I wasn’t understanding the severity of the countless situations we’ve been through – by saying “honey, he’s got a weak heart”. I didn’t understand it. Because, knowing what I know now, anyone know who knew and loved Pop, only knew him for having such a full heart. Full of laughter, wisdom, spirit, and above all else love. So, I’m honored today to be able to share with you all the greatest love story I’ve ever known – about the most important man in my life.

Pop was known for many things: an adventurer, a veteran, a husband, a role model, a teacher, a chef, a father, a friend, the list goes on. But, there’s a saying I feel could surmise the man we all loved and that’s the quote he unknowingly lived by: “those who tell the stories, rule the world”. (Let me just say, if this quote were actually true, Pop would be King). Yes, he was also a story teller. Telling stories was his craft – and like any craft, he loved practicing and perfecting it – (apparently so because he’d tell the same story over and over again). Truthfully, the stories never got old – because he wasn’t just great at telling them – but because of the insight you’d get from the words he’d share. And you all have heard the saying that any good story was worth retelling, well, they we’re all good stories.

There’s so many stories and memories I have – and I’m sure many I didn’t get a chance to know. Some of my favorites though would be the times he would recount his childhood and life growing up in the rich Italian culture of Brooklyn – (Pop would often remind us of this and say: “yeah, what do I know- I’m just a stupid kid from Brooklyn?”). Truthfully, Pop was one of the wisest people I knew. (Often because anytime I’d be questioning something – could be as little of a thing as a new recipe or as big as an event as getting married – my mom would always remind me to “ask Pop, he’d want to tell you”. Even if I knew the answer, she’d still want me to ask him just so he could enjoying sharing it with me. This is just one of the millions of ways she loved him… and me – by continuing to keep us connected.

See, truthfully, I’ve always considered myself a “mama’s boy”. I think most of you would agree. My mom had always been by my side, every step of the way growing up – even when we owned the Pizzeria (where my Mom and Pop met), I would spend my afternoons and evenings there or home with her. It wasn’t until she sold the Pizza place and had to find another way to help support the family, that she began working weekends waiting tables at a local restaurant. Unknowingly at the time, these weekends would become sacred for Pop and I and one of the periods of my life that I’m most thankful for. Because until then I really didn’t know the type of love and bond a father and son could have. This is when all that changed for me – now was the time I learned what it meant to be a man. No, not the kind of man who carries a wrench and fixes stuff – but the kind of man who loved cooking good food, finding romance in life, and doing right by others – all the lessons I learned from him during those many weekends of him and I home together. We’d make breakfast and sit on the back porch swapping stories (well, mainly I’d be listening) but, that was okay – because I loved hearing what he had to say. The foundation for our relationship was being built – one ingredient at a time. The foundation was made of frittata and love.

Even though it was just two of us together these days, we’d usually make a frittata big enough to feed the neighborhood – Pop didn’t know how to cook for less than 10 people. Ever. (Can you imagine trying to flip a 16 inch frittata? Well, it wasn’t easy!). But, he loved having a house full. Especially on Sundays. I remember waking up to the smell of garlic and onion throughout the house.. just as anticipation for was what to come. Plus, there was no moment Pop was happier than when he’d prepare a meal with his family (teaching us to cook along the way) and have us all sit down together, pray, break bread, and he say “manga – bon apetit’o” and the event would ensue. Food was a part of everything in our world and he set the tone for our family by bringing the Italian culture to life. We loved being Italian, (my mom especially – she quickly filled our house with anything that read “made in Italy on it”.)

But, it was at the table that we always came together as a family, Pop at the head, mom seated to his right. Amber, myself, and whoever else was lucky enough to be brought into the fold would fill in the empty seats (normally there wasn’t one left). One of the lessons I learned from him was that no matter what else was going on in life – meals were sacred (meaning Amber or I arguing over trivial stuff had to wait for later). We’d all sit down and connect as a family and everyone’s voice was heard – especially Pops. This was his stage where afterward we’d know more about who he was, and why we’ve become the family we were, through him.

Pop was into all kinds of “adventures” as a child. He learned his love of wine at the young age of four or five, where his grandpa would take him down to the basement to sample the “homemade wine” (which could probably pass for moonshine in some states). It doesn’t take too much wine for a 4 of 5 year old to reach his limit. But once him and Grandpa had their fill Pop would woozily stumble back upstairs trying to avoid the disapproving looks of his mother.

Pop wasn’t just a curious boy he also wanted nothing more than to be one of the guys. He said, when he was little he hated his name. He thought (Michael) was such as “sissy name”. His friends all had names like Rocky, Frank, or Joey… but I loved hearing him do his impersonation of Grandpa Albano when he’d call him “Michael’e”.

One of the times was when Grandpa Albano caught him trying to smoke one of his cigars. Not just any cigar, this was a “garsha vega” – the king of all nasty cigars. Pop described it as a rope soaked in tar. But he tried it – not even inhaling mind you – when his Grandpa walked up on him. Pop was anticipating a beating, but, instead got treated with another kind of punishment. Grandpa said, “Oh, Michael’e, you lika to smoke, eh?” You wanna be a man? Pop said “no, Grandpa, I’m sorry”.. Grandpa said ” Oh yeah, lets smoke, like a man”. Then he pursued to force Michael to smoke the whole thing (inhaling it this time mind you). Until he was sick. Unfortunately this lesson didn’t stick with him long enough, because when he was 12 he spent the summer on Brighton Beach working in his Aunt Gloria’s luncheonette where he tried every type of cigarette they had on display until he found one he liked.

See, Pop was the type of person who wanted to do the right thing – just sometimes didn’t know what the right thing was. In the hot summer of New York, he would be tasked with the oh so important task of getting the family Gelato from a Gelateria 6 blocks away (although it was most likely just one block). But he’d take an order from everyone in the house and go on the errand. There was one rule with Gelato – don’t let it melt! So, on his trip back he’s carrying this Gelato and Uncle Al (who loves to talk) is sitting out on the block. “Oh Michael’e – how you are? The conversation would ensue, so Pop – trying to do the right thing, tried to cut is short with Uncle Al and get the ice cream home intact. Just to later get a scolding from Grandpa Albano for being disrespectful and not talking to Uncle Al. He couldn’t win! But, no matter what, he always wanted to be everything to everybody.

I remember him telling stories of his beloved mother, Rose, who passed, way too young, when Pop was just an 11 year old boy. Pop would tell the story, where she was walking up a hill and just fell down suddenly and died in his arms. Rose had the same heart condition Pop did. Undiagnosed at the time. He not only looked like his mom, but, he used to say he got her heart as well (referring to how wonderful her heart was). Now, Rose has become such an important name sake for our family passed down to his granddaughters Liana Rosalia and Emma Rose – ensuring her legacy is carried on for generations to come.

After his mom passed, however, he moved in with Uncle Sal and Aunt Fay. He said time and time again how if it weren’t for the love of the two of them – he wouldn’t have made it in life. They brought him in and raised him as one of their sons. I like to think the time that him and Uncle Sal spent together was what shaped the time he and I had together those many years ago.

Pop loved all his family, and my brother’s Michael and Jeffry were no different. Pop was a salesman at heart. He was great at it. Because you combine the fact he’s never met a stranger and that he loved food – Bari Italian Foods was home for him. Though, when he’d tell the story, the company should have been called “Scordino Italian Foods”. But, Pop told me a story once about when him and Jeffry were making a delivery for Bari and ended up wrecking one of the trucks. They had to call his boss Lisa and report it (which he hated having to do). But, then, it gets better – they continue their delivery with a second truck, and end up getting it stuck by driving under and overpass that was too short for the truck to fit. I can only imagine what that mischief was like. But, just a couple days ago Mike told me that all his success in sales he got from his Dad. I don’t think anyone could argue that we all have a part of Pop in us – some more than others – but, all wonderful stuff.

My favorite household memories of our family were simple ones. They were simply filled with so much laughter and love. My Mom and Pop were like children, just so full of life and vitality that there wasn’t a time that Amber and I wouldn’t hear some commotion going on in their bedroom down the hall that would warrant investigating. Inevitably, one of us would go to their room to find out what all the ruckus was about just to open the door and see Mom and Pop laughing so hard in bed they’re crying. We’ll even though FOMO (Fear of missing out) didn’t exist then, it was still happening. Whichever one of us (Amber or myself) wasn’t the first one there we’d inevitably join in on the fun shortly after. We’d all pile in (all four of us) in their bed and mom and pop would retell what had them laughing so hard to begin with for us relive.

I remember one time specifically, at 3am, I was woken up by a different kind of racket – I heard my mom yelling “he’s over here! I’ve got him pinned!” Then pop yelled, “hold him down”. Mom followed with “hit him before he gets away!” My sister and I jumped out of bed (clearly down the other end of the hall mind you) thinking my parents were getting burglarized and were defending themselves, to come into their room and see Pop in his boxers running across the room holding a newspaper and my mom in the corner flustered trying to help. All of this – to kill a palmetto bug. Well, after the war of the palmetto ended, we all laughed about it for hours. At this point its 4am and Amber and I were exactly where we loved to be. In between the two of them. This is now where my parent’s bed became safe for anyone to be in. We had so many wonderful memories there, just the four of us, together. Later this tradition continued when Julie and Emmy came along and I think we even got Martin in their bed at one point.

I learned what romance is from my mom and pop’s relationship. They had one of the greatest love stories I’ve ever had the privilege to know. I didn’t know that soul mates existed, until I saw my mom and pop together – they found theirs almost 21 years ago when they found each other. Pop used to tell me, and not just me, but everyone – how lucky he was to have my mom in his life. He always put her on a pedestal and told everyone he knew, even unknowingly to mom at the time, about their love story. During the final days with Pop, the wonderful hospice nurses were frequent visitors at our house and one of them during her conversation with mom told her how much she loved hearing about their love story. She recounted a memory that Pop told her where he said “I love me wife so much. Do you know we danced under a bridge together?” He shared the story of the two of them, during one of their romantic nights out, walking under a bridge in Helen, Ga where they danced to the music of their hearts. My mom didn’t know he shared that story with anyone. It was the first time I heard it as well. But he loved her so much, and she him.

I wanted to close with sharing a letter that exemplifies the way Pop lived and loved – with such a full heart. My mom found during her last day on earth with him. She was lying in bed next to him hearing him breathe in his sleep when she opened my grandmother’s Bible to find some comfort of God and read to my Dad. When she opened the Bible, another letter fell out. God works in such a wonderful way. Here’s the words, from Pop, to his dear wife, that he had written her at 10:15am November 17th, 1999 from the Sleep Inn in Nashville, TN. It was addressed to her and written on the note paper from the hotel’s nightstand..

“My Dearest Love,

I have a few minutes before I begin my day and thought, how nice to put a
few words on paper for my sweetest of sweet hearts. Boy, that was a long
sentence?! Haha.

I’m sitting here missing you terribly and wish we were together. I wish I
knew what I could do to make a living and also be home next to you every
night. I’ll pray to God every day for his answers. You are the “Sunshine”
of my life. I can not imagine how empty and cold my life would be without
you. I called your office a moment ago and my heart lightened up just
hearing your voice.

My darling, you are so very precious to me. I thank God for him giving you
to me. I have such great hopes and a strong belief that our lives together
will only get better and better. It’s such a pity that we can’t be together
every moment of every day-but you are always with me, in my heart and in my mind.
So, I’ll go for now and this will have to do until I get home on
Friday. Keep my love and adoration with you always, for I love you so very
much. I hope this note lifts you up a bit. Who knows, maybe today you needed it.

I love you,

Michael”

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For the Love of Our Poppi

Poppi has been my dad for just under 11 years now, and when I think about the abrupt way I came into his family, I’m still overwhelmed at his love and acceptance.

Our first meeting wasn’t a handshake kind of greeting, as he was more of a bear-hug kind of guy. He started teaching me italian recipes as soon as he learned my name, and he quickly claimed me as one of his own. Poppi was always a safe zone, as there was no judgement or scrutiny, he was all love and acceptance.

My favorite memories are of Sundays, when we’d sit together in our Oakwood church and then gather back at the house for a ridiculous Italian spread. The 20 pounds I gained our first year of marriage I chalk up to the intense love he packed in to his incredible food. We’d sit around the table for hours, a little Frank playing in the background to accompany his hilarious stories and advice on life, and nosh our way through the day.

In one of our moments today, he hugged me and said, “you’re the best thing that ever happened to this family.” These might be the last coherent words he ever says to me, and while my heart feels so heavy I can hardly breathe, I also have to celebrate his life and the way in which he’s touched mine.

It’s rare to marry into a family and immediately use words like “mom” and “dad,” though that was easily the case in my lucky experience. He embraced me as another daughter, and he quickly became my “Poppi,” a man that helped teach me to love hard, regardless of circumstance.

He’s only 69, and part of me feels robbed of another 20 he could have, but I also know that he packed more life and love into my last ten years than most people get in a lifetime, and for that, I’m eternally grateful.

I work in the food industry now, and a portion of my training came from him. Little did I know that on a daily basis I’d work with accounts where chefs and owners know him well, have stories to share, and are still touched by his relationships with them. He does a million things well, but few surpass his ability to connect with the human soul on a level that is inevitably unforgettable. My favorite thing about my job is telling him who I ran in to that knows him and reminding him that he’s not a “legacy in his own mind,” as he used to say, but a bonafide legacy.

Life without him seems unfathomable, but I think about the character he instilled in my husband and sister, Amber, and I know that he’ll always live on in us. Nicholas is entirely influenced by Mom and Poppi, and the man that he is was so perfectly shaped by the time that he and Pop used to spend together. I’ll always be grateful for the boy they raised who became the man I was lucky enough to marry.

I know the worst is yet to come for us, but I know we’ll all be okay because the love he built can never be broken. We’ll feel him in every great batch of red sauce we make, every Frank song we hear, and in every loving moment we’ll continue to share.

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