It’s no secret that I didn’t come to this family organically. I’m the luckiest of lucky because not only did Wee Me have my wacky Italian bloodline and it’s people but, because my uncle married smart, I was also inherited in to an equally wacky family with big hearts, big belly laughs and big brimming kindness. I was 9 when I moved in with my aunt and uncle and until then, I was used to seeing my Nonna every day. I'm sure that that fostered my always-instant connection to the granny set at large. And while everything changed for me that summer, I was also graced with my aunt’s parents--my grans south: Uncle Harry and Auntie Micki.
Auntie Micki was in her 50s when I became a permanent fixture and was there from the get go. It was she (in her peep toe Sbicca clear 4 inch heels, thank you.) and my Auntie who came to fetch me with my sassy mini side-braid and (unfortunate, horizontally) blue and white striped culottes that first day, and drive me toward my new life, my reconfigured childhood. She made it seem like the most normal thing in the universe that her daughter was inheriting a kid and that even though we’d only seen each other a few times a year on holidays until then, this full time transition in to their family was going to be a piece of cake. I got to spend lots of time with her that summer and I feel so lucky to have had such special moments with her. A couple times a week I’d get dropped off before sunrise where I’d lurch straight to the twin bed she’d have turned down for me, because no kid should start their summer days at 5am. I’d collapse for a few hours in the cozy, perfectly warn bed* and wake up to find my 6 month old cousin Dana dropped off for the day, too. We’d sit at the silver-starred Formica kitchen counter and have breakfast and plan our adventures** for the day.
Micki/MickiMa/MickiO’G/Mags/Maggie/Magpie/Margaret/Marguerite/SMags/SMaggletooth was feisty and no-nonsense and spunky and fancy. I mean she was, afterall, Miss O’Keefe & Merit 194something and we’ve got the formal publicity shot (somewhere!) of her draped across a(n) (unlit)stove to prove it. She’d start every day of domesticity with her makeup perfect and her hair (which she used to wrap in toilet paper every night) did. She also rocked a cocktail ring like it was her job. I learned lots of lessons from her. So, so many things from that little Armenian firecracker of a lady—she was no bigger than a minute at about 4’11” and probably 100 lbs. –but she was a force to reckon with, especially when she was giving the 6’3” strapping Irish husband she adored the what-for***. She was a sister, a wife, a mother, a grandmother, a great-grandmother and an auntie. She loved chocolate and dessert in any and all incarnations and in these last years when she couldn’t keep anything else down, she was always able to miraculously kill a box of See’s, eat 14 cookies and drink her Chablis****. She left an imprint on everyone she met and I am grateful always for all of the memories I have of her and the things she gave to me:
Busy summer mornings followed by lazy summer afternoons of “Match Game” and “All My Children”. Erma Bombeck and joke books. Spending hours and hours looking through all of her photo albums where she was almost always laughing or eating in every shot...sometimes both. Uncle Harry coming home on the hot summer afternoon of their anniversary to find his bride of 30-something years crammed in to her wedding dress. My love of oatmeal and her perfectly scrambled, never to be duplicated eggs*****. Perfect, buttery rice pilaf. The art of hiding valuables in the Rice Crispies and sweet treats for personal consumption tucked in the empty fish stick box in the freezer, always having Sees Candy at the ready and using the empty boxes to store 562846 sets of plastic ware. Always having stacks and stacks of pink butcher paper for all of my very important art projects. The smell of her gardenias, the lemons and grapefruit from her trees and her always flowering plumeria. After back surgery, in a medicated haze from her hospital bed, looking me right in the eye to say: “I really, really hope all of the confetti fell out of my underpants in there.”******, her cure for insomnia: a slug of whiskey, preferably from a miniature airplane bottle. Her weekly hairstyle appointment, her perfect manicures, seizing an opportunity to re-use a greeting card if someone signed it in pencil, Christmas Day breakfasts and buffets, teaching her to use her “micro”, Easter spreads in her patio and egg hunts, New Year’s Day parties, staring at her on New Year’s Eve 1985 when she stood in the living room calling me in the kitchen on the house phone from their business phone in her pajamas and party tiara to holler “Happy New Year!” at me…we were 6 feet apart. If she thought you were bragging: “Oh, well…pin a rose on your nose.” On people who had bad salutation manners: “What? No “hello”? No “how are you”? No “go to hell”? Hrmph!”. She loved to feed people, she loved to squeeze to-go ketchup packets in to her big bottles, she confiscated Sweet & Low from restaurants for home use, she hoarded new shower caps from hotels to cover chips and dips from flies at outdoor parties*******, made the very best gravy at Thanksgiving, taught me that beating some sugar with a block of cream cheese and a drop of food coloring makes perfect frosting for springtime cupcakes. Our girls trip to Vegas--just me, Auntie Micki and AD celebrating our December birthdays. Have you ever known someone to get rated and score two free nights by playing quarter slots? I do, and it's her. And she always, always introduced me as her granddaughter without apology or explanation to people who found this confusing.
Heaven got a new angel last night. My sweet aunties said goodbye to their Mommy and after 88 years of life and laughter and love and family, surrounded by our deepest gratitute and affection for the woman she was, Auntie Micki quietly left us to be reunited with her one true love at the pearly gates and get busy flitting about with the business of catching up with so many people that meant so much to her. Her version of resting in peace, I’m certain.
We sure will miss her a whole lot down here.
*With the comforter safety pinned 45728 times to the top sheet…for ease of bed making. Brilliant!
**Adventures? Usually helping her clean the house and plan dinner, eavesdrop on her phone calls with Lucille the Neighbor, play Businesslady by making Dana sit in her highchair across from me and pretend-interviewing her to be my assistant (I never gave her the job. Insubordinate!), and sneaking Mags’s Jackie Collins books under the gardenia tree to scan them for smut before she noticed they were missing. 9 year old me knew how to party. Clearly.
***It was like watching a Chihuahua try to boss a Great Dane.
*****It’s the butter! And the pan! And the Lawry’s Season Salt! I just know it.
******Uh, so do we. I guess.
*******Oh, yes, girl. She totally did.