Friday, May 29, 2009

in the dash

Nellie Aquino Dec. 25th, 1914 - March 30, 2003
Joseph Aquino ? - 1986
Ada Coughlan 1913-1995
Myles Coughlan 1889 - ?

Me June 15, 1981 -

I saw an obituary yesterday for a woman who passed away at just shy of 97. Right below her smiling picture, it said that the dash that separated the dates of her birth and death could never sum up the whole of the life she lived between those two days in time.


I had NEVER thought about it that way. Any daily newspaper or history book is filed with the summation of a life with a XXXX - XXXX that we read without a second thought.

In the list of my grandparents there is only one who's dates I know clearly. Of the four, I met three, clearly remember two, and dearly miss one.

Grandma Nellie's birthday is cemented in my mind because we ALWAYS had (have) big family Christmases together and we NEVER missed her birthday celebration. We still celebrate it now every year with a birthday cake for Mama/Grandma/GreatMum on Christmas. My Grandmother came from Switzerland, survived a disease that should have crippled her at the age of nine. There was no choice then; she had to get better or miss the ship to America. My grandmother would go on to marry the dishwasher at the restaurant where she worked. He was an immigrant from the Phillipines. In the 1930's when they got married, it was illegal for an interracial couple to get married in California. I suppose they could have just as easily given up, but they persevered and did it anyways in another state, despite the police harrasment whenever they walked down the street, despite the prejudice they both faced, despite all the things that could have prevented them from going against the system. There's so much more to her dash that I could write on and on about. She was quiet at times, but don't underestimate a woman who raised six children. She had spunk and tenacity. I like to think I got some of mine from her.

Grandma Ada - she died right around a holiday when I was about 12 or 13; it was Christmas I think. I can still remember her voice but I couldn't begin to guess what her birthday was. I do know this: when she was a few years younger than I am now, she got pregnant with my dad and married my dad's dad. Twelve years later, my dad's dad died and Grandma Ada was left alone with two children to raise. She wasn't a great mother; from what I've heard she wasn't even a good mother at times, but she did love her children. Looking at her life through my eyes, I can't imagine the hurt she experienced in her life right up into her 80's when she fell that Christmas morning.

Grandpa Joe - really he's just "Grandpa" since he was the only one of the two I ever met. I have just a few memories of him and a lot of tales that I've heard from all my aunts and uncles. He died when I was 5 but I can still remember visiting them and sitting on the top of the couch cusions right behind him, combing his white thinning hair straight up and laughing! He would just sit there quietly and let me give him a full headed mohawk. He used to sneak and give me one of those strawberry candies in the strawberry printed wrapper from the stash he kept in his bedroom. This of course was despite his full blown diabetes; which is supected to have finally done him in. He used to collect all his pennies and put them in big plastic jars with screw on tops. He gave me one of those once. I remember carrying it out of the house at 5 years old thinking that it weighed more than I did! Those are the only two memories I have of him. To see him in pictures is like looking at the most familiar stranger I've ever laid eyes on. To look at him and then look at me, you would never think we share the same blood line, but he is MY grandpa and that's good enough for me.

Grandpa Myles - I really feel strange calling him Grandpa. I never knew him. I never even had a chance. I don't know much about him other than he was born 2 centuries back. Not 200 years ago, but his birthdate fell in the 1800's! He was nearly 50 when my dad was born, and my dad was nearly 40 when I was. I know that Myles was from Bantry Cork, Ireland and he died from pnemonia in the hospital after a car accident that happened when him and my father were walking across the street from the grocery store. That's all I know, but you know what? That's ok too, because despite that, it was the in between, the dash, that he became an eternal part of my family history.

So you see, it's not the dates that matter. It's the dash. I'm in my dash now. If you're reading this, then so are you. It's never too late or too early to make something spectacular out of that little line.

1 comment:

  1. this is beautiful, eloquent, touching, and amazing.
    thank you ... i hope my dash gets more interesting. so far it's filled with booze, rotten relationships, and cuss words :)