Bob Confer

Bob Confer / Editorial Contributor

“What the hell, is that all you got are Italian relatives?” asked one reader. “You look about as Mediterranean as I do and my grandfather is half Chinese.”

Of course I have relatives who aren’t Italian and they’re all on my father’s side. Dad is English and Dutch with a touch of stubbornness. Oh, that isn’t a nationality? I guess I’ve slighted his side of the family, because my mom’s all Italian relatives sort of took over. You see that a lot, where the wife gravitates toward only her clan and the husband goes along like a dazed captive.

When dad first met mom he had never eaten spaghetti — I’d rather be dead. Dad was raised during the Depression’s lean years on stale bread soaked in warm milk that was on the “verge.” During the good years, it was ham, cabbage and sauerkraut — I’d rather be dead. But that really isn’t so bad when it’s dipped in chocolate.

Dad’s family were very hard workers. How sad that I’m using the past tense, but they’re all gone now except for dad’s 83-year-old “baby” sister. She’s a doozey with a mind as sharp as any computer. She remembers exact dates for every peak and valley in her life. Most of us can’t remember diddley. I dearly love her, but all her life she has lived for the emergency room. Correction, she has lived in the emergency room. For years now she’s been “dying,” but she’s outlived almost every family member of her generation and younger. Isn’t that always the way? The strong keel over and the fainthearted carry on. Confined now to a bed, she can’t walk because of curled-up toes.

“Maybe if she stood up on them once in a while,” some heartless caregiver complained, “she wouldn’t be stretched out on a bed like Cleopatra popping bonbons.”

This aunt is very undemanding and so understanding when I, the self-centered niece, allow months to slip by before I even stick my head in the doorway to say hello. There isn’t really any excuse that justifies ignoring those you love, especially when they’re infirm. I better pray that I’m never restricted to a bed and have to rely on visitors to fill a few hours, because I’ll be one lonely louse. When I do go unannounced to visit my cheerful aunt, she’s all decked out with earrings, a necklace, makeup and her hair all permed and pretty.

“Why look like a knock-out,” I wonder, “when you’re sleeping — sleeping alone?” Not that any of us wives look remotely presentable when we slide in next to our husbands under the blankets. Turn the lights on? “We’d rather be dead, huh, girls?” I can’t help but ponder what my aunt’s incentive is for taking an interest in her looks, or in life? I dare not ask, because since I’ve been so neglectful, I haven’t earned the right to know.

There’s one relative on the “other side” that I sure wish I could have gotten to know a little better. Poor mom, how she agonized so when us kids were growing up and being exposed to this certain uncle, because he drank, smoked, swore and gambled. But there was something about him that was so redeeming. His sincerity and heart were reflected in eyes so blue you could almost drown in them. His first wife died and he married a second time. I once overheard him tell his brother, my father, “Ya know, Shel, I’ve been married in my lifetime to two angels.”

He seemed the most unlikely type to talk about angels, and it’s funny what you remember most about a person, isn’t it? Just think of the other surprises that might have surfaced had there been a little less spaghetti and a little more ham, cabbage and sauerkraut? Probably would have held the chocolate, eaten it straight and made my father and his family mighty proud.

Karen White-Walker is a Wilson resident. Her column runs every Tuesday.

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