Thursday, February 17, 2011

Best Friends Forever


Can you deny, there's nothing greater
Nothing more, than the traveling hands of time?
- Son Volt, "Tear Stained Eye"

My mother buried her best friend this week.  Less than 6 months ago, my father passed away, then in the meantime, she lost two cousins, a sister-in-law, and now this.  My mother is 76 and I guess it's getting to be that time.  

Viola (on bike) and Gloria
(my mom, standing right) circa 1946
I don't want to say that Viola's passing is hitting my mother even harder than when her husband passed away.  No.  You will not catch me saying that.  I would never say that.  *That's what I'm saying.*   Husbands and boyfriends are all well and good, but there is nothing like a girlfriend.  Especially one that pre-dates your husband by a good 20 years; one that you've basically been friends with your entire life.

My mother and Viola were raised next door to each other in an Italian neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago.  My grandmother died when my mother was just 9, and after that Viola would come next door and make sure that my mom was up for school and take her over to her house for breakfast.

Gloria and Viola circa 1952, stoop-hangin' in their 
dungarees. Mom was born inside that house and I was 
raised there until age 10. Chicago 60628 in the hizzie!
We lived in the middle of the second largest city in the U.S. like the poor Eurotrash that we were.  When my mother was growing up there were cows, goats, and chickens running around in the prairie behind our house.  When I was little I can remember being awakened from naps by an ancient old man who pulled a huge wooden cart full of produce through the neighborhood yelling "App-o, O-gez" in this weird huckster cadence.  We were never allowed to knock on anyone's door or ring a doorbell, so we would all communicate via whistles and hollers.  This was in my lifetime in the city of Chicago.

Despite how this sounds, I'm not one for this whole let's-go-back-to-the-way things-used-to-be bullroar that you hear a lot of lately.  I'm not anxious to go back to a time when women had less opportunities, minorities were treated like shit, and medicine was so primitive that my grandmother died from a simple gallbladder operation before she was 40.

But oh how I'd like to be a fly on the wall and see these two running around the old neighborhood again.  Spending long summer days hanging out, talking, shopping, gossiping...and then meeting back up under the streetlight after dinner to yack even more into the wee hours of the night. 

I know for a fact that there is a specific word in other languages for the feeling that you get when you look at old pictures.  I couldn't tell you what it is, but I guess the closest that we come in English is "nostalgic".  I'm not sure that that quite cuts it.  I need to invent a new word for what I feel.

I feel intensely bittersweet.  I feel the towering, unstoppable force of the passage of time.  I see the stories that make up their lives, adding up to so much more than just the elderly, sometimes infirmed person in front of me today.  I see them full of piss and vinegar, trying to look as cool as possible in the latest fashions of the day.  I see the future that lies ahead of them that they know nothing about.  And I feel like I want to testify.

Viola was here.  She was Gloria's best friend, and the grandmother that I never had.  She loved and was loved.  She will not be forgotten.

28 comments:

  1. amazing photos. r.i.p, viola. and your dad, too. the whole death thing. i never voted for it.

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  2. Beautiful post, Lynn. And beautiful pictures. It sounds like Viola was a wonderful friend to you and your mother. I'm sorry for your loss.

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  3. Excellent post, Lynn. My condolences on all the losses you and your mother have experienced. I lost 3 people in the first 5 months of 2010, so I know how hard it can be. (((hugs)))

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  4. I was thinking simpatico but when I looked it up I found that ...it's not the word.

    I wonder if there was ever any jealousy because Viola developed boobs first and seems to have grown in larger.

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  5. Sorry to hear of your loss, it is never easy.

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  6. This post is beautiful. To have a friend like that is truly amazing. You just don't see that every day.

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  7. Well done. I'll be thinking good thoughts for you, your mom, everyone who knew and dug Viola, and of course, those dungarees.

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  8. Blessings to you and your mom. Godspeed, Viola.

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  9. I'm so sorry for your mom's loss and your loss too! She sounded like an amazing person.

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  10. I'm sorry for your family's loss. Thanks for sharing it with us.

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  11. First, my deepest condolences to you and your mom. Your whole family, actulally.

    Second, you wrote a beautiful tribute to Viola and the friendship she and your mother shared. Please feel good about that. Sending good thoughts your way...

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  12. We should all be so blessed to have a friendship that lasts the tests of time. So sorry for your loss.

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  13. Beautiful photos, beautiful post.

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  14. Beautiful post. Sorry for your loss.

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  15. Wonderful tribute. So sorry for your losses.

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  16. Beautiful Lynn! Great eulogy! I totally understand the "bittersweet" feeling of a passing like this. I think it comes from an appreciation of memories of what it was and what it all has become. I think of what my mom was like in a city that is now mostly cubans and hispanics - Jersey City, New Jersey. She would talk about roller skating down the massive hills, stopping only at the bottom by grabbing the STOP sign. Then letting the metal wheels cool off. You can't do that now. Her mother died when she was 16, left to raise her 13 year old brother by herself (her dad abandoned them years before). But mom made a successful place for herself in life. I wish I could have been that fly on the wall in those days.
    My condolences to you and your mom.

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  17. Such a wonderful tribute, Lynn. Beautiful, as always. Thinking of you & your mom.

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  18. Beautiful tribute Lynn and fabulous photo. Your mum has been through a lot recently. It's hard when they get to that age. my own mum is 72 this year.

    May your Mum's friend and your substitute Grandmother rest in peace.

    xx Jazzy

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  19. My deepest condolences to you and your mom, Lynn. I just read the obituary of a 49 year old mom that died suddenly of a blood clot in my neighborhood this week and a the one of a 68 year man who was the husband of someone truly evil to me. No one can pay tribute to them like you have to Viola. To be a true friend for so many years is a blessing and quite an accomplishment! I hope after 25 years, we are on our way to the Gloria/Viola (almost) lifetime friends achievement award in heaven. Well, at least we will be together...lol.

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  20. damn. you know me and old people. and their stories.

    *sniff*

    the old spinster lady that lived across the street from us, whom my little sister adopted as her surrogater grandma, her name was Viola.

    *sniff*

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  21. Thanks so much to everyone for their condolences.

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  22. You have me wiping my eyes right now, and you couldn't have said it any better. Best friends are a once in a lifetime thing, and it seems like Viola was a once in a lifetime type of personality. I'm so sorry for your family's loss..

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  23. Somehow I missed this post. You really capture the power of friendship, and the bonds often stronger than "real" family.

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