It’s never easy to let someone go, no matter how long you’ve had them. On Monday, my family said goodbye to my Great Aunt Vivi, and I’ve been battling with my grief and bouts of deep sadness ever since. At 1:00 this morning, I cried on the phone with my Aunt Kathy, who put it best: “She wasn’t just an aunt. She was another grandmother to you.” And she’s right. This feels like losing my Nana all over again. Vivi has been the matriarch of our family since Nana’s passing in 1998, but she was a mother and grandmother to us long before then. One blog post couldn’t possibly convey my love for her, but I’d like to at least try. So today, I’m raising a glass, sharing a few memories, and toasting to a life well and fully lived.
You may remember this photo from my Nana Tribute a few years ago. Nana (my paternal grandmother) is on the left, looking at her older sisters Ginny (middle) and Vivi (right). Vivi was the eldest of her sisters, and the last of her generation.
Viv was quick-witted and always said exactly what was on her mind. She and her husband Joe (who passed away in 2007) were the most hilarious couple I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing. One of my favorite Joe and Viv-isms is a story Joe would tell about how Vivi farted loudly in bed one night and Joe said, “I don’t know how I’m going to explain to the cleaners how I got shit on the outside of my pants!” Ha!!! :)
Though they had no children, Joe and Viv loved all of their 17 nieces and nephews, 32 great nieces and nephews, and 23 great great nieces and nephews (wow!) as their own.
They had a special spot in their heart for my Dad — the youngest of his siblings — and later, Suzi and I. Above, Vivi is flanked by Suzi (right) and I (left) at South of the Border in South Carolina on our way to Disney World in 1992 or 1993. Joe and Viv didn’t like to fly, so they drove us down to Florida and back. They loved recounting the story of how Suzi and I thoroughly trashed the backseat of Joe’s Cadillac so that when we got home he traded it in for a new one.
I loved visiting Viv and Joe’s house. They had a few toys and office supplies to keep me busy, but I mostly liked shining up the chandelier in their dining room (what a weird kid!) or putting on all of Vivi’s necklaces and clip-on earrings (she never pierced her ears) or pretending to sell them to Viv and Joe. Going to Viv & Joe’s almost always meant having McDonald’s, which was a treat for us as kids. I used to stay home “sick” from school sometimes so I could watch movies with my Nana, and Viv and Joe would always come by around lunch time with McDonald’s. It’s no wonder I played hooky so often! I was totally spoiled.
And speaking of being spoiled, Vivi would take me shopping every year for pretty dresses for Easter and Christmas, and sometimes back-to-school clothes. The dress above (I think this is Christmas 1997) is almost certainly a Vivi-purchased dress. Nana is leaning over to inspect a present on the left and my stepbrother Zach is admiring my skirt (or trying to make his way to the Hot Wheels). When Viv took me shopping, Joe would drive us to the mall and as we went off to Lord & Taylor (Viv’s favorite store), he would plop down in the chairs in the middle of the mall and take a nap. We’d wake him up when it was time to leave or grab lunch.
I apologize for the grainy quality of this photo — my photography skills have improved a lot since this was taken in 2009! Vivi never commented on my boyfriends much, until I brought Stan home. She loved Stan. She would always make sure he sat next to her, and she’d hold his hand the whole time they were together, and she’d tell him over and over again: “I never thought anybody was good enough for Sami, except you.” ♥ She’d totally hit on him, too! But, then again, after Joe passed away, Vivi would vocally fantasize about being with a certain local Catholic priest too, so her love knew no boundaries. The below sound clip is proof:
My Dad, cousin Steven, and I are discussing the guest list for Vivi’s 90th birthday party, and he’s on the list! (By the way, one of her favorite movies was The Thorn Birds…)
The same day we recorded the above, Vivi questioned our motives for visiting her, the proceeded to gush about me, then my Dad:
The “big fat Italian” she refers to so lovingly would be Joe. Real nice, right? ;)
Vivi had an excellent memory, and was a great storyteller. Over the past few years, I recorded a few snippets like the two above, and I have another one I’d like to share, but it may be disturbing to young audiences. Vivi’s claim to fame is her excerpt in Steward O’Nan’s 2008 book The Circus Fire: A True Story of an American Tragedy, a study of the Hartford circus fire on July 6, 1944. Here’s Vivi’s story:
The file is large, so it may take some time to load, and there’s some distracting background noise later in the file.
Stan and I visited Vivi for the last time this past Saturday. It was hard to say goodbye, but I leaned in close to her “good ear” and told her I loved her. She wasn’t very responsive, but I know she heard me, she knew I loved her, and I always will.
“The ones that love us never really leave us.” ~Sirius Black, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (I love this quote from the movie). Vivi will live on in us through her stories, wit, and love.