On Sept 11, my mother died at Hartford Hospital – of complications that arose from a broken hip. We will all someday die of complications; life is a very complex business. She died, at age 95, full of years rich in memory and love. I was asked to do the eulogy. The Mass of Christian Burial was said by Fr. Richard Bollea – Ann’s son, you know – in the small church she attended throughout her life, St. Mary’s in Windsor Locks. I was fortunate to have given the eulogy in this same church for two of my uncles and my father. Rose was the last of the First Family of Mandirola’s, the matriarch of the family. In beginning the eulogy, I chose a passage from Blaise Pascal, because Pascal is the poet of dying among Christian saints and theologians. His own life was brilliant. He was a precocious child and one of the foremost mathematicians of his day before, after having had a profoundly affecting religious experience involving his near death, he retreated to a simple, austere life, giving up – with one rare exception – his mathematical pursuits. He started the first bus line in Paris, invented the calculator (and calculus), wrote the finest piece of French prose of the day, The Provincial Letters, an attack on Jesuits who, Pascal thought, in their theology were denying the freedom of God and God’s grace. And then he died, at age 39, of complications.
“In the end, they throw a little dirt on you and everyone walks away. But there is One who does not walk away.”
That was said by Blaise Pascal – a 17th century mathematician and physicist – about the God of Promises, Who is faithful to those who love Him.
May the God of Promises, faithful to His word, now receive the irreducible soul of my mother, Rose Pesci.
In life, you know, Mom was a little like that – irreducible, and as full of stories as any library.
One of the great joys of my life for the past few years was to sit at her kitchen table – the Grand Central Station of our family, in the golden days of our youth, an endless procession of uncles, aunts, friends of the family, enemies of the family, superintendents of the town dump my father had brought home to ply with pastries and coffee. The dump guy provided some shutters my father put on the house and Dad wanted to repay him with a donut.
There, at the kitchen table, Mom would work her magic on the past – which is always a sore burden unless it has been molded by the fingers of the imagination.
If any of us have any aptitude in the direction of story telling, I like to think it comes from the Mandirola side of the family. Talents are like seeds in a garden; if they are in the ground and you nurture them, they grow. Somehow, I have the fancy that my mother was the planter of these seeds; my father was the nurturer. She sowed, he reaped. My brother and sister – and anyone else here who knew my mother and father well – will know what I mean. My father kept my mother on a good track. My mother kept my father from giving away all his money to the poor.
Of the two, my mother was, as she would say, more of a realist. “What is is,” was pretty much her philosophy. If my father was the endless blue sky, tapering off to infinity, my mother was the solid, rich earth, both in her humor and in her prevision of a spectral future, which sometimes frightened her. My father was never frightened of any man, or of any of the nightmares that sometimes haunted my mother. Both of them loved each other and us. My father especially, openhearted and always ready for a new adventure, was the most courageous, hopeful man I ever knew.
And together, they complimented each other.
With a little prodding, anyone could get my mother to spill the beans – about anything. We all plundered with reckless abandon the rich store of her memory – which remained undiminished, the last time I saw her.
At that table, Rose would remember her grand daughter Lisa, as a little girl, rummaging with her in the attic, searching for prom dresses; her grandson David eating grilled cheese sandwiches with her after he had moved the lawn and the discussions they had; babysitting for Jake, her great grandson, in Stamford while her grandson Jay went to school and his wife Madelyn tended the store; the time she spent in teaching my brother’s wife Madelyn how to sew so she could make the vestments her brother wore when he said his first mass as a priest. An early conquest of hers was getting my cousin, Billy Mandirola, to eat his vegetables. This was considered something of a minor miracle at the time.
We all have our memories of her. But Billy will tell you that she was at the center of what we have become, the last Mandirola of the first family. None of us will forget that she was, as my sister says, a woman who loved her family and who enjoyed the simple pleasures of life. Her’s was a life lived for others.
In the last few years, over that kitchen table, I got my mother to explore that moment in her life when love drew her into my father’s heart. He loved her right from the beginning. When he thought it was proper, he asked her to marry him. But she kept putting him off, and putting him off. Finally, armed with a calendar, he went to confront her where she was working as a nanny for the Fuller family.
“Rose,” he said, “here is a calendar. I want you to pick a day when we are to be married. If you do not do this, I will not ask you again.”
She hesitated. “What is it? What’s the matter?”
She had made a promise to her dying mother to take care of her brother Charlie, and she did not want to burden my father.
“That’s it? Charlie will come and live with us.”
“You say that now,” my mother said.
But he was not saying it now. He was making her a sacred promise. These were people who either kept silent or kept their words. Every word was a commitment, a promise.
And because of the promises they kept, because of who they were and the way they were – Look around you; see what they have given to us all, to me, to my brother and sister and to their children. Look at us all here – her children, and her children’s children: These are fruits of love that have grown from promises kept.
When my father died, the rest of us tried to help fill the gap that opened when he left us. But there are some holes in the heart that only infinite love can fill.
When Rose took her last breath – I believe this -- her heart was healed. Today, we commit my mother to the rich earth and throw ourselves on the promises of the God of promises, the same faithful and good Father – like my own father -- about whom Pascal said, “In the end, they throw a little dirt on you, and everyone walks away. But there is One who does not walk away.”