People Underestimate the Value of a Good Ramble

Monday, November 29, 2010

My Cousin and My Friend

There were 19 of us.  Johnny, Mary Lou, Judy, Jimmy, Chuck, Angie, Linda, Mikki, Michael, Salvatore, Karen, Joey, Michael, Mark, Marci, Marianne, Maryann, Debbie and Toni. There have been 19 cousins since 1964, but as we end 2010, there are only 17 of us left.  Earlier this year we lost my cousin Judy, and just this week, we lost my cousin Marianne.  Age-wise, Marianne was my closest cousin, even closer in age than my sisters. We were born seven years and two days apart.

We were close in other ways, as well.  For several years, starting in the late 80's through the mid-90's Marianne was the director of an ensemble that I sang in. Not just me, but my mother, my sister, my husband, her sister, and several of our very closest friends. I'm not sure, maybe we were all close because of Ensemble. It was just one of those experiences that stays with you.

Marianne was amazing. She taught me so many things. She could do anything. She was like MacGyver when it came to sewing. You could ask her to make your wedding dress and she could create a perfect fairy princess gown out of paperclips and lace. In an hour. She taught me to sew, not like her, but still passably. She showed me how to cut out patterns and put all the pieces together.  She took me to buy what I needed for my own sewing box. It's pink with a flowery pattern. She gave me a set of straight pins and bought a red heart magnetic pin cushion and little pink snips for me.

When I told her I was getting married, she jumped right in and created all the decorations for the church, all the flowers, the corsages, the boutonnieres, even two topiary trees for the altar. I still have one of them at the turn of my staircase and it still looks beautiful.

Marianne taught me about music, too. When she needed a song transposed from one key to another for the Ensemble, she'd give it to me.  I know nothing about music.  I can carry a tune, but that's about it. I can't read music and I don't know one key from another.  But Marianne forced me to learn.  She taught me algebra, something I never managed to understand while in school, just by showing me how to transpose the keys in a song.  And she taught me to remember the notes in the five main lines of the treble clef by using the acronym Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge. It was years later before I found out that the real acronym is not about food.

We shared so many special times and we laughed. A lot.

Marianne had become ill with cancer about 5 years ago. She was a fighter and every time the cancer struck her, she hit back. It traveled around her body, attacking here and then there, but she never gave in. She was hopeful through all the treatment, through chemo and radiation, through all the pain. When one cancer center told her it was over, she found another that would keep on treating her.

Over the summer they told her that the cancer was in her bones and there was a tumor in her brain. Then they started the radiation.  We drove to Philadelphia to see her and I thought for sure that she would not be coming home. But she did.  A few weeks later, several of the Ensemble members met at her house to talk and sing and laugh, and it was amazing.  From the woman I had seen, laying in the hospital bed, doped up and barely able to speak, this was Marianne as we knew her, laughing, talking, directing.

She did have more radiation and we went to see her again, just about two weeks before she died. We all laughed a lot. It was a wonderful time. She was telling us all about a production she planned on directing in the summer. She was bed bound, but still cheerful, still hopeful, still busy. Marianne wasn't afraid to die, but she didn't think about it because she still had more she planned to do.

At her funeral today, so many people spoke and had wonderful things to say, stories to tell, songs to sing, laughter to share. One thing that her husband said really stuck with me. It epitomized what everyone else had been saying.  Marianne was a person who lived her life fully engaged. 

I love you, Marianne, and I'm going to miss you.


Julienne said...

I didn't know that is where the tree in your stairs came from! <3

Toni said...

Yep, there were actually two of them, but one kinda fell apart. Maryann used them for her renewing her vows at 25 years..or 40 years..or something, and she tea-dyed the flowers, cause they used to be all white.