Sunday, March 25, 2012

My Cousin Dindoe

Linda lighting up a room
On October 18, 2001, we buried my beautiful, vivacious, always smiling and laughing cousin Linda. It was ironic that in a city surrounded by the sadness and loss of 3000, Linda would be mourned in much the same way as those fallen firefighters — a senseless death that came too soon. To her family, to her friends, and to her community, she too was a hero — not only in the way she lived her life, but in the way she managed her dying.

When I was maybe nine or so, we were playing “doctor” behind my Gramma’s house in the shed where we took our outdoor showers after coming back all salty and sandy from the beach.  That day down at the seashore, Linda told me about the facts of life, such as they were to a twelve-year-old! I don’t remember the details, but I do remember it was about sex, and your period, and how a penis and a vagina came together.  While the conversation was scary, I was so grateful that somebody thought to clue me in — Linda did that for me.  She always remembered to tell me what was going on just out of reach in the grown-up world around me.

Most of my childhood we spent every holiday together, a gaggle of cousins — Linda’s brother Bobby, the oldest; next oldest, my sister, Donna, then Linda, followed by my brother, and last, me.  On big holidays — Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Easter —  we traveled from home to home, father’s side to mother’s side or vice-versa, but on the other holidays — Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Memorial Day, Labor Day and Fourth of July —  often Linda’s other first cousins, Johnny and Paulie (from her father’s side of the family), would be with us, too.  Years later, Uncle Charley (our mothers’ younger brother) got married and had two boys who joined the pack as well, but by then, our family had moved a bit further away, the older cousins started dating and going off to college, and those big gatherings were spread thin.

One time, everyone was getting together again because Linda was getting engaged.  I hadn’t met her fiancĂ© yet, but while the aunts were scurrying to and fro in the kitchen, I remember everyone talking about what a “catch” Greg was.  I was puzzled by this talk because I was thinking that she was the real catch.  That night the family celebrated and we slept over.  I stayed in Bobby’s room because he’d gone home to an apartment of his own.  I woke up  to go to the bathroom but moved very quietly so none of the early-rising grown-ups would notice.  It was around 7 am. 

“Lin?”  I whispered insistently as I crept into her bedroom with its big  canopied bed and the frilly pillows.  “Can I get in with you?”  
“What’s wrong?” she said sleepily as she pulled the covers back and moved over to make way for me.  
“I just went to the bathroom for ONE minute and when I came back  my bed was made!”  

She smiled and we both snuggled under, giggling about the insane efficiencies of her mother and mine.

Under the canopy at the cemetery, as person after person passed by her casket, placed a flower on top, and came to hug and cry their grief with the immediate family, I squeezed her brother’s arm tightly.  “Bob, picture this — Linda gets there and the first one she sees is Gramma.  ‘Ho-kee-see (my soul), honey, sweetheart I love you, what are you doing here?  You don’t be here! I love you so much honey sweetie my honey Linda go, yahvroom (little one) —  don’t come yet!’  Gramma in her trademark three-paragraphs-all-in-one-sentence.”  Bob smiled and squeezed me back.  It wasn't until much later at the restaurant that Linda’s youngest daughter said to me, “Auntie?  Did you hear that a few days ago Mommy said to Gramma (Linda’s mom), “What’s Gramma doing on your head?”  At the time, my Aunt Maddy probably thought it was the morphine speaking and dismissed the notion of her dead mother sitting atop her head, but in hindsight, I like to believe that it was our Gramma, come to usher Linda to the next stop on her journey — that Gramma came for Linda because she knew her time had come. 

There was terrible irony in the fact that as another in our family who struggled with weight most of her life (just like me and my sister), Linda died wasting away from a series of cruel cancers.  It was more irony that of all the awful marriages and dysfunctional families out there, hers was a happy, tight-knit, loving family of five, whose three girls had matured into the kind of young women any parent would be proud to call their own.  None yet married — all just at the brink of real adulthood.  The time when, as a kid, you first begin to feel you’re finally on the same playing field as your parents and things even level out more as you become parents and join their once-exclusive club.  Sadly, it’s a time her children will never know.

My father called her “Din-doe.” I don’t know why.  “Dindoe — come over here so I can hit you,” he’d say — his way of teasing.  I have an old black and white Polaroid square shot of Linda, with those white edges framing the picture.  She must be five or six years old in a smocked bathing suit with the thinnest spaghetti straps and buckled shoes on her feet.  She is standing with her fists perched on her hips — this absolute scowl on her face as she stares down the photographer. It’s how I picture her entering heaven and greeting our Gramma, her dad, and mine.

It's Linda's birthday today. I hope she's up there given'um hell.

[PS I just learned that "Dindoe" came from me not being able to say "Linda"!]


  1. Beautiful--what a lovely tribute! And the pics illuminate her personality! Thanks!

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  3. Love you...