Friday, 18 August 2017

 

 "The Road Back to Hell"

 This is the bittersweet story of growing up in an extremely dysfunctional home in the 1950's and 1960's. As the oldest child of my biological mother, Bonnie, and my adoptive father, Stew, I was the only daughter who benefited from the strong love my parents shared during the early years of their marriage. Shortly after the birth of my first sibling, Judy, their marriage started to crumble.  

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Thursday, 06 July 2017 00:15

The Healing Power of Love and Laughter

A few weeks ago, my cousin, Suzie and I stopped in Celeron, NY to take a photo of the bronze, replacement statue of Lucille Ball. It was unveiled last August on what would have been Lucy's 105th birthday. I must say, the creator, Carolyn Palmer did a fantastic job! In the newest version, a smiling Lucy is standing on her Hollywood star, clad in a polka-dot dress, pearls and heels, and her hair is curly and coiffed. Palmer's brush  and creative touch helped to bring this bronze sculpture to life. Lucy was full of life and laughter!  And so is my cousin, Suzie!

While writing my memoir and reflecting on my childhood years, I realized what a strong role Suzie played in my life. Although she is four years older than I am, she was probably my first friend. As young children, we spent a lot of time together at our great-grandmother Gussie's house. She attended all of my birthday parties; joined me at family picnics in Allen Park and Midway; played house with me in Gussie's attic; spent every Christmas Eve with me until I was ten, and continued to be part of my life until I moved to Clarion.  The miles and busyness of raising our own families caused us to drift apart.

Suzie, like Lucy, was a little imp who always made me laugh and smile. My fondest memory of her is the day she encouraged me to slip under the velvet rope and climb six flights of stairs in search of Lucille Ball at the Hotel Jamestown in 1956. That memory had lived in my memory forever until I finally wrote about it in my memoir. It was then that I realized how many of her antics reminded me of Lucy, what a strong bond we shared growing up, and how much I missed her and loved her. Several years ago, I reached out to her, and we have regained the closeness we shared as children.  Whenever I go to Jamestown, I generally spend the weekend at her house.

During those visits, we talk about our memories from the past. She recently reminded me that we went to see Bryan Hyland (of "Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini" fame), in the early sixties at the College Stadium in Falconer. I vaguely remembered it until Suzie began describing us running behind his limousine as it traveled from Falconer to the Hotel Jamestown―a three-mile trip. Her description of the event brought that great memory flooding back!

Our paths did not cross much when we were in our teens because of our age difference. I began babysitting for Suzie's youngest brother when I was twelve.  Suzie was sixteen at that time and dating the love of her life, and the man she married, Jimmy Todaro.  I babysat while she and Jimmy went on a date, and Uncle Morris and Aunt Dorothy went out dancing. I usually spent the night, and the next morning Suzie and I would visit Jimmy's mother Ann, who lived right across the street.  While we talked over coffee and cake, I was mesmerized as I watched Ann use her hands to mix a bowl of raw hamburger, onions, garlic, Italian seasonings, eggs and breadcrumbs. When she finished mixing it, Ann would roll her concoction into meatballs and drop them into a large pot of simmering, tomato sauce. One day, I asked her why she didn't brown them first and she replied, "Because they absorb the flavor better and don't get tough if you cook them in the sauce." I have made my spaghetti sauce that way ever since and lovingly refer to it as, 'Ann Todaro's Secret Sauce'.

While planning her 1964 wedding to Jimmy, Suzie asked me to be a bridesmaid. I was deeply honored and extremely excited to be part of Suzie's special day. During the reception, I quietly kept to myself because I was too young to partake in the alcoholic beverages everyone else was drinking. While standing the in the background observing the crowd, two good-looking, slightly older boys, came over and started a conversation. It wasn't long before my Cousin Carol's husband Paul came to my side and quietly whisked me away. When I sat down at the table next to Carol, she whispered in my ear, "I told Paul to come and get you because I thought those boys were hitting on you."  Carol was Suzie's older sister and I adored her. When she explained what 'hitting on you' actually meant, I realized she was protecting me. As adults, Carol and I became close friends and she continued to mentor me until her death in 2010.

Other than my mother and father, Suzie was the first person in my family that I confided in when I became pregnant.  I trusted her with my secret and knew she would understand.  The day I was leaving my cousin Sharon's home to go to the home for unwed mothers in Buffalo, Suzie drove my mother from Jamestown to get me. While having lunch before registering in the home, my mom spent an hour trying to persuade me go back to Jamestown rather than stay in the House of Hope. I was very happy Suzie was driving that day because I knew she would speed away so fast I would not have time to change my mind.

Through the years, Lucy and Suzie have both made me laugh! For which I am forever grateful!

The legacy of Lucille Ball has been proudly honored in her hometown, Jamestown, NY since 1996 by the Lucille Ball Desi Arnaz Museum.  Their mission is to preserve the legacy of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz and enrich the world through the healing powers of laughter through its commitment to the development of the comedic arts.

This year's Lucille Ball Comedy Festival will take place August 3-6th in downtown Jamestown. If YOU LOVE LUCY like I LOVE LUCY, visit my Diana Lynn Author's Page and follow this link for more information- http://www.facebook.com/dianalynnauthorpage/

1 comment

  • Comment Link Deb Trotter Thursday, 06 July 2017 17:35 posted by Deb Trotter

    What a wonderful story, Diana!

    How could anyone grow up as a child of the 50s and 60s without I Love Lucy?

    Love your insights regarding the silmilarities between cousin Susie and Lucy and how they wove in and out of your childhood memories.

    Keep writing, please!

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