Sending Love to Mrs. D, Wherever She Is

Posted: October 20th, 2006 | Author: | Filed under: Friends and Strangers, Little Rhody | 1 Comment »

Amelia’s mother died today. I don’t think I’ve even begun to fathom that she is gone.

She was as good as a second mother to me. Someone who I leaned on when my mother was sick and then departed. I don’t know what it will be like to go to Bristol and not be able to visit her. Sit at her table in her bright kitchen with the fish wallpaper and the multi-colored chairs that Amelia painted in high school. Sit at the table and have a cup of tea or cocoa and maybe some Greek dessert Mr. D brought home from one of his restaurant-owner friends. And talk in that totally comfortable homey way that has no pretension or need for a can-I-come-over-now? call or even the need to be showered, social, or in a good mood.

The thing is that it’s not even the more recent visits to Mrs. D’s kitchen, centered around taking Kate to show her off, that are most fresh in my memory. I remember sitting there on freezing RI nights in high school like it was yesterday. I swear there were times when it was colder in their house than it was outside, and that’s with the wind coming off the water. (Mr. D was renowned for being cheap about turning up the heat.) I’ve also been there for countless Forth of July’s from childhood to adulthood. I can hear in my mind Mrs. D with her unique almost haughty-sounding accent. She’s holding me in front of her with her hands on my shoulders pointed at some Greek or Italian relative, and asking, “Do you know Kristen? Fred and Vicki Bruno’s youngest? Well really at this point she’s practically my daughter too.”

Once in high school when Amelia’s lose-a-few pounds diet had clearly gone beyond the point of healthiness, I confronted Mrs. Demopulos in that same kitchen. Somehow I’d managed to find a time when no one else was around and I screwed up my courage to get to the bottom of things. Why had she let Amelia get so thin, so sick? Why wasn’t she doing anything about it? How could she let this happen?

In my New England upbringing I’d never dream of calling an adult by their first name, never mind being so brazen and disrespectful as to confront them this way. But I was also driven by the passion of a teenager who knows they are doing the right thing. And by my love for Amelia, whose health and life I was suddenly scared shitless about.

God knows what I had said that day or how I said it, but Mrs. D in her proud manner and New England private way stiffened her back and brushed me off. It was the first (and only time) I felt a divide between us, and that fact alone made me even more scared about how catastrophic whatever was happening had the potential to be. In a clipped manner and with few words, she assured me they were dealing with it. She gave me no insight into what “it” even was, or what they were doing, or how I could help, and most of all she gave me no assurance that it would be okay. And eventually it was. But I never talked to Mrs. D about it again, and really never talked to Amelia about it either.

I always love going home to Rhode Island as anyone who knows me knows. It’s beautiful there. I’ve got family and friends who have known me since I toddled out of the bathroom at Sam’s Pizza with my pants and underwear around my legs asking for help. The food is good and familiar and practically all the places that I’ve liked eating at since I was a kid are still in business. And everywhere you go people, some who you don’t even recognize, know you. There’s something about that history that keeps a gal real and grounded.

So, in the time that I went off to Ohio for college, or to Paris to study, or moved to NYC, or finally away to San Francisco. In the time that I had small jobs that grew to bigger jobs, or boyfriends who I was crazy about, or brought home, or just talked about dreamily, or lamented that I’d been dumped by. In the time that I had bad asymmetrical haircuts, or gained my freshman 15, or thought I was Miss Thing for wearing a suit to my big-deal job, I always had home to touch down on to put everything in perspective.

And no matter how cool, or smart, or city-savvy, or in love, or engaged or pregnant you are, when you’re sitting at the table at the Demopulos’ house, you are still just Kristen. Still just Fred and Vicki’s youngest. There’s no air that you can put on that can’t be seen through in a second. What’s amazing was through it all I was never laughed out of the place. I was never called on my attitude or pretension or fashion-don’t of the moment. And I have no doubt there were many times when they had to stifle laughter or the desire to slap me back into reality. And sure, sometimes I did get brought down to earth. But mostly I was cheered on, questioned, inspected, embraced, and told to put on one of the many sweaters Mrs. D had made. “No we won’t turn the heat up.”

The last time I saw Mrs. Demopulos she gave Kate some books. She’d asked me what it was that Kate really needed and I’d turned her in that direction. Of all the special books Kate has gotten from family and friends, for some reason no one but Mrs. Demopulos has inscribed them, and I’ve often wished people had, since many of them are real keepers.

When I first introduced Kate to Mrs. D last Christmas I handed the baby to her and said, “This is Grandma Frances.” It was my little way of expressing the respect and special place that she held in my world, and by transference, Kate’s. At the time I didn’t even know that it had registered with her. But this summer, after she gave me the books and verified that we didn’t already own them, she grabbed a pen to inscribe them, and as she wrote she slowly said aloud, “To Kate, with love from Grandma Frances, July 2006,” and I was touched that she had clearly taken note of (and maybe even pride in) her special title.

What’s surreal about the fact that Mrs. Demopulos died today (a phrase it horrifies me to even type) is that it won’t even really hit me that she’s gone until the next time that I’m home and I have to fight the way my body is hard-wired to go to her house to see her.

But I don’t even pretend to suffer a millionth of what her family is going through now. Amelia is giving birth to what would be Frances’ first grandchild in two weeks.

1 Comment »

One Comment on “Sending Love to Mrs. D, Wherever She Is”

  1. 1 Kristen said at 6:30 am on October 27th, 2006:

    This indeed is sad news. I too knew the family many lifetimes ago, and you describe everyone beautifully. Last December or January, a little after my daughter’s first birthday, I called Mrs. D to let her know I had a daughter. Although I fought hard for the name Amelia, my daughter is named Abigail. I told her I loved both her daughter’s names. I wish I had the chance to introduce Abby to Mrs. D.

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