Violet Ritis Tuite (Mom) died on Aug. 4th, 1992. I lived with her for over a year before she died. In those days she had me thinking about what it is to come to terms with whatever life we have or have not lived. The doctor told her the cancer was her interior landscape that not even a hurricane could revamp at that point.
She wanted the unanswered. Why was her second child a stillborn birth? Why didn’t she talk with her only sister, Dolores, about the incest that shattered them before Dolores killed herself alone in a hotel room?
“I never talked to her about that,” she said. “We talked about the weather the last time we were together.”
The weather was never clear in California where Dolores lived after she married. Hazed over by a milky wash of spattered sun they swallowed memories and Mom regretted that most. She wanted us to find her niece and nephews before she died. We took turns calling all the Baumgartners in California (Orange County) where they’d lived as kids. We never found them.
Mom lived whole lifetimes the year before she died, once she stopped the chemo and signed up for hospice. She was a librarian and a voracious reader. She saw Emily Dickinson and Don Quixote in the room, Socrates and Plato. I sat with a notebook and wrote down her stories. One of the last things she said to me was that I was going to write her story. That is always with me when writing. She is always with me whether writing or not.
Here is an excerpt from my novel that I wrote with her in mind:
Emmett meets Ester when she is at a height of lit brilliance that only a brief period in time encapsulates. She is the stewardess on his plane; an electric, Hollywood plate of perfection. The time in the fifties when a stewardess has to be single, weighed in before flights, lithe, racy little birds to pluck and scavenge. Face as delicate as a locket, blue eyes tucked deep into sadness and tidy blue uniforms wrap around bones with hats pinned in their hair.
Many a man layers winks over Ester who plows through the skies from San Francisco to Cheyenne and back again saddled up next to cowboys on horses who wait on runways for stewardesses to arrive. Some of the girls are made for those huge spaces galloping with martini in one hand and a dick in the other, laughing at the ‘Yes, miss,’ ‘no, miss,’ ‘let me drop diamonds in your crotch and buy steak dinners for you, sweet city lips’. They mistake these vast lands with mountains and high alpine air as exotic and free to unwind their girdled bodies running through open prairies like wild mustangs until every one of them is just another catch in the lasso, strapped in a kitchen making coffee out of some tin thing and cleaning jeans on a washboard as far from that blue up above as their stomachs from their asses. Knocked up and already dreaming ‘bout the good ol’ days.
Ester has offers from these shiftless boot-stompers. And a few in San Francisco who make shitty wine, dangling grapes between their legs, but the Emmett that pushes to the forefront plays tennis every weekend, is tan, athletic, and on his way to becoming a professor. School is paid for by the Navy. He gets through boot camp by playing tennis until the Navy team beats the Army team.
Annie Tuite Taffe, Ted Taffe, Caitlin, Charlie, Teddy:
Mom/Grandma: Unconditional love, safety, comfort, love of family, books, animals, holidays, meals, wine, baking, classic fashion, Art, beautiful jewelry, stewardess, librarian, organized, open-minded, great traveler, San Francisco, Chicago, Europe, Santa Fe, Marshall Fields, The El, Chicago museums, great friends, warmest smile, Farwell, Greenview, so beautiful inside and out to all she loved and who loved her. Miss her every single day!
Ria Majeske shares her mother’s postcards from her vacation with Vi:
“The vacation of a lifetime: Two weeks of devouring art, architecture and history, not to mention pasta and the Italians themselves.
That final evening, after yet another chock-full day, they’d settled at their pensione when Vi proposed an impromptu toast. No wine? No matter. Vi bounced to the neighboring ristorante, explained their plight, and returned with a gifted bottle and two stemmed glasses. The Swiss Army knife useless, Vi charmed the pensione owner into proffering the requisite corkscrew.
Vi unearthed the bread and cheese they’d stashed for the journey home and doled out generous portions of vino. Windows open, embraced by the tumult of the street below, they giggled and feasted the night away.”