Saturday, September 12, 2009

Aunt Carmen's last hug

My Aunt Carmen was like a second mom to me when I was growing up. From the time I can remember, up until the second grade I always stayed over at Aunt Carmen and Uncle Joe's during the summer, during the day while my parents were at work...along with their kids Joanne and Little Joe, my cousins, they were like my extended family...and I was witness to their frequent 'wars' firsthand, which sometimes made me feel thankful I was an only child, but I loved them all anyway, because they were family, my Second family! When my parents went on a two week vacation to Hawaii, I stayed with them for over two weeks. Indeed, I can't count the times I would spend other evenings with them watching tv... Gilligan's Island, Hogan's Heroes, Daniel Boone...all the while Aunt Carmen provided an endless supply of ice cream, potato chips, and other snacks.
I remember when she would run errands during the day, and she would bring me and my cousin Joe along, we would act goofy and crack jokes the whole time, "you boys are driving me NUTS!"...Her booming, intimidating voice, with a sense of impending menace was all it took to shut us up...and then, serenity, "can I interest you boys in a root beer float?"...I was amazed how she seemed to know every salesperson at every store by name, even the drive-thru dairy (remember those?) and they all greeted her with enthusiasm because she had that kind of personality...Huge, an expansive personality that would fill a room. And an incredible sense of humor and sardonic other words, she was a Force of Nature, the Salt of the Earth.
Aunt Carmen is my mom's older sister, and through the years, they stuck together like glue, even through what I call 'the lean years' from the mid 80's to 2002 when I wasn't in contact with them that much...but later about that...
When my cousins and I were kids, we enjoyed weekend barbeques at any one of our homes, whether it was at my parent's house, Joe and Carmen's, or Uncle Bob's...or sometimes Uncle Joe's on my dad's side...even writing about this gives me kind of a warm and happy feeling, a feeling of family...I know of such families today...
Anyway, whenever Carmen would arrive, the scene automatically changed, because here was this Presence now...remember the tv show 'Maude' starring Bea Arthur? Everyone at the time would say, "ohmygawwd, that's CARMEN"...and sure enough, for awhile she had the nickname, "oh look! Maude is here!"...but she took it all with good humor, 'yup that's me alright!'
But with her big personality came certain strains, my dad had always 'tolerated' her ever since he married my mom back in the 50's, and while I had been away at school and then on my own in the 80's, a rift developed between my dad and Carmen and they basically avoided each other, which was unfortunate, especially for my mom...and us cousins had grown, so we weren't in as much contact through the 80's and 90's, as we were busy running to and fro with our own lives...that's what I mean by the 'lean years'....
So in fact, it was my dad's funeral that brought us all back together, the rift was was basically a reunion. Before the funeral, some of them arrived at my mom's house, Joe and Carmen, the Bakers, everyone...the first thing Carmen did was give me a Big bear hug, "ohhhh Danny I'm sooo sorry I've missed you sooo much!" and couldn't help but tear up because I had missed her too, and on top of that, my dad gone, here was this emotional reunion as well...not to mention everyone else...
It was not soon after, that she developed heart problems, sometimes serious and we would worry...but I'll never forget when I had my paintings showing in Sonoma Square, Carmen and Joe showed up! she was probably feeling like hell, but she made sure Joe went to get the food they brought! haha! Some things never change...
My mom and I went out to visit them earlier this year, Carmen had continued to have health problems but still was a Force of Nature, she insisted we go wine tasting and she was the designated driver! While my mom and I stayed at their house, I felt an echo from childhood and a certain affection for ol' Carmen and Joe, from a long time ago, my second family. About a month ago, it looked like things were getting worse, and sure enough, she was sick with cancer...inoperable...we all gathered around again. In her hospital bed, she insisted, "now don't any of you be sad! it's been a good life!" We all joked and told stories...when it was time to leave, I give Aunt Carmen a kiss on the cheek, her cheek was warm, and we hugged, "MMMMMMMMMM"
"I love you." and she winked.


  1. This post has brought me to tears and i can hardly write through the blurriness of it all.

    I have such a special place in my heart reserved for Carmen. I met her at Dougy's graduation dinner in may 2003 and I remember her in Sonoma at your art show at the end of September that same year. She brought up a load of old Sunset Magazines to give me as she knew I loved them.

    She was so wonderful. I can not imagine the pain your mother is in. what will the world be like without carmen?

    Uncle Joe, your mom, you, their kids, and grandkids are all in my prayers and heart during this very sad time.

    My prayers go out to each and everyone of you.

  2. danny. i think the next time a street light winks at you, it will be your aunt carmen saying "I love you"!