Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Bring on the heat!

So about the time I was 21 years old I moved out of my parents house and tried the whole living on my own thing with a couple of girlfriends. We got an apartment about 20 minutes away from my parents and my mom bought me dishes, a futon, a bed, bedding, all of the essentials... in other words, she was ready for me to move! Lol, I think she just thought it would be good for me to be out on my own and having fun as opposed to being with her and my dad who were still seriously grieving and struggling with losing Mike. I really enjoyed living on my own, my two girlfriends that I lived with were a blast, we had a lot of fun together. Unfortunately our new found freedom was very short lived. About 6 months after we moved out my Dad was diagnosed with terminal cancer and given 3 weeks to live... not kidding 3 weeks. So I very quickly packed my bags and high tailed it back home.
When I mentioned before that my dad never lost his sense of humor, he even kept throughout his entire illness. He spent the next three weeks in his bathrobe with all his friends and family gathered around like he was THE Don and had all kinds of infinite wisdom to share with us. I remember one time he was sitting up on the couch and dosed off, he woke up and looked at us and said "man, I really thought I checked out just then." I said "umm no Dad you were asleep for like 10 minutes and your mouth was open and you were snoring... I think it would have been a little more peaceful if you were "checking out".
Within just a month or so of his diagnosis my parents sold their house, it had been on the market for a long time, close to a year and they had been very anxious to move to the desert, out by Palm Springs. My Uncle Don and my Dad's best friend Stan had already moved out there and he really wanted to be with them. So in spite of his terminal illness they decided they were still going. Now I don't want to sound selfish here but really? the desert... it's like a million degrees there and everyone is like 100 years old and none of my friends lived there and well bottom line, I just did NOT want to go. But what do you do when your dad is dying and your mom needs you... well you suck it up and move to the desert into a retirement community (for reals, it was a retirement community and I was about to turn 22 years old). I thought I was going to die.
As much as I hated it and I totally complained ALL the time I am so glad that I did it. Spending the time with my Dad was priceless and I would have completely regretted it for the rest of my life.
He ended up living for a little longer than 3 weeks (obviously) it actually ended up being another year and a half or so. It was a very sad yet very important couple years of my life. It changed me to the core, I literally became a different person. When my Dad was sick he wanted to do a lot of bonding. I kept a journal during this time in my life and when I read it I always cry. My Dad was very sad and cried alot himself. My Mom was a mess. She was mad, she was mad that he was leaving her, that she was still grieving the loss of her son and now she had to care for him and make him happy all the time when she wasn't even happy herself. I was stuck somewhere in the middle. Still so broken hearted that my brother was gone, stuck out in the hot desert with no friends and trying to do everything I could to keep my parents happy. I grew up a lot in that short amount of time.
By the time that my Dad finally passed in July of 1992 he was so ill, the cancer had completely ravaged his body and he was just a shell of himself. We literally watched him wither away. My Dad was an awesome father and as much as I didn't want to lose him I also couldn't stand to see him like that anymore.
It's been almost 18 years since my Dad died and I still miss him everyday. Making sure that he lives on in my girls and in my niece and nephew is so important to me. I want them to understand what a great guy he was, how important his family was to him and how much he would love them.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Music and Laughter...

So it's been a week since our family grew, a week since my new brother and I sat across the table from each other. Each of us looking for something familiar in the other, the eyes, the nose, the mouth... maybe the mannerisms. Hmm, not much really, at least at first I didn't think so until the pictures went up on facebook and on my blog and people started saying that we had the same smile. That's nice, a smile is a good thing to share.
So in the week that has passed I have been going round and round (a good song from the 80's right?) trying to figure out where I was heading next on here, what story did I want to tell now. I think it needs to be another uplifting story.
The reason I titled this "Music and Laughter" is because my childhood was full of both. I know what you are thinking "hmm, music, laughter and death maybe" but honestly as difficult as it has been to lose so many loved ones when I look at the big picture and think back the moments of sadness, the grief and the controversy are all so overshadowed by the good times that it makes it so much easier to get through it all.
My Dad was one of the funniest people I have ever met. His twin brother, totally funny too. They have friends that used to have arguments/discussions about which one was funnier, sometimes my Dad would win and sometimes Uncle Don would win. My Dad's sense of humor was VERY dry, not the slapstick, obvious funny but the subtle, a little sarcastic, usually at the expense of somebody else kind of humor. Usually my Mom ended up being his straight man, sometimes it was me, Danny or Mike. We all often fell victim, but because he was so funny we let it go. I loved that no matter what we were going through there was always something about the situation that would be funny. As much fun as my Dad made fun of all of us he also was humble enough to poke fun at himself. He knew his weaknesses and was willing to admit what they were and make himself the butt of his jokes sometimes, although this usually only happened when he was trying to make up with my Mom after totally offending her or embarassing her in front of their friends.
Music was the other constant in our lives. I grew up listening to jazz, disco, rock and pop. My Dad was a big jazz fan. He played the sax and the conga drums. My brother Mike played the guitar, he was self taught and hardly ever put the thing down. He played electric and acoustic. There are so many songs that I hear that can instantly take me back to a moment in time and make me feel like I am reliving it. I have tried to do the same thing with my kids. I have even introduced them to some of my Dad's music. I am proud to say that both of my girls know the King Pleasure song 'Moody's mood for love'. It's a song that my Dad loved and they have ended up loving too. I often tell the story about how I loved Shaun Cassidy when I was young, in the late 70's but he wasn't very cool according to Mike. I so distinctly remember an incident where Mike and his friends (who all listened to hard rock) were in his room and I was in my room "rocking" out to Da Do Run Run and realized that it was kinda goofy so I knock on his bedroom door and say "hey Mike, can I um borrow your Black Sabbath album?" Seriously, Black Sabbath? What was I thinking? I mean Kiss would have been okay but Ozzy Osbourne and Black Sabbath? Who was I kidding? They knew I was going back to my room to check out Leif Garrett, Shaun, and the Bee Gee's! I just so wanted to fit in with these cooler, older boys. Especially one in particular... Doug Huff. He was dreamy with his long blond hair and his corduroy OP shorts. He was my first crush and I so desperately wanted to impress him with my music taste!
Now that I am all grown up and raising my own kids we listen to what they like and what we like. Sometimes what they like ends up being my favorite and vice versa. I love Kid Rock so my kids were kind of forced to become fans! As we drive on trips we all sing along to whatever we are listening to, whether it be Elton John or The Black Eyed Peas it's something we do together that bonds us and absolutely creates wonderful memories.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Lucky Girl

That is who I am...a lucky girl.
About 3 months ago I was online, on facebook (not surprising) and I was chatting with my cousin. He is my cousin on my Dad's side and he is actually the son of my first cousin, so he is quite a bit younger than me but we have been pretty close for the last several years. We are chatting away and everything is just idle chit chat when all of a sudden he says to me "so, I have to ask you something but I do not want to cause any problems" and I told him to go ahead and ask, he then asked me if I knew about my brother, as in did I know that I had another one. Hmm, well I said "are you saying that my dad had an affair? He then informed me that his Grandma, (whom my mother no longer has a relationship with) told him that my mom had a son with her first husband. I said "no, she didn't, I think I would know" well to make a really long story short the next night I was on the phone with my mom and said "oh mom you won't believe what is being said about you" I went on to tell her what I had been told, I sat and listened and waited for her response which I knew for sure was going to be laughter. Then "oh. hmm. well I just never knew how to tell you." WHAT???? Here I was 40 years old, always knew that my mom had been married before my dad, had even seen the wedding photos and the write up in the newspaper but somehow never, ever knew that she had a baby.
My mom had always been so afraid to tell me, so afraid I would judge and that our relationship, (which we already have struggled with my whole life) would be damaged. She carried this secret around for 50 years. Of course her friends knew, so many of them had been there when she had the baby, had supported her through her decision to leave. My dad knew, she said it was one of the first things she told him. She asked him to please never tell his family because she thought they would hate her. She told me that night on the phone that every time one of the children died, the twins, Ronda, Mike she would look at my dad and say "it's my fault, I left my son and now God is punishing me." As a mother I wanted to cry for her, as a daughter it opened my eyes to so much, it explained so many things that had happened in my life. I can't imagine what my mom went through, how hard it must have been. Why she left and what happened isn't my story to tell, it's my mom's, but all I know is hearing her tell me it was true, that I did have another brother was the best news I had heard in a long time.
As soon as my mom gave me his information, name, birthdate and where he lived I went to town researching. I joined the people search websites and alerted all of my facebook friends that I knew I could trust that I was on the lookout and trying to search for my new brother! I think it was within a couple of weeks that I had his work address. I wrote him a letter, (so many rough drafts, you have no idea) and the whole time I was writing it I kept thinking 'oh my God, he has to hate her, he's going to hate my mother and therfore he's not going to want anything to do with me' I prayed and wished (every day at 11:11, cause that's what my 14 year old daughter does, and she says it works). About 3 weeks later I received an email from him. In the subject line was a simple "hello". I was getting ready for bed and got the email on my phone, I looked at Chris and said "oh my God, it's him. I just got an email from Randy". I was shaking and had tears in my eyes, did not know what to expect and the first line read:  "Wow! What a surprise hearing from you." I took a deep breath and thought 'well this is going better than I expected'. I don't know what I expected, but I think I kept imagining more of a "please don't ever contact me again". The rest of the email was wonderful. He was sweet, honest and totally awesome.
After the initial email we then continued emailing back and forth. Randy was always a little slower about responding than I was and each time I thought, 'ok, this is it, he changed his mind'. Then one night in March I received an email saying that he and his family (he's married and has 4 kids) were going to be in California later in the month and they would like to meet us! Yay! He wants to meet me, I haven't scared him off! I couldn't have been happier, and my kids were happy too. My mom? Totally freaked out and nervous for me. But she handled it well.
We ended up meeting them all for lunch/dinner at a restaraunt and it was wonderful. Our kids all hit it off, it really couldn't have gone better.
To say that my kids and I are happy is an understatment. We love family but we have such a little one. To have this addition to our family tree has been so great, for Randy to accept me, to not hate my Mom and to be willing to let us in is a true blessing.
This last holiday season was an absolute bummer for me, I think I cired from Thanksgiving to Christmas wishing that my kids had more cousin's that we had more family to share the holidays with. Little did I know that just around the corner they would be there. I am not sure if we will ever spend Christmas with them but we have discussed summer vacation and that? is a wonderful beginning.

Sunday, March 21, 2010


I want to talk about my brother Danny. He is the oldest of all of the kids and I am the youngest, with 16 years between us you would think that we wouldn't be very close or have much in common, but luckily for me that is not the truth. When I was a kid growing up Danny and I were not very close, because back the age gap was way too obvious and well he liked to be a little bossy, which he still does but now it works. When I say he was bossy I think that he just always felt that I got everything that I wanted and truth be told I was probably the annoying little bratty sister who was spoiled rotten in his eyes, which was kinda true.
As we got older and our lives changed so did our relationship. It first changed when Mike died. Mike dying definitely brought Danny and I closer together. Danny's wife Anna had their first child (Sarah) about 2 months after Mike died and it was as though we were delivered an angel right when we needed one. I love babies, my dad loves babies and so we were all so happy to have this precious new life around. We spent a lot of time with them and it for sure helped the grieving process.
A few years later (3 to be exact) our Dad died. He honestly just couldn't take anymore. He had buried 4 of his own children and his parents and several of his very dear friends and he really, really couldn't handle anymore. Once our Dad died is when Danny kind of returned to his bossy/fatherly mode for me. He often gives me his opinion, and 9 times out of 10 I do what he tells me to. I don't make a lot of decisions without consulting with him first, it's funny but for whatever reason whenever we have a decision to make, like buying a house or naming a child, whatever it may be one of the first things out of my mouth is "well, let me call my brother first." I don't even know if he even realizes how much I rely on him.
The funny thing is as he has gotten older he looks more and more like our dad and he acts like him too. The even stranger thing? I act so much like him! I will say something to the kids or to Chris and all of a sudden will think 'oh my gosh, I sounded just like Danny'.
I really don't know what I would do without him, he is a wonderful big brother and he loves me and my kids so much. I am so grateful for him and the relationship that he and I both have worked so hard to achieve.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Mike's story...

I have thought and thought about why I am doing this, why am I sitting down every couple days and telling my story, I mean I know it's for my kids, and their kids and so on, but what is my goal? I have decided that eventually after my story has been told and my past revisited sufficiently I would like this to become a regular journal-type blog, one where I can keep track of what is happening today, because today will soon be tomorrow and those memories will also fade.
But the problem is I can't move on and get to that point until I tell his story.

Mike Sabella. When I said before that my brother was my idol, I was not exagerating, I was not just using the word lightly. He simply was the greatest guy ever. Soft spoken, funny, caring, gentle soul. When I look back now I think that I always knew he wasn't going to be around forever. I think that is why I cried for so long after he moved out. I was the same way with my dad, sometimes when he would leave for work in the morning and I didn't get to say goodbye (because the sun hadn't even come up yet) I would panic and run for the door and try to catch him before his car drove off, always afraid I wouldn't get the chance to say goodbye. I was the same way with Mike. Always afraid something was going to happen to him.

It was fourth of July weekend 1989. My best friend Alex and I were having a great summer. We were hanging out with a super fun group of friends and just enjoying being young. I had just broke up with my long term boyfriend and Alex and I were going to have some friends over to my house. My parents were out of town. Mike called, he was bummed. He sounded very somber, I asked him what was wrong and he said that he and Kevin (his best friend) had been playing golf that day in LA at Griffiths Park and his car had been broken into. They stole his stereo and his speakers. It was the second or third time this had happened and he was not happy. He was also still having a very hard time because just a couple of months before his high school girlfriend who he was still very good friends with had been killed. She was murdered in her own home. It was horrendous and Mike was grieving hard. I felt awful because I hardly ever heard him that sad. I told him that Alex and I were having some friends over to our house and he was welcome to come hang out with us. I knew that the 4th of July was his favorite holiday and I didn't want him to be alone. He said it was alright, he was going to see what Kevin was doing.
About a week later I got back together with my boyfriend, we had been dating for about 2 years and things were very serious and I think I just got nervous so I broke up with him, and then soon after decided I needed him back. So life was good for me at the time I was teaching pre-school for the first time and loving it. I was 20 years old and they were letting me teach kids all by myself! I was working at a school in La Mirada, about 20 miles or so outside of Downey where I lived.
About two weeks after  I had spoken to Mike on the 4th I was at work and the phone rang, it was naptime so all the kids were on their mats sleeping. I answered the phone and was very surprised to hear my mom's voice. She said "Nina, it's mom. You need to come to Downey Community right away. It's Mike."
All I remember saying was "mom, is he going to be okay?" and she said "I don't know, just come... now."
I don't even think I hung up the phone or told anybody I was even leaving I just grabbed my purse and ran out. I drove as fast as I could to the hospital crying and praying the whole time. Not having any idea what had happened, I didn't know if it was a car accident or if somebody tried to hurt him. I remember walking into the hospital emergency room and my mom, dad, brother Danny and Uncle Don were all there. I knew it must be serious. I don't exactly remember the next chain of events, I just remember hearing that he was in a coma. I was so scared. I looked at my parents and they looked scared and my Uncle Don was a mess. (I didn't know why until later.) I went into see him and he looked totally normal, like nothing was wrong except he was asleep and had tubes all over. After a while they transferred him to ICU and started doing some testing. That's when they had the chance to tell me the whole story.
My mom was home alone and Mike's boss called and asked if he was at our house or if she knew where he was, because he had not shown up for work and he wasn't answering his phone. My mom immediately panicked because this was exactly how they found Christy, Mike's old girlfriend that had just been killed. She hadn't shown up for something she was supposed to be at and her sister went over and found her in her condo. Anyway, my mom did not want to go over there by herself afraid of what she might find so she called my dad but he worked in downtown LA and it was going to take him longer to get there so he told her to call my uncle. She met my Uncle Don over there and he said that he would go up to Mike's apartment to check it out. I think they had to get the key from the manager. Anyway Uncle Don went up and found Mike passed out on the bathroom floor. He had passed out in the middle of the night while he was trying to take some ibuprofen. Mike suffered from migraine headaches and apparantely had been having one. My uncle called 911 and went downstairs and told my mom what was going on. He was alive but not responsive.
After many tests at the hospital the neurosurgeon informed my parents that Mike had suffered a stroke in the stem of the brain, which was most likely what was causing his headaches, his blood was not flowing to his brain like it should.
Over the next 4 days we stayed at the hospital around the clock. The outpouring of love and support was tremendous. My boyfriend and his family were amazing, they really took care of us. The family and friends that gathered each day in the ICU waiting room was the most amazing thing I had ever seen. I will never forget on the third day we knew that things were not looking good, the doctors had told my parents that his chance of survival was small and if he did live he would be brain dead, an awful thought but we still wanted him to wake up so bad. We all took turns around his bed trying to encourage him. We told him stories, tried to make him smile and did everything we could think of to get him to just open his eyes and say "okay, I am going to be fine". It was on this day that I was standing out in the hall with Mike's friend Kevin. I had known Kevin since I was 5, he lived two doors down from us and he and Mike had been very best friends for 15 years. Kevin looked at me and said "Oh Nina, you have no idea how much he loves you". Oh my God even writing that right now 21 years later I am bawling like a baby. It was the best thing anyone had ever said to me, to know that Kevin even knew how strong our bond was and to know that Mike had shared with him how important I was to him was the sweetest thing ever.
That night my parents, Bryan (the boyfriend) and I decided that we were going to go home and sleep, we had been sleeping in the waiting room the first couple nights and we thought maybe we should go home for a while. Kevin said that he and Leslie (Mike's ex-girlfriend who was very close to our family) would stay the night. So the 4 of us went home. It was so hard to see my parents like this, they were beyond sad, they were devastated that this was happening. We all went to sleep, my mom and I slept in my room, Bryan slept on the couch and my dad slept in his room. The phone rang at 5:30 am and we all were awakened immediately dreading what the phone call was. My mom and I lay still in my bed and all we could hear was my dad say "hello?" and then, "oh, no. Not my baby boy, not my baby.. he's gone." He was sobbing and talking and I swear my heart just broke right then. Nothing was ever the same.

Friday, March 12, 2010

High school years...

So, high school... let's just say those were some tough years. When I started Warren High in Downey in 1984 things were good. I was a freshman, yes and that isn't ever easy but I was starting high school with so many friends that I had gone to school with since I was a little girl, some even since Kindergarten. So having so many friends and going to the school that my brother Mike had gone to and my cousin Don had just graduated from the year before was a good thing. I also had Tami there, she was a junior my freshman year so I already had an older 'crowd' to hang out with, that was good. However there was one thing that wasn't good. I had severe ADD and we didn't know it. It was the 80's and there wasn't really a term for it yet, and it wasn't as well known as it is today. So these four years that I was getting ready to embark upon were going to be tough. I was a good kid, smart enough but could NOT keep up in school. I couldn't stand sitting in class, it was more than I could handle so eventually I just started leaving. Yep, if a class or teacher weren't holding my interest or if I just knew I wasn't going to make it through the next hour, well I just walked off campus. I think in the beginning I was making up excuses for my mom or Mike to pick me up because I didn't realize how easy it was to leave, then when I had that figured out I just started ditching. Daily. I would forge my mom's signature so I didn't get much detention, they just thought I was absent all the time. Some of my friends from middle school were choosing to go down some really crazy paths at the time and I think everybody thought I was doing the same thing. I had several friends who actually dropped out that year, they either went to continuation school or just dropped out completely.
My parents weren't the super involved parents that most parents are today and let's face it, I was the youngest and they had already been through so much with the other 3 that they were like, 'what can she do that we haven't already been through', and like I said I was a good kid, I never drank, I still to this day have never done a drug, and I wasn't promiscuous. I was always home by my curfew, as a matter of fact by my junior year I don't think I really had a curfew, just because they knew I would always come home.
I barely scraped by my freshman year and when I came back my sophomore year I got a new group of friends and started staying at school a little more frequently, I still was not there all day every day but at least I was making an effort. Looking back I really, really wish I would have known what was wrong with me and I wish that I could have done something about it. I hate that I never went to college, I went to a local J.C. but just for early childhood education, but I really wish I would have been able to further my education. It's something that I find extremely important now and will do everything I can to make sure that my girls go.
High school ended ok and I am still friends with so many of the people that I was friends with then, and not just because of facebook, a lot of us were still friends before facebook became the rage and we started finding people we hadn't even thought of in 20 years!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

backtracking a bit...

Everytime that I thought about starting this blog I couldn't decide how it was going to go, I couldn't decide if I wanted it to be chronological or just lots of random stories. The way that I started it has been more chronological but clearly I skipped many years. So I think I will just fill in some with some facts and information in between big posts. We will see how that works.
So I never mentioned that my Dad was an identical twin. He and his twin brother Don were very close. Uncle Don is the father of my cousin's in the group picture that I posted before. My dad and his brother were a lot like and yet different in so many ways. They both had great senses of humor and they were both so completely commited to their family. They loved their parents dearly and were very good sons. As you can imagine when they lost both of their parents so close together it was very hard for them. It was a very sad time in the Sabella family. There were arguments over who got to keep what, emotions ran high and sometimes it wasn't pretty. I wouldn't want to go back to that time in our lives, it was the beginning of so many sad things to come.

My Mom's Family-
Because my dad and his family were so very close and so steeped in their culture and my mom's family wasn't we didn't spend much time with my mom's family at all when I was a kid. It's unfortunate, and when I was younger it didn't bother me. I was so in love with my dad's side that I didn't feel like I was missing out on anything. My mom's parents were divorced when she was young and both her parents had remarried a couple times. My Grandma Bernice (not pronounced Ber-neece but Bur-nus, seriously.. oh and her nickname? Bunny. For reals.) and my Grandpa Earl both lived in a Yucaipa when I was growing up and they were both very sweet people, I don't have many memories of them but the ones that I do have are all good. My mom has a sister her name is Jean, her husband's name? Oh that would be Gene. Yep not even kidding. Oh wait... so my Aunt Jean married my Uncle Gene and when they were dating they decided to set their parents up. So... one day my Grandma Bernice married her daughter's father in law (are you following?) and his name... well they called him Pa Jay. Again, not kidding. So now my Grandma is married and her daughter and son in law are also step brother and sister! So maybe this is why it didn't bother me when I found out that my other grandparents were cousin's... we all like to keep it in the family.
My mom's family is from the mid west, and can be traced back to the 1700's, I know this because I have recently done it. I joined ancestry.com to find out more about my dad's family (of course) but because they were all immigrants there really isn't much to find out through U.S. records. But on the other side (the White family, that was their last name not just their race) they can be traced back to the earliest settlers. I have been amazed at all the info I found out about them. Apparantely they were a very affluent family back in the day and owned hundreds of acres of land and had dozens of kids.
Not knowing my mom's family better is one of my biggest regrets. I am sad that it wasn't a priority of my mom's that we spend more time with them, I am sure I would have learned a lot from Bernice, she seemed like a really cool lady.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Okay so I kind of ended my post last night right in the middle of a story...

After we left the beach house I will tell you life at the Sabella house was different. Sad. We tiptoe'd around my dad ALOT. He was a wreck. I remember deciding to go the funeral service at the last minute, originally the plan was going to be that I stay at the house and get everything ready with my Aunt. I don't remember my parents asking me if I wanted to go, I just know that the plan was for me to stay home. It was my grandma Nina that said I needed to go. I went to the church (or cemetery, not sure where the service was held) and I was standing at the door ready to walk in when I looked down at the end of the aisle and there was my dad leaning over Ronda's coffin holding on to her sobbing. Oh My God. Wow that was a life changing moment for me. For one, to see my dad that vulnerable, devastated and distraught was more than I was ready for. Then for two, seeing Ronda's body was NOT something I was prepared for. It was traumatizing. It was something that stayed with me for years. Every time I opened a closet, our big stereo cabinet, any closed, dark space I imagined her being in there.
It wasn't until I was much older that I really realized how much this whole situation affected me and literally changed me. It was the first time that I experienced a death so close to me, and at the time nobody I knew had ever been through such a thing, and since Ronda hadn't ever lived with me a lot of my friends didn't really know her, they knew of her but they didn't know her. So I had not one person to talk to about this. I certainly couldn't talk to my parents, my dad was still too sad, my mom and Ronda were not close and I didn't know how to approach her so I just kind of sucked it up and dealt with it.

After Ronda died, Mike moved out, and my parents had our dog put to sleep...
I was in middle school. I was not a big fan of middle school, I really wanted to either go back to elementary school or just go ahead and move on up to High School. Most of my memories from this time in my life are pretty vague. I do remember in 1982 I think, I would have to look it up, we had a big 50th wedding anniversary party for my grandparents. It was held at Rio Hondo Country Club, kinda swanky for Downey standards. It was an awesome night, we had so much fun. All of the family was there, and all of my parents friends too. I loved being around all of these people, there was always so much love, life and fun. My grandparents both came from a big family. I didn't write the word family by accident, they didn't come from two different families, they really came from one, they were cousin's. There. I said it. My grandma and grandpa were cousins. I know it's crazy, I know nowadays we think 'oh my gosh, so white trash' but remember, they were not Americans, there family was very traditional, and the bottom line is they loved each other so much. Anybody that was around them could see the love. I have cousins whom I don't even know very well who still to this day when they meet me or see me say things like "Nina and Chico were my idols, I always wanted a marriage like theirs."
So to the nay sayers and to the people who judge, so what if they were cousins, it was a different time and a different culture. All I know is that I am so proud to call them my grandparents (aren't they so cute?).
So knowing all of this it will probably come as no surprise when I say that in 1987 when my grandpa became ill with lung  cancer (he was an avid no filter camel smoker and had been a fire fighter for most of his adult life) my grandma was beside herself. When my grandpa finally passed away in March of 87 my grandma was devastated, she was only able to live without her sweet husband for a few months. She died in July of that same year. She lived long enough to see me graduate from high school.
Now that is a love story....

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Well here it goes...

This is something that has been on my mind for quite some time now and I am obsessing over it and never sitting down and actually doing it... until now! Here I am writing my first post in my new blog!

So here we go...
Have you ever wanted to ask a family member something about their childhood or an event that happened in your family and you couldn't because they had already passed away or they were too old to remember? Well that is the story of my life. My goal is to make sure that I can provide a little window into my world for my daughters, my nieces, my nephews, brothers, or whomever else might be curious about things that have happened. I am not thinking the general public will be interested, although Lord knows I have been told many times that my life story should be on Dr. Phil or Oprah, so who knows maybe somebody else will be interested too.

Where to begin? I guess when you sit down to write a memoir of sorts that is the first question right? Where do I start? Well I guess I will start about the time the picture on my title was taken. I was probably about 5 there and was really happy. It was around 1974 and I was at my grandparents house. One of my happy places. I loved my grandparents so much. They lived about an hour and a half away from us and I didn't get to see them nearly as much as I would like. They were my Dad's parents, they were Italian - American and full of life and love. Being around them always made me feel so good. My Grandma Nina was always cooking and doing everything she could to make everybody else happy and my Grandpa... well he was my hero. There really was nobody greater as far as I was concerned. I loved everything about him. I remember one time when I was young, I am going to guess 7 or 8 I had a nightmare that he died. I woke up early like 3:30 am scared to death, felt like the dream was real so I made my Dad call my Grandpa right then so that I could talk to him. That was such a horrible feeling, and I was so happy when he answered the phone. The unfortunate thing is because they lived kind of far away I didn't get to spend nearly as much time with them as I wanted and it was rarely one on one time. It was rare for me to get to go see them without my brother(s) or my cousins.

That brings me to my family breakdown situation. It's confusing so hang on, here it goes...

Here we all are in all our 1970's glory... my siblings, my cousins and my Great Grandma. Next to Nonnie, (Italian for Grandma) is my oldest brother Danny, me, my cousin Denise and then on the floor is my brother Mike, my sister Ronda and my cousin Don.

My two oldest siblings Danny and Ronda are my half-siblings, they are my dad's kids, not my mom's. My brother Mike and I have the same parents. My parents also had twins but they did not live, they died shortly after they were born. It was 1967 and technology was not as it is today and they were not able to keep them alive. They were a boy and a girl, named Christine and Ronald Jr. Growing up I always heard the story of their birth, so much so that I felt as though I actually lived it. It wasn't until I was actually giving birth to my own first child that I realized how devastating it must have been for my parents to lose both of the babies. I can't imagine being pregnant with twins for 8 1/2 months and to give birth to them and then to leave the hospital and have to go to the cemetery to plan their funeral. Absolutely hearbreaking.
Growing up I was very, very close to my brother Mike, he was the greatest big brother any girl could ever want. Seriously, I am not just saying that I could not have looked up to him more, or idolized him any more than I did. The first time he moved out on his own he was 18 and I was 12, to say I was devastated is an understatement. I didn't go to school for a week, I cried every day. I called him and begged him to move back. It was the worst thing I had ever been through. I just wanted him home so bad. He had only moved 20 minutes away and my mom was still doing his laundry so it wasn't as if he was in another state and I only saw him at the end of the semester.. but it was way more than I was ready for. I was so glad when he and his friends were broke and all had to move back home! I honestly cannot put into words how awesome Mike was. Sure he teased me like big brothers do and he called me names, as a matter of  fact most of the time he didn't call me Nina, he called me "chubby" and I swear if another person were to dare call me that I would be so mad, but when Mike started calling me that I didn't care, I protested a bit but it just became my nickname, but only for him.

Right around the time that Mike moved out, I want to say it was within weeks I went on a vacation with my parents and their friends. They had rented a beach house in Balboa and it worked out perfect for me because their daughter was one of my good friends. We were having an awesome time. It was the last weekend of summer and we were so happy to be at the beach. There was no phone in the beach house and this was way, way before cell phones so nobody had a way of getting a hold of us. So when the police knocked on the door and asked for my Dad everybody in the room was silent trying to figure out what was going on. The cop told my dad that there was a "tragedy" in his family and he needed to call the number he gave them. My dad said that he knew right away that it was either Danny or Ronda because it was their grandma's phone number. I remember waiting with my mom and their friend's for my dad to come back from the phone booth at the corner, wondering what could be wrong. Ronda was in a pretty abusive relationship with her boyfriend and often called my dad when something happened so I figured it was something like that. Nothing could have prepared me for what really happened or how my life was about to change. When my dad came back he told us all that Ronda had died. I don't remember much after that, it was totally surreal. I had never seen my dad cry and I certainly had never seen him like that. He was devastated. I immediately remembered the last time I had talked to Ronda, it was the weekend before we left for vacation. Our cousin was having a baby and my mom and I were getting ready to go the baby shower, the phone rang and I answered it. Ronda always called our dad "daddy" so she said "hi, Nina is daddy there?" and I said yes and told her that I would go get him, she said "wait, Nina I want you to remember that no matter what happens I love you" I said "I love you to Ronda" I went and told my dad she was on the phone, I then went back into the bathroom where my mom was and I so clearly remember saying to my mom "mom, Ronda is acting a little weird" and my mom shrugged it off as she was used to erratic behavior from her.
I remember sitting at the beach house listening to everybody talking around me and thinking 'she knew, she knew she was going to die'. Ronda was epileptic and had to take dylantin daily or risk having seizures. I witnessed her having a seizure when I was around 7 years old and I never, ever forgot how horrible it was. I remember my dad saying that when he went to her apartment he found her perscription bottles and they had not been filled in a while. She had not been taking her medication. Ronda had a daughter, Christina she was 7 years old when her mom died. I can't imagine what it was like for her. We have since talked about it and even though we were the youngest and pretty much kept in the dark we have come to the conclusion that Ronda pretty much took her own life. Even as I write this 30 years later I am still not sure what my brother Danny thinks, we haven't ever discussed it, but that is my opinion and my memory.