Life is Short and Then We Die


The immortal deity of note for this chapter is Pluto, the roman god of the underworld, the afterlife, and also wealth. For 76 Earth years, this immortal god enjoyed the status of a planet. Discovered and named in 1930, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) struck Pluto from the list on Aug. 24, 2006. In a strange twist of irony, the god of Death reigns forevermore over a planet who is no longer a planet.

This demotion of the deity of death to the status of dwarf planet marks the closing of a window for me as well. I told the story of Pluto’s demotion at a congress of women called the Hummingbird gathering. The story spoke of incompleteness, and sadness at the exile of the smallest planet to the underworld of the Kuiper belt. Never again would children be taught to remember the names of the planets by reciting “My Very Educated Mother Just Showed Us Nine…”

Another story of incompletion I told at the gathering shared that I would never become that most honored of elders, a grandmother. Will there be a time in our family history that a childless woman will be just as proud of her accomplishments as a grandmother? Did we learn to respect our sexual equality with men by demoting ourselves to their underworld of sex without love? Are we spawning a world where children will be born to robots as mothers abandon the pain of their biological heritage? Will death, as Pluto has done before, surrender Persephone, daughter of the Harvest, before we die from the grief of Mother Earth? As above, so within. The only constant is change.

The Hummingbird event brought traditional wisdom keepers, prayer leaders, and women of all ages and race together to learn sacred community practices of ritual and prayer. The council of women who founded the event intended the ceremonies and prayers to bless the waters of earth. Following their tradition, they banned video during the event. The women taught me to watch over the sacred fire, which was kept lit continuously for many days during the ceremonial event. By guarding the fire, I learned new things about Nature’s ways.  To keep dangerous sparks from escaping during a strong wind, I learned to keep the embers covered.  One clear and calm night, they instructed me to feed enough wood  to the fire to make flames that were 7 feet tall. It was very hot, but gave us gorgeous natural light for the story teller’s circle.

The same year that I learned the meaning of the Red Tent as a sacred place for women who were bleeding their menstrual blood, my own menstrual blood stopped flowing. The mothering years of my life were over, despite the strange feeling that I had not grown old. For 21 of the 35 years of my fertility, my mother rested in an early grave. Her living sadness was a silent part of my own time of mothering. I announced to this body of women that mine was not to be a grandmother. And duly noted, I hereby dutifully remember mine.

Our mother’s mother, Rose Terese Matalone Morici, was born in 1909, I believe. My guess is based on the Census records I found online during my research. It’s not that I did not know my grandmother, but I did not know her well. She always said they did not keep good records in those days. She was not sure if her birthday was in June or July, and she guessed the year was 1910. Rose was born in Chicago. Her father owned the Chicago Macaroni Company. In those days, sad things happened to good people. Typically, the residents of little Italy kept the silence rather than talking about it. Some things were best forgotten. Maybe the silence habit tossed other memories, like babies, out with the bathwater. She never spoke to me about her past.

She married Anthony Charles Morici in the early 1930’s, and they moved to Santa Clara in the 1940s. As a wife and mother, she lived in a comfortable home not far from a fabulous public Rose Garden. She was very proud of her own garden roses, which were  mostly yellow as I recall. Other things wake up my memories of her, such as treasured recipes recorded in homemade cookbooks, and holiday pictures from family photo albums. She owned a chihuahua named Peppie who was not too friendly and barked a lot. I spent many hours in her rocking chair, which was remarkably sturdy and fun to ride.

My parents and siblings and I lived in another state as we grew up. When we were little, Noni came for weeks at a time to stay with her daughter and granddaughters. Every day was organized around cooking, and when she left we had gained a few pounds and a freezer full of pasta sauce and frozen italian fast food. Hot stuffed buns, lasagna, and gallons of marina sauce made mom’s job of cooking a lot easier for the next six months.

We visited one of her three houses almost every Christmas, Easter, or over the summers. Grandfather, like my mom, had passed away around the age of 50. They had a grand piano in the living room. At the grand entrance stood a beautiful pendulum grandfather clock that could be heard every hour of the day anywhere in the house. The bedrooms upstairs were accessed from a circular stairway that spiraled along a curving wall underneath a huge chandelier. We could stretch out our fingers from the upper banister to tinkle the musical glass.

Three rooms for the kids used to belong to my aunt, my uncle, and my mom. When I stayed in my mom’s room, which was most of the time, I would sleep under a framed painting that gave me the creeps. It was just a dark window inside the wall of a plaster house, but it felt haunted and cold to me.

As I have grown to be older than my mother, there is a smell that reminds me of my grandmother. She had an elegant bathroom, with a mirrored vanity in a separate room outside the toilet and shower. She kept jewelry and perfume on a marble counter, and a three part standing mirror was etched with vines and flowers.  If I close my eyes before I shower, a familiar smell that I remember can sometimes take me there. I smell and remember my grandmother, Rose.

During short visits, amid the crowd of many cousins, I spent almost no quality time that I can recall with my grandmother. She was never much of a talker, and Parkinson’s disease caused her health to deteriorate over many years. My last visit to see her was a week before she died. She was sleeping in her rest home, and did not wake up when I whispered in her ear. I am happy I was able to say goodbye, and thank her for all she did for us, her family, now that her time was done.