(Nick and Maria Barracato-right after Nick returned from Korea, circa 1965)
October 26, 2003 was a typical morning for my family. I attended church with my wife and kids, then headed to my mother-in-law's for our weekly Italian dinner. Everything looked great, and I was hungry from the lengthy morning service.
Then the telephone rang.
My mother-in-law handed me the phone, saying it was my father. He said the two most unforgettable sentences I've ever heard in my life.
"I have some very bad news."
"What happened?" I said.
"Your mother died this morning."
One of the things I love about my father is how he 'tells it like it is'; he never beats around the bush about anything, and this proved it for sure. But at the same time, this was the first time I'd ever heard him crushed (he being a tough, old fashioned military man and life-long football / boxing fan).
Although I've lost grandparents and countless aunts and uncles (not to mention several friends), nothing has devastated me more than the premature passing of my mother. While I believe we all have an "appointed time" to meet with God (according to the book of Hebrews in the New Testament), my mom's death at the age of 58 came as a total shock to everyone who knew her. She had been sick for a week or so before this, but nothing that would indicate she was at the end of her days.
During the ride to my parents' house (which was thankfully only ten minutes away), I experienced feelings I didn't know existed. My arms also went numb, and to this day I couldn't tell you how I got there in one piece. When I saw her lying on the living room couch--were we had spent countless hours watching TV and reading novels together--my heart and stomach sank so fast and deep I thought I was about to join her on the other side.
My mom--Maria--was more commonly known as Bunny, a name one of her uncles gave her when he came to visit her in the hospital shortly after she was born. It stuck. To her family, friends, and all who knew her she was Bunny, Aunt Bunny, and finally Grandma Bunny. People would call her home when she was a teenager and ask for Maria only to have my grandparents and aunt say "You have the wrong number." My dad--and everyone else--was very upset when the anal-retentive cemetery where she's buried refused to put her nickname on her headstone.
But when I visit her final resting place and look down at her grave, I visualize BUNNY carved in-between her first and last name . . . where it should be.
And then I cry, remembering not only the last time I saw her before she was taken away from us, but of the wonderful, incredible, loving, and cool mother that I was blessed with. I say cool because that's what she was. Cool. She grew up in a suburban home, but spent many weekend afternoons hanging out in Greenwich Village, listening to street performers and attending poetry readings (a “closet” beatnik if there ever was one!). She always encouraged my brother and I in everything we did--and being two kids interested in the arts (music, film, drawing), she never once laughed at us or told us we should be studying to be a lawyer or a doctor; she rooted for us, promoted us, and even managed to get one of my brother's bands on an NBC TV show in the early 90s by sending their demo tape to a competition; they were chosen along with four other bands out of thousands and got to play one of their songs on the soap 'Another World'--all because my mother was that cool. I'm very happy she got to see my brother (a hot shot musician in the NY/NJ area today) perform one of her all-time favorite songs at one of his gigs (The Commodores' "Easy," one of her "Saturday Morning Classics").
I think she would be proud of both of us today, and I know she'd be thrilled to find out her other son (that'd be me) is finally starting to get some of his fiction published--not to mention running his own small press. My mother taught me the love of reading (and of books in general) without saying a single word; I can't recall one single time where she'd sit around the house without a novel in her hands. She read at least 3 novels a week, and when my brother and I were married and out of the house, she told me she was up to 5-6 novels a week. Reading was her passion. It was her love.
It was HER.
I've estimated that my mom had read at least 11,400 novels in her lifetime, the majority being historical romances.
Even though she wasn't a big horror fan, she did read 'The Sentinel' and 'The Exorcist,' and in the mid 70s I spent countless hours laying on the living room floor, drawing the creepy-looking people on the inside-front cover of The Sentinel paperback before she had to give it back to our neighbor. She told me I used to watch 'Dark Shadows' with her when I was a toddler, which probably helped condition my mind to where it is today (and for that I can never thank her enough).
My mother . . . my friend . . . my biggest fan. It's taken me 4 long years to put these words to paper, and I'm sure in a few more I may get the calling to recollect some more in a less scattered order. Right now it's too hard to write or remember any more with my eyes burning from tears as Paul McCartney's "Let 'Em In" plays in the background (another one of her favorite "Saturday Morning Classics" she played when I was a kid while she cleaned the house).
I miss you mom.
Maria “Bunny” Barracato / 1945 - 2003
(My parents' wedding photo)
(My mom with her dad and sister)