This morning I find myself in a reflective state.
I wake up with a sense that today is a day of significance.
November 15th 2005 is the day we lost our Compare Tony.
It was the first time I’ve experienced the loss of a loved one.
Tony Napoli was my second father.
My mom and dad’s best friend for over 30 years.
He was a warm, larger than life, caring soul.
His carefree smile effortlessly radiated warmth, and is something all his children inherited.
Compare Tony was a jokester with an easy going approach.
He brought out the silliness in everyone.
He even gave my dad a sense of humour.
If you know my dad, you’d know that’s not an easy feat.
I always looked up to him, even when I grew taller.
There was a massive love of life in one short package.
He’s the one who became matchmaker for my parents.
Once upon a time, 40 years ago, while visiting Domenica’s coffee shop where my mom and Tony’s girlfriend (also my mom’s best friend) worked, my mom told Tony that if she must be set up, he needs to find someone tall.
The next day, Tony brought in my father.
Eventually, they got married and had four amazing children, the youngest being the masterpiece.
All because Compare Tony found my mom a tall guy.
Love was simpler back then.
In case you’re wondering, “Compare” in Italian culture is the honourable title you give to someone who is unrelated but has earned the right to be considered family because of their values, loyalty and character.
Compare is not be confused with mungi culture, whereby “Aunt” is a loose reference that refers to the school bus driver, the Facebook friend you see by mistake at Walmart and your Pampered Arbonne consultant.
Italians don’t do that.
In fact, it’s quite insulting when someone who didn’t have to live with my siblings calls themselves an aunt.
They didn’t endure that hardship.
They don’t have that right.
In a weird way, it was almost harder to be there for my uncle’s visitation and funeral than my own mother’s.
Watching people you love and care for deeply, grieving in unimaginable ways and then having to receive well wishers.
When you have to greet people yourself, I guess there’s a different sense of duty and shock that becomes prevalent.
These people are my chosen family.
They have been through the same kind of grief with their father and now my mom.
They make sure we are ok.
They bring joy and laughter to our lives.
They never forget.
Joy and laughter was always prevalent with Compare Tony.
There are so many good times and happy memories I associate the Napoli family.
Spending countless summer days in Orillia, family picnics, Italian day at Canada’s Wonderland.
Endless caravans that could put anyone of Romanichel descent to shame.
These are just a tip of the iceberg, as my memories are but a chapter from a more extensive book.
The first draft written long before I existed.
The best of times occurred around the dining table.
Meals were events of Olympic proportions.
Spending that kind of time together and not wanting to kill each other is the sign of a true family bond.
I’m reminded of a Thanksgiving Dinner 15 years ago.
I laughed out loud as Compare Tony began to carve a turkey that kinda looked the same size as he was.
“Lidia, shuddap!!” He laughed as I watched him carve Big Bird.
I was very helpful in the kitchen back then.
I looked at him and smiled; “That’s it! From now on, I’m calling you Tony Tacchino!” We all laughed.
Tacchino is turkey in Italian.
I thought this name was so funny, that I spent a good part of my paycheque getting him the following key chain for Christmas:
When Christmas rolled around that year, I was thrilled to present him with my gift.
I even wrapped it up nice too.
It had just the right reaction.
Laughs all around.
Proof that money can buy happiness, if only for a while.
After that Christmas, I gave no more thought to that key chain.
It had served its purpose.
The key chain resurfaced the day of Compare Tony’s funeral almost 5 years later.
My cousin gave it to me.
Thinking it was something tossed aside in a junk drawer, I was touched to see Compare Tony added this memento to the ring that housed his truck and car keys.
Something so silly meant something to him.
Something so silly means something to me.
It’s been on my key chain for 11 years now.
My train has stopped for a while now and thinking I didn’t notice.
I check my watch to see what time it is.
I realize I forgot to put one on before heading to the station.
Almost like the universe wanted time to stop in place.
Maybe so that I’d remember.
I’d never forget.