Celebrating My Cousin Suzy

For as long as I can remember she has been there. My first friend, two years, eleven days my senior. My September, sapphire, Virgo cousin. Always beautiful, more kind than anyone else in the room, drawing a crowd with her contagious laugh and megawatt smile. I idolized her from the moment I arrived.

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Me, my Dad, and my cousin, Suzy

For the first part of our childhood, we grew up next door, exactly one house away from each another. For decades we shared the same last name and the challenge of explaining how our Italian fathers have a very English last name. To this day, we look more alike than any of our other relatives or sisters. More than one person has told me they think my older daughter looks like her. A compliment that reminds me of the joy I felt as a child when people thought we were sisters.

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Suzy with my daughter Danielle

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First Communion Suzy with both of her Grandmother’s

Together, we learned how to make twelve-hour spaghetti sauce without a recipe, or gravy as Granny Liz would say. We make the same homemade meatballs that require three different types of meat, still long for the paper thin spinach ravioli only Gran could make (although Valerie does a pretty close second), and are transported back to our childhood with a glass bottle of coca-cola waiting for our arrival.

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Jenny and Sue making Gran’s famous sauce

We spent summers at the swim club, lounging in lawn chairs, listening to the music of the 80’s while the sun tea brewed in the back yard. We wore Ocean Pacific shorts, Sunshine House t-shirts, and flipped the collars on our Lacoste polo shirts. We had the same allergies and needed identical prescriptions. We had the same painful bones jetting out the back of our feet, requiring the same unusual surgery in our teens.

When it came time for high school, Sue made sure I was ready. Ready to make the cheerleading squad, parallel park, and still have time for a morning coffee from Dunkin’ Donuts. I was a quick study learning how to expertly apply mascara, eyeliner, and bubblegum flavored Kissing Potion lip gloss. Sometimes on Friday nights, I would be invited out with her and her friends. Required to sit on two large phone books, designed to make me look taller, I remained in the back of the car and was strictly forbidden to speak to any boys. We cruised around Towson, like gilded queens on chariots, getting milkshakes, and ending the evening deliriously happy at the Rock and Bowl.

She is there, in nearly every corner of my blissfully happy childhood. Together sharing holidays and vacations, joy and laughter, coffee and conversation. When it was our turn to be a bride, we were one another’s bridesmaids. And as you may imagine she was there for me in the dark days of death. When I doubted both my will and ability to raise two young children as a widow, she championed me. Her familiar voice reassuring me, believing in me, encouraging me, in a way that only those with a shared history can do.

Today is cause for celebration as this wonderful woman, my cousin, celebrates her birthday. A special birthday that marks the passage of time, one I cannot quite fathom. Those of us blessed with the good fortune to call her family and friend are the ones that have been given the most glorious of gifts, having Suzanne in our lives.

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Valerie, Suzy, her Baby Hannah, and me

Happy Birthday Suzy! I No matter how much time passes, or miles come between us, I will always admire you, feel my heart swell with pride when people ask if we are sisters, and look forward to the next time we are together again. I love you as only a cousin can.

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The beautiful Suzanne and her wonderful husband Joe

Nineteen

Year two arrived with her first apartment unlocking the promise and possibility that awaits the young. Nineteen and fearless, she does not look back. She is no longer mine. Although, I’m not certain any strong willed daughter every really belongs to her mother.  My heart bursts with equal parts pride and pain. Pride, as I see her making her way in the world and pain, saying goodbye with so many miles between us.

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Nineteen The promise and the possibility that awaits

He is a well-dressed, southern charmer, in the heart of Dixie. Skilled in the art of conversation, opening doors, and extending welcoming invitations. He has stolen her heart. Oxford, Mississippi and Ole Miss are impossible to resist.

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Fulton Chapel University of Mississippi

Together they are rod iron roof tops, Etta James singing sweetly in the background, and the sun kissing the sky goodnight. It is sorority row, hands held in public prayers, and a canopy of trees lining the Grove. It is yes ma’am, no sir, cornmeal crusted fried green tomatoes, and SEC football. It’s a pickle martini in the manicured yet frazzled hand of a mother remembering what it felt like to be nineteen.

This is the place she loves and now calls home. She is the happiest she has ever been. And that fact alone fills me with gratitude for you Ole Miss. She is my treasure, and the living legacy of a father that left this world too soon. I have poured my heart and soul into this child, and now entrust her to you.

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Bid Day at Ole Miss Delta Gamma

I have a request of you Dear Oxford. Teach her well. Be kind. Fill her up, with all that is wonderful about this little corner of the world. So that someday, when it is time for her to venture out of the velvet ditch, she may sing your song of the south. I pray she will be better because of her time with you, made stronger in body, mind, and spirit and empowered to share her gifts with the rest of the world.

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Love and Friendship

Laura & Eric

Laura & Eric

There’s not much that could persuade me to cut my Italy trip short and return to the states. But when my dear friend of nearly twenty years finally said yes to one of the best men I know, I happily rearranged my summer travel plans to attend their wedding.

Mr. and Mrs.

At last.

In my life, I have been blessed with the gift of great friendships and count Laura among that treasured list.

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Kathy, Annmarie, Laura, & Courtney

If you know Laura and Eric, you know that individually they are each brilliantly smart, thoughtfully kind, wonderfully witty, and fearlessly adventuresome. Yet, together they are even more extraordinary. A sum far greater than its parts. Together their brightly shining stars align, enriching the lives of those they love, and reminding us all of how powerful and beautiful love and life can truly be.
Congratulations Laura and Eric!

Thirteen Firsts

I remember the frantic pace of the morning as if it were yesterday. The backpack and breakfast, the box-pleated jumper and bike shorts, and the navy and white saddle shoes to carry her through kindergarten.

The shoes were special, an early indicator that this raven haired child was a product of the verdant greens of northeast Florida. The shoes she insisted upon having, and grew frustrated when I couldn’t make sense of her request. With the dramatic flare of a first-born self -assured daughter, she let out a sigh and exclaimed, “Mom, you know. The shoes the golfers wear.” Ah yes, the shoes the golfers wear. And that small exchange, at the tender age of five was one of the many ways Danielle let me know she had her own ideas about the world.

On this morning it was time to wear the saddles. With great pride she laced up her shoes and walked out of her room ready for her big day. As for me, no matter how early the morning begins, I always fall prey to the last minute rush. The hurried mix of adrenalin and panic coupled with disbelieving glances at a clock that seemed a friend but a moment ago. And this morning was no different. The rush out the door with my camera, and a very sullen little sister, upset because she was too young to attend “the big school.” And yet I captured this sweet moment of excitement and confidence on film. With the morning sunshine lighting her way, she climbed into the car, smiled a glorious grin, and was off to school.

And now here it is, twelve short Augusts later. The saddles have long been retired, the uniform a detail of the past. But the same fevered and frantic pace returned again this morn. This time with black coffee and bag lunches, blow dryers and mascara, and another pair of new shoes, silver and blue Jack Rodgers, to christen the start of her final year of high school. This time it’s not the clock but the calendar I look at with disbelief. And again this morning, for what will be the last time, I captured the sunshine and smile, with a lump in my throat, as my beautiful daughter walks into the promise and possibility of this her senior year of high school.