melodee tonti

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it feels like a million birthdays ago....

(my Aunt Lena's house)

Today is my birthday. I never believed it when people said that I would reach a point in my life when I didn't get excited for that day. It is true, though. Sure, I am looking forward to going out to dinner instead of cooking...but, aside from that...::shrug::...no biggie. My birthday was not always like this, that's for sure. I remember a time when I made myself sticker badges, and wore one each day, for a month, counting down to my birthday. I also remember when my birthday was not just my own. I was lucky enough to share my birthday with an amazing woman, my Aunt Lena. She was actually really my great aunt, and the reason I know how to curse in Italian.

I am from a fairly small town in Pennsylvania. Well, if you can even call it a town. I am not sure it actually even was. It was tiny. Very tiny. And I am pretty sure I was related to 3/4 of the town. No, not in some inbred, backwoods kind of way. In a huge, Italian family kind of way. From my house, I could walk across the yard and get to my grandfather's house, cut through another yard, and I was at my Aunt Lena's, one more yard, and I was at her sister's house, my Aunt Flo. And there were more, but you get the idea.

As a kid, I was free to wander through our yard and into my aunt's to visit, on a daily basis. I would place my ever-growing hand on the tiny hand print I had made in the cement of her planter, rock back and forth on the wobbly stone on her back porch (ka-thunk! kathunk!),  and tap on her door. We would sit at her table, in her tiny kitchen. With the old Fridgidaire humming in the background, she would pour me a cup of coffee that she had made in her stove top percolator pot. I would crack nuts from the bowl on her table, with the little, metal nutcracker, with no intention of eating them. She never said a word, as she swept both nuts and shells into her hand, each time, as she cleaned the mess from the table. She would offer me candy from her candy dish, and I would pull my chair up and sit on my knees, so we could play the dot game on a tiny tablet of paper.....the kind she used to write the lottery numbers on. The only time that we didn't sit in her kitchen, was if I visited when her show was on. Her show was The People's Court. Each day, we would sit and talk. She would listen to me ramble on about whatever was important in my little world at that moment.

Every family gathering we had (and there were many) was held at her house. I can close my eyes, and imagine her little house full of people just as easily as I can imagine sitting quietly at her table, just the two of us. Of course, each year, we celebrated our birthday together there. With more food than you could ever eat.....including her rigatoni....the best rigatoni ever. Don't even try to argue with me on this one...you will lose.

It has been many years since I sat next to her, behind our individual birthday cakes, to the sounds of a room full of family, singing "Happy Birthday".....and I can't help but think how awesome it would be to have that again. Even just one more time. Now that would be a birthday I would make countdown stickers for.

Happy Birthday, Aunt Lena. I hope you are spending it in a comfy chair, watching The People's Court, surrounded by your family that has gone before.....and if they didn't want to come? "Well, then let them stay the hell home and cook their beans!"