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Liberty NY – I drove up north this morning with a heavy heart, returning to scene of my teenaged exile for the funeral of my mother’s older sister, Mary. No one called her Mary in my family, they called her Googie, for reasons that escaped me until today. It turns out that my grandfather, in his broken english, couldn’t properly pronounce Cookie, which was her nickname, so it came out, Googie. This is how legends are born.

She and her husband Bill, raised 6 children, all girls, who in turn produced 13 grandchildren and 10 more great-grandchildren. Dinners were crowded to say the least. My mother was one of eight, and I in turn was one of 23 grandchildren. Most families have a kid’s table at family dinner. We had two; the kids table and the teenagers table. By the time that I made it to the teenagers table, most of the older kids were already married and off on their own.

When things were at it’s worst during my childhood, we lived in their house; me, mom and my brother upstairs with Nonna – Googie, Bill, 6 girls and various boyfriends downstairs. At the time, I hated it, but now, with 40 years distance, I yearn for those days. More of often then not, I would wind up downstairs trying to eavesdrop on the conversations of an endless stream of teenaged girls. It was a training ground for my future as a teenaged playboy.

In 1983, when Bill was ready to retire and the girls were all out on their own, they left Brooklyn and moved up to Liberty N.Y., to a 39 acre parcel of woods and fields that would eventually become a working farm. I arrived 2 weeks later, a high-school dropout with no future and zero prospects. They took me in as if I as one of their own and never asked me for anything more than “chop some more wood, or clean out the chicken coop”. I stayed four months before I went back to my decadent ways. It would have been a nice story if I turned my life around at that point, but it was merely a rest stop, one that I look back fondly on. It must have been amusing to watch a Brooklyn kid slop pigs and shovel horseshit, but it gave me a love for the woods that I carry with me today.

It hurt to see the pain on the faces of my six “sisters”, knowing full-well exactly how they felt; remembering exactly how they stood by my brother and I when my mama passed back in ’05. Unfortunately, time and life has spread my cousins far and wide across the landscape. We have now reached the age where the only time we see each other is at wakes. Such is the journey of life. Death is part of life, the bad part. We have mounted family reunions over the years; it’s not unusual to see 75 people at one. I’m counting the days til the next one.

Sleep well tonight, Aunt Goog. Rest in the knowledge that you lived a good life, raised 6 great kids and left a lot of smiles in your wake. I, for one, owe you and Billy a debt I can never repay.

I don’t know if I believe such things, but I like the idea that there is a good game of Bingo going on somewhere tonight.