So I wrote about my Vernola boys recently but I can’t talk about how amazing and gifted and wonderful they are without going back to where it started: their parents, Cooky and Dom. College sweethearts who were both teachers, both highly devoted not only to their children but their parents and siblings. Although Cooky and my Mom are first cousins, many times my darling Dad couldn’t remember whether it was Cooky or Dom who he was related to because they both are so integral to our family life.
It’s not easy to raise 4 boys on the salaries that teachers make but they not only did it, they did it extraordinarily well. Every happy family memory I have from my childhood involves them. I was the first child Cooky was allowed to babysit and she loves to tell the story about how she took me to see Santa at Macy’s in Herald Square where we stood on line for an eternity (according to her) and when it was our turn to see Santa, I burst into tears and she had to take me home. (Since I have no memory of this, I suppose I have to take her word for it).
We’d visit them at Rockaway Beach in the summer and watch the Wednesday night fireworks from the boardwalk. We spent more wonderful times with them than I can count. Every time I saw Dom, he’d say “Hello beautiful” and to see the way they lived their lives and loved each other so deeply was and is an inspiration.
When Dom became very ill years ago and passed away after a valiant fight, it was heartbreaking for all of us and my Dad gave one of the eulogies at his service, a difficult task for my father and one he struggled mightily to get through without breaking down. I can remember being overwhelmed at how many people – his students (present and past), his friends, his neighbors, his co-workers – packed the church for his service. It was a true testament to the outstanding man he was.
I have often referred to Cooky as my second mother because she has always been there for not only me but all of us more times than I can count. When we had a 60th anniversary party for my parents, she gave one of the speeches and she talked about my Dad in a way that still makes me get teary. She said that not only was he the person who was there at the beginning of so many lives in our family, he was also the person who was there at the end of many of our family members’ lives. She made a point of reminding everyone – because it’s something easy to take for granted – that my mother never forgets anyone’s birthday and always send a card or a note and is the person who keeps the many cousins, scattered throughout the country, connected. I knew how wonderful my parents were but to hear her share with this crowd of their friends and family so many of their wonderful qualities is a gift that I’m not sure she realizes she gave me.
She includes us in everything and any time my Mom or Dad were sick, she was there. The last time my Dad was in the hospital, she was there almost every day and the last day she saw him, when they both knew it was the last time they’d ever see each other, he said to her as she was leaving “I’ll tell Dom you send your love”. And, to make him laugh, she said “Tell him I’m spending his money too”.
When I knew I was having some major surgery about 5 years ago, she called me a few nights before and asked if it would be OK if she came to the hospital to be with my Mom and my great kid as they waited. I was so grateful to have her there as I know they are too.
There are a handful of people who truly change your life for the better. Cooky and Dom are two of them. And to quote the wonderful lyrics from Wicked “because I knew you, I have been changed for good”.