Friday, June 8, 2018

RIP Aunt Lydia

Hilda massages Aunt Lydia's temples
Lydia Manocchi Bellard 
January 7, 1924 - June 2, 2018

The funeral for my Aunt Lydia was this morning and I wrote a few words for her last night. I went to bed and had a hard time falling asleep because the ending of this was just not right. This morning I added the stuff about Saint Augustine and rearranged the order slightly, Now I think it works as a fitting tribute.

RIP Aunt Lydia. I'll miss you.


I first knew Lydia Manocchi Bellard as Aunt Lee-Lee, my Great Aunt. She was the older sister of my grandmother, Hilda. As a child, although I knew they both loved me, there was something realer about Lydia. She was more down-to-earth than Hilda, maybe a little smarter too. Funnier, no doubt about that.

Lydia was fun. From the picture window at the Grannis Road house in Orange you could see her walk across the lawn from Andrew Lane, cross the road and head around to the back door. It was a thrill when Aunt Lee-Lee was coming to visit. She got excited about what excited you.

In third grade I paged through a book on Dracula and the Universal Monsters with her at our kitchen table at Treat Lane and she enjoyed every page just as much as I did.

When she gave you socks or gloves for Christmas or your birthday she'd wonder aloud if they'd fit and urge you to try them on. You'd reach in and find a rolled up five dollar bill she crammed in there as a surprise. She enjoyed a genuine crack-up.

She really adored my brother, Brendon's sense of humor. He was always very good at roasting his grandmother, Hilda and Aunt Lee-Lee took great pleasure in the mocking of her younger sister. She highly valued humor. She played practical jokes. She cracked wise.

My sister saw her bust-up a funeral director. Turned the man an embarassed beet red. They were leaving my father's wake and Danielle was helping Lydia down the stairs when the funeral director collided with them, almost knocking both all the way down to the concrete sidewalk. He apologized immediately but without a pause Lydia quizzed him Hey, what are you trying to drum up new business?

Joy in the moment.

She loved Elvis Presley. Her birthday was January the seventh and the King's is the eighth. We got her an Elvis Presley calendar one year for Christmas. She put it up at her desk at work and I can remember her crafting a shirt for the bare-chested, bathing-suit clad King in a photo from Blue Hawaii. She had to clean it up a little, make it more work-friendly.

She worked for years at Helicopter Support. There she answered the phone and when you called from college and her voice greeted you it was like passing through a gateway to home. Like Nonnie did, for me, she fused the experience of work with home and with family. I think she did that for a lot of people she wasn't even related to. Truckers loved her. Bikers loved her.

She made a cake every Friday at Helicopter Support and would make sure people sang happy birthday to whoever in the office had theirs that week. She helped connect people to celebration and to each other.

She was a patriot but not really too far to the left or to the right, her favorite presidents were Ronald Reagan, Barrack Obama and FDR. Oh, how she loved FDR. She spoke of him with reverence. She described reaching out and touching him once when he visited New Haven. It was like touching the Pope.

She loved the flag. She loved fireworks and the Fourth of July. I always felt like I had this special connection with her because I was a July baby. I actually share a birthday with her mom. July 1st.


Boy, she loved numbers. She kept an appointment calendar on her desk that was specifically for recording the lotto and the daily numbers that came up. She did the scratch-offs and she never met a slot machine she didn't love.   

Growing up, it felt like there were two schools of homemade Italian cooking. There was Ya and Nonnie, my grandmother and great grandmother, and there was Lydia. Ya and Nonnie were traditionalists and very proud of their cooking. Maybe a little snobby. But Lydia was the artist. She knew the rules, she followed the rules and then she broke the rules. That's what artists do.

Artists know their art might not be for everyone and Lydia knew that about her food. It didn't stop her. She tried new things. She dared. She was the Salvador Dali of Andrew Lane. Ice cream cake with the popsicle sticks still in it? Filet of fish sandwiches minus the buns that became an intriguing fried fish dinner?

Lydia was connected to the Green World of plants all around us. She could breathe life into a struggling spider plant, rescue an African violet from dry brown leaves, or grow an entire plant from some sad looking cuttings.

She seemed to relish life’s silver linings even though she really didn't actively cultivate them. She could be dark, fatalistic. She did not have an upbeat outlook but she was joyous in the moment. Always. There’s a lesson in that I think. All we really have is the moment. An outlook doesn’t do much in the now.

The Buddha teaches that Life is suffering. That's the lesson of The Cross. Lydia suffered some of the most horrific things a person could possibly experience. They didn't break her. You don't have to dwell in life's suffering.

Joseph Campbell, the mythology scholar, talked about how we are all free-falling into the future. And with any fall, fear and anxiety comes up all around you along the way down.  But all you have to do to transform your Hell into a Paradise is to turn your fall into a voluntary act. It’s a very interesting shift in perspective and that’s all it is. Joyful participation in the sorrows and everything changes.

Saint Augustine wrote about Jesus going to The Cross like a bridegroom to his marriage bed. He wrapped His arms around His suffering, His destiny.

Joyful participation in the sorrows.

the warden said hey buddy don't you be no square
if you can't find a partner use a wooden chair

Joy in the moment.

That's what Lydia Bellard taught us.

I carry that with me.

I hope you can too.

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