Memories from the Heart: Family, Love, and Survival presents an inspiring collection of memories recalling author Francie
Rossi’s life from birth to age seventeen.
She describes her medical challenges in “Helen Keller and I,” considering her role as the eleventh of twelve children in her large, loving family. “Sent Away to Las Vegas” shares unique personal stories in which faith, family, and love always prevail. “My Last Clothing Embarrassment” and “Fifteen/40” explores financial struggles, yet inspire humor and tenacity. “Dinner at My Friend’s House” and “Family Night” compare the calamity of a smaller family living in a larger house to Francie’s situation—a large family’s love and laughter contained in a small house. Rossi alludes to an athletic adolescent with an eating disorder, and provides personal tips in a trio of stories, while “A Whole New World” expresses the strong connection between her and her mother. Finally, “My Diagnosis” reverberates like a sentence after a guilty verdict.
Rossi’s memories in this collection are vibrant; sprinkled with a dash of humor as she displays persistence and continues to live a life most people can only imagine in a large, boisterous family.
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Memories from the Heart
Family, Love, and Survival
By FRANCIE ROSSI
iUniverse LLCCopyright © 2013 Francie Rossi
All rights reserved.
Trouble From the Start
Talk about starving!!! Obviously, I ate too soon, ingested it, and was in dire need of immediate medical care. I was born with me conium poisoning. No time to clean me off. Without delay, the attending nun at the Catholic Hospital named me "Joseph" and baptized me. Original sin was removed, so I would not go to Limbo if I died; as Catholics believed in the 1950s. Things looked grim, and death was at the forefront as I entered the world. I was placed in an incubator and heavily oxygenated for approximately two weeks. My mother worried, prayed and showed her sadness in her tears, as she left the hospital ten days later, empty-handed. Her bundle of joy was very sick, yet in good hands.
Many years later, when I wrote a picturesque autobiography for school, my mother told me that my sister Mary was also very sad, and disappointed upon my mother's arrival back home without me. My sister Mary and I (though 13 years my senior) have always shared a strong bond. She informed me recently, that Mom's pregnancies and the preparation for mom and newborn's arrival from the hospital were huge events in our family; similar to a Coronation. My mother was the Queen regarding giving birth.
Several years later, each September (the month of my birth) my father proceeded to tell me the story of my birth, and all of the worry surrounding my health. He was a letter carrier. At the time (1955), he delivered mail to the doctors' offices. They gave him daily updates on my progress. My father swelled with pride as he recalled the story.
My mother informed me of my 2nd and formal Baptism; in our Parish Church. She changed the original name after my birth to "Josephine." That was my 2nd middle name. I was a healthy girl. My mother would proudly tell me of how smiley I was, along with a big, healthy chest. I know she meant 'lungs,' since that is what was severely compromised at birth. I am #11 of 12 children. I am also the only child that was not breastfed. Contrary to popular belief and many research studies, I developed a very close, strong and loving bond with my mother.
My Father Was A Do It Yourselfer Long Before TV Programs
Dad was quite the craftsman. He made many things. He put the meaning into doing it yourself. He did DIY long before it became a TV show. We had a homemade barbeque outside. My dad built it with rocks, cement and marbles. For whatever reason, I recall my father tearing it down after a while and building anew. Some of the rocks felt smooth and shined like gems. It was quite functional. We could barbecue hamburgers, roast marshmallows, and grill hot dogs. It was warm and toasty in the fall, and a delight in the summer. Our summer meals were served on the ping pong table. Dad also crafted that. We all got many hours of good family fun and table tennis practice.
When I was a baby, Dad built a wall in the dining room, thereby dividing it into two rooms. Alas! Another bedroom, coined as the 'front bedroom.' It served as a bedroom for brothers Bill, Tom, Joe, and others. At one time, Anne-Marie and I slept in the front bedroom in bunk beds. I slept on the bottom. I feared the top bunk would collapse and fall on me. Imagine living that nightmare daily!
I remember Dad mixing cement and quite cheerfully whistling away as he worked on the 'back bedroom.' Dad could carry a tune. He could sing and whistle a melodious tune like a bird. A friend of his assisted him in building my parents' Master bedroom.
Whenever a plumbing or electrical issue presented itself, first Dad looked into the problem, and tried to fix it. He was very adept and capable of crawling under the house, or getting his hands dirty in the bathroom. Dad also tiled, grouted and retiled the shower whenever it was needed. His work was perfectionistic. My father's work ethic carried over from his paid job as a letter carrier, to his handiwork at home. He demanded excellence and precision.
With a tall ladder, Dad climbed into the attic. I was forbidden to go there; for I am a girl, and my father did not feel that the dark, crawling space would be safe. My brothers climbed up the attic many times. The cupboards were opened, and they utilized them as rungs on a ladder. Curiosity did NOT get the best of me.
Dad built a practical toy for Mike and me. It was a large, beautiful, blue skateboard. It was wide and long. My younger brother Mike (#12) and I could fit on it together as kids.
We rode up the street. Nobody else had anything that replicated our skateboard! Many times, I laid stomach down, on the skateboard, feet up, skating down the street. 'Big Blue' was large enough to lie on, sit on, or sit and ride with Mike. Our skateboard was unique: big, blue and one of a kind!
In the 1960s and '70s, it really did rain heavily in San Diego. Since we had no automatic dryer, Dad made a clothesline and hung it in the dining room in order for the clothes to dry.
Another constructive thing that my father made for the family, I mean, his sons: a barbell. He used a bar and two large coffee cans. The cans were filled with cement, and each end of the pole or bar stuck in the cement can. Once cemented and dried, the barbell was hung on a stand, above a bench. I wanted to lie down and feel the weight!
"You can't lift it, you're a girl!" Tom uttered. That was a resounding theme. Yes, I was proud to be a girl. "One day," I thought, "I will show you how strong I can be!"
Years later, as a Recreation Leader, I led a Lift-a-thon. At twenty-one, I lifted more weight than boys in junior high. I was also a PE major at SDSU, and had exercised several hours each day.
At the age of sixteen, the great wall of the dining room/ bedroom came down. As Danya and I stood leaning on the wooden frame, smiling, pictures were taken. In the 1950s, when the wall was put up, we had 13 people living in the house. For two days, fourteen people lived in the house. When Mom came home with my one and only younger sibling (Mike), Bob married Sheila and (naturally) moved out. In the 1970s, there was no need for a 'front bedroom' anymore. By the time I was sixteen years old, we had 7 people living at home. Imagine that ... In just sixteen years, the living occupancy reduced in half: from fourteen to seven. My father had the craftsmanship to adjust and fix the house as best he could (like an accordion), to accompany the size of the family.
Dancing on My Brother's Feet
I have fond memories of my brother Bill; fifteen years my senior. Once, when I was a little girl, a giggle blurted out as I jumped (barefoot) onto Bill's brown loafer shoes.
"Ouch!" Bill exclaimed and he grabbed both my hands and began to dance. He swayed me on one side and then the next. The pulse of the music was beating in our hearts and filled the room with laughter. I beamed into Bill's eyes. He was smiling ear to ear, looking down at me. Oh, how I love Bill and those precious moments! We held hands, as we stepped side to side.
There is a First grade Reader with a story that depicts a young cub standing on his daddy's feet, and Dancing with Papa. Each time I've read that story to my students, I'm reminded of my fun 'dancing' time with Bill. I immediately make the text to self connection, as I share the tidbit of my past with the students. I am fortunate that I have such sweet memories.
'Bill ... Wake Up!'
My brother Bill did not wake up easily. Mom would yell at him to wake up; all to no avail. Because I was not yet in school, I was at home in the morning. My morning observation: it was a very hectic time of day for my mother. She made breakfast for everyone, and many different lunches. She did the work of three or four people each morning ... prior to 8:30 a.m. No wonder mother was sleepy whenever she sat down in the evening.
Waking Bill up from his deep slumber became my morning chore for a brief period of time. I rather delighted in the challenge. The bedroom was just off the dining room. Mom was very conscientious about everybody getting up and at 'em on time each day. One day, Mom seemed flustered by Bill's refusal to awaken.
"Bill, wake up!" Mom pleaded. "If you don't wake up, I'm going to pour water on you." Mom warned.
"Frances, take this pan of water and pour it on Bill's face, to wake him up." Mom directed me. I couldn't believe it!
"But, b ..." I tested the water temp. It was cold!
"Go on. He needs to wake up!" Mom ordered me. I opened the door, and yelled:
"Bill.... Wake up!" He just laid there. On the window sill, I noticed a Guardian Angel plaque and prayer. Bill reminded me of a Guardian Angel, as he remained calm and tranquil. I did not want to hurt my big brother. However, I needed to follow my mother's directions.
Quickly, I poured the pan of shocking cold water onto Bill's face. Immediately, he awoke, gasping for air.
"Hu, hu, what, what the heck?" Bill fumed. I cannot write the words that he uttered, after having been so abruptly and dangerously awakened. Bill sprang out of bed, arms outstretched toward me. I swiftly ran out of the room, laughing my way into the kitchen. That was 'safe' or 'home base,' for the boss was toiling away at her morning duties.
"Mom told me to do it." I reported to Bill, as I tugged my mother's long white apron with blue floral trim. I managed to escape any possibility of Bill's negative and reflexive reaction.
"That's right, Bill. I couldn't wake you and I warned you about the water. I think Frances did a fine job." Mom sternly lectured my brother.
I thought that pouring water on a comfortably slumbering brother was a dirty and potentially dangerous trick. However, it did serve the purpose of waking Bill. Consequently, he got out of bed and dressed in a timely manner. Due to the end results, in my mom's eyes (the boss), I got the job done.
My Mother the Servant
My first memories of my mother are those of a woman of service to the point of servitude. She lived her life for others. She worked (in the house) for her husband, and her children. I distinctly remember a scene from Mom's post-surgery. She had her sharp, debilitating varicose veins stripped within a year after her twelfth and final child was born. It pained me to see my mother in misery. I learned that in time, she would make a full and healthy recovery.
However, one Sunday morning I observed the recovering patient leaning onto one crutch over the hot stove, standing inside the crowded kitchen. The delicious smell of bacon attracted many to congregate in the undersized room. Mom was cooking a mouthwatering breakfast of bacon and eggs. After cooking the bacon, she leaned heavily on the crutch for stability while cracking open at least a dozen eggs. Mother cooked them in the tastiest way; fried in the bacon grease. As I heard the clatter of the spatula, the aroma of mouthwatering food and familial togetherness filled the house.
I was about four or five years old, so I couldn't help. I wondered why nobody was helping Mom?
In the 1950s, and '60s, it was typical of a woman of my mother's age to do everything on autopilot. She waited on my father hand and foot. She made fresh brewed coffee several times per day. Mom did the morning dishes, and cleaned the kitchen floor. My mother was like "Edith" from All In The Family decades before the TV show began.
My father took the bus to get to work downtown. That meant that he got up in the wee hours of the night. Mom got up with him. She percolated his coffee, added cream and sugar to his liking, and cooked and served Dad's breakfast of 2 minute soft boiled eggs with toast. She sat & visited with my father, then did the dishes. Dad went to work, and Mom went back to bed.
About 6:30 a.m. Mom awakened and began the paramount task of making multiple lunches. I can still hear the high pitch-chiming of the knife hitting the sides of the peanut butter jar; as she scraped the insides. She always strived to get the last dab of peanut butter from the largest jar the grocery store sold. It seemed Mom went through a jar almost daily.
Imagine all the bread and supplies.... for here were the rules:
The teenage boys got three sandwiches per lunch per day.
The girls got 1 sandwich per day.
When I was in 1st grade, my mother made 4 (brothers') lunches, and 2 (mine and my sister's) lunches. That was a total of 14 sandwiches each day! She swiftly wrapped them in wax paper. Mom carefully wrapped a nickel and a penny in wax paper for my lunch. This was for me to buy a Big Stick Popsicle. My lunch consisted of a sandwich, a piece of fruit (usually a mealy apple), a Big Stick Popsicle, and white milk.
One morning, as Bill was leaving for school (he was studying to become an electrician), he was walking and eating a hard-boiled egg. Suddenly, I could see the bright yellow ball of yolk fall and get crushed into the carpet. The stench of sulfur filled the living room.
"I'm sorry, Mom." Bill said, as he put his books down and started for the carpet sweeper.
Excerpted from Memories from the Heart by FRANCIE ROSSI. Copyright © 2013 Francie Rossi. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Contents1. Trouble From the Start, 1,
2. My Father Was A Do It Yourselfer Long Before TV Programs, 3,
3. Dancing on My Brother's Feet, 6,
4. 'Bill ... Wake Up!', 7,
5. My Mother the Servant, 9,
6. Napping and Matches Don't Mix, 12,
7. My Kindergarten Days Are Numbered, 14,
8. Reservoir Draining Day, 17,
9. I Like That Name, 18,
10. The Turtle Lunch Bags, 20,
11. The Bologna Sandwich, 22,
12. Sister, Don't You Know Who She Is?, 25,
13. Lost At Sea (The Beach), 27,
14. Dancing on Stage, 29,
15. Locked In & Locked Out, 31,
16. Early Chores, 33,
17. Coloring with My Friend, 35,
18. Hand-Me-Down Clothes, 37,
19. Two Accidents In One Trip, 39,
20. The Parish Picnic & the Aftermath, 42,
21. Michael Gemstone, 44,
22. Halloween, 45,
23. Rainy Day Lunchtime Activities, 47,
24. Fire Watching As a Pastime?, 49,
25. Folk Dancing In the Stadium, 51,
26. Loose Tooth? Rip That Sucker Out!, 54,
27. The Crazy Hat Daze Contest, 56,
28. The Day It 'Snowed' In San Diego!, 58,
29. Homework: Every Subject; Every Day, 60,
30. Why Are You Chopping My Curls?, 62,
31. (What Seemed Like) Endless Prayers, 64,
32. Selling Girl Scout Cookies, 66,
33. Competitive To a Fault, 68,
34. Quintupled Cookies, 70,
35. "I'm Going to Get My Brother!", 73,
36. Pay Day/Treat Day, 75,
37. Rollerskating Adventures, 77,
38. September 30, 1965, 81,
39. Oh The Pets We Had!, 83,
40. Helen Keller and I, 86,
41. Excedrin Headache #299, 88,
42. A Whole New World, 91,
43. Other Classmates Wore Glasses, Too, 95,
44. St. Patrick's Day, 96,
45. Family Night, 98,
46. Children Should Be Seen and Not Heard, 100,
47. Food, Glorious Food!, 102,
48. Public Speaking At the Dinner Table, 104,
49. Varsity Volleyball & Volley Tennis, 105,
50. Me Gusta Espanol, 107,
51. Dinner at My Friend's House, 110,
52. Sentenced to Stay After School, 112,
53. A Classroom with No Boundaries, 114,
54. Learning New Skills at Age 12, 116,
55. Sewing Lessons, 118,
56. My First Guitar & Lessons, 120,
57. How I Earned My First (Real) Guitar, 123,
58. Political Activist?, 125,
59. Politics and RFK, 127,
60. Perfect Posture ... Or Else!, 129,
61. Live TV: "Sun Up San Diego!", 131,
62. Solitaire (?) X 2 or 3, 133,
63. Singing At a Rest Home, 135,
64. The Walk for Mankind, 137,
65. Bench Clears, Flying Nun during Volleytennis Match, 140,
66. Eighth Grade Talent Show, 142,
67. Graduation after 8 Years!, 144,
68. Sent Away to Las Vegas, 146,
69. The Neighborhood Pool Hall, 150,
70. The Academy of Our Lady of Peace, 151,
71. My Surprise 14th Birthday Party, 154,
72. Memorable Activities/Moments at OLP, 155,
73. Algebra Was Greek to Me, 157,
74. My Last Clothing Embarrassment, 159,
75. Reminiscing On The Court and The Power of Cake, 161,
76. My First Tennis Tournament, 162,
77. OLP's Talent Show, 164,
78. Fifteen/40, 166,
79. We Can't Sell To You Anymore!, 168,
80. Dad as A Storyteller, 170,
81. My Membership in the United States WLTA, 172,
82. Mom Wore Many Hats, 174,
83. Mom-'isms' and Rules, 177,
84. Mom: Confidant and Friend, 181,
85. Unlike Many: I Had My Own Phone, 182,
86. Work, Work, Work!, 184,
87. Driver's Training Class, 186,
88. Summer Days Filled With Tennis, 188,
89. Jerry's Patience, 189,
90. Registration, 191,
91. Student Culture Shock, 192,
92. My First Hip Haircut, 194,
93. Compulsory Art Class, 196,
94. Compulsory Food and Textiles Class, 198,
95. Please, Let Me Go Back To OLP!!!, 201,
96. My 1st Counseling Session, 203,
97. MY Room; My Office, 204,
98. Medical Surprise, 206,
99. The Doctor Visit, 208,
100. Doctor Visit: Take II, 211,
101. My Diagnostic Tests, 212,
102. My Diagnosis, 214,
103. My First Neurologist, 216,
104. Are You Drinking Your Milk?, 218,
105. Senior Year, 221,
106. My Friends' Graduation at OLP, 225,
107. Attitude of Gratitude, 226,