My family and I said our final goodbyes to Grandpa this past weekend at his memorial service in Tucson.
It was at his house on the golf course in Sun City Vistoso, the ninth tee situated just behind the property. All five of of the aunts and uncles, their spouses and cousins plus old war buddies, neighbors and golf partners showed up to bid farewell.
We had been laying by the pool the day before and even earlier that day as if it was a vacation, but I started thinking about what I should say during the service, tried to write it down, then decided to wing most of it, slipped on a yellow dress, determined not to be in mourning and immediately began drinking wine.
Milling around, I met a few people, looked at the photo displays my uncle had put up around the house and tried not to cry when strangers talked to me. He died in fucking February. It was ridiculous.
Two of my aunts stopped me near the front door. "You look like a model," they said before we took a photo together. Another man came up to me a little later while I was looking at some more photos on the fireplace mantle. "You must be a granddaughter," he said. "You certainly look like a Fino."
My sister, Gina, and I flipped through a book of letters sent to Grandpa from different departments of Allstate when he retired as International President in the '70s. Page after page, the personal letters gushed over him and his enthusiasm and everybody's disappointment that he was leaving. The phrase "The John Fino Fan Club" was used more than once. I tried not to cry again. Gina just let it all come out.
The service started as I continued to guzzle wine from a plastic cup and wiped tears away from underneath my sunglasses. Every few minutes between gusts of wind, you could hear golf balls being hit off the ninth tee. My uncle welcomed everyone, my aunt read a poem and my other aunt got choked up reading the obituary. I let out an audible sob.
My 16-year-old cousin belted out a song, impressing everyone with her sound and another aunt told a story. Then, it was my turn.
I was horribly unprepared and a nervous public speaker, but I felt like I was the voice of the grandchildren, being the writer and one of the oldest. I stood up, completely missed the small step down from where I was sitting, rolled my ankle, stumbled and almost fell on my ass sloshing wine all over the front of me while the entire crowd gasped and my uncle captured the Kodak moment on film. Oh shit. Talk about a model. Of course, how many countless videos of models tripping on runways are there on the Internet?
Mortified, I knew I had to make fun of it so I blamed it on the wine and everybody laughed. "That's a Fino!" I heard someone say. Yes, a bunch of Italian alchys — that's us...
My speech probably sucked more than anything has sucked before, but I hardly remember it. I just know that people laughed and cried and nodded and I had gotten up there, fought my fears and gotten through it. That was more than good enough for me.
Afterwards, I wanted nothing more than to be alone, so I went back into Grandpa's room and looked through a few unclaimed things, choosing a few saki dishes from his stint in Japan to take with me.
A little later, my sister joined me, sitting on the bed in the room, the chatter of the guests dying down as she re-closed the door behind her. Grandpa had died in this bed gazing out the windows at the Catalina Mountains just like we were doing now, silently saying goodbye...
As embarassed as I was, the experience, especially my trip up, sparked the idea for my first column. You can read it here.