I went to my great-aunt's funeral today. I got there forty minutes early and thought I'd go get a coffee or something before it started, but when I drove by the church there were already people going in and the blocks around it were lined with cars. I had to park several streets away and I'm glad I saw my aunt and uncle walking by and jumped out to join them because otherwise I would have never found a seat. The church was bursting, there were another couple hundred people in the basement watching on a live feed, and then the reception was insane. There were so many people. And I KNEW my great-aunt and -uncle were the sort of people everyone knew and everyone loved, but it was still overwhelming and speechless-making to see the crowd that turned out on a Tuesday afternoon to honor my great-aunt.
My grandmother's family is Italian and her younger brother and his wife, whose funeral this was, are/were the most Italian of the bunch. My great-uncle is small and wiry, laden with heavy gold jewelry and a pinkie ring. He's loud and boisterous, he tells the best stories in the best ways, and his wife was a beautiful lady with perfect makeup and a touch of perfume and always called you "dear" and wanted to know what you'd like to eat. For a long time they ran a catering company and between that, the church community, and some other business ventures they seemed to know practically everyone in Tacoma. For SURE they knew every Italian.
I think they were alllll at the funeral.
I am only one quarter Italian. My kids know Daddy is Chinese and Mommy is Italian - they say this because I lived in Italy with Grandma and Grandpa when I was little, duh. But I'm only one quarter. My Italian grandmother married a German. And my dad is... Polish? Banished beyond-the-pale Jew? Who knows. So it feels a little strange to call these vehemently Italian people my family. They are, at least, the extended family I know. The embodiments of stories my mother told us about her growing up years. And they may not know my name, but they know I'm Mary's granddaughter, and how am I "dear", and did I get anything to eat yet?
(The Italian Italian relatives were there too, the ones who speak with an accent. Their son looks like he walked straight out of the show Boardwalk Empire. Even as a kid I was fascinated by these people and their clothes and their jewelry and their red Alfa Romeo with the gold interior and the hood ornament that honked if you tried to pull it off. Don't ask me how I know that.)
I left the reception thinking how blessed I would be to have a funeral that runs out of space and food. You know what I mean?
I wasn't close to my great-aunt, though she passed my bakery business card to her engaged granddaughter while waiting for surgery in the hospital last week. Most of the people I saw at her funeral were people - my mom's cousins, mostly - I hadn't seen in years. But they knew me or they knew who I was and I just felt so lucky to come from this crowd. I come from other places too, but I also get to claim this one and the lady whose funeral it was was the lady who "won" my bouquet at my wedding, because she and her husband had been married the longest.
She won it again at my sister's wedding nine years later.
I spent the rest of the day at my parents' house, just talking and talking and then I drove home and now I'm here, in my own house, with my own little Chinese Italian Jewish Eastern European family. I hope we touch as many lives as my great-aunt did.