I have been meaning to post for some time now, on the theme of entropy, or how Things Fall Apart unless we continually strive to make them better, or put energy into the system. The pandemic; the four ruinous years of a hideous tyrant who came unthinkably close to gaining four more years; the increasingly loud drumbeat of history; the assault on the Capitol by a bunch of unimaginably spoiled and entitled white people. It’s enough to make a thoughtful person grip her forehead. Every morning, I drink a thermos of dark roast and listen to the birds, avoid any type of digital media, read venerable old books by people who know how to write and think, walk the dog, and try to sally forth verily, but for months now I have been unable to eke out a word on digital paper.
Except today. I will post today about my cousin Barbara, who was in violent agreement with me concerning all the things I am perennially concerned about, and which I have referenced above. We lost her last Wednesday, April 21st.
She was born in Brooklyn, and she died in North Carolina. a place which can be severely disappointing, bagel-wise, during that difficult interval wherein a transplanted Brooklynite tries to take root. Nonetheless, in her stoic way, she carried on in Cary through years of illness and disability, often dreaming of an Everything Bagel with Cream Cheese, and wistfully acknowledging that it just wasn’t gonna happen.
Barbara Lynne Yurgel Nespoli was ten years older than me, and she often reminded me that she changed my diapers. I lived in her room for about a year when I was ten going on eleven, and with my brother, and with my other two cousins (her two younger siblings), we definitely made her tear her hair out on more than one occasion. In the late 1960s, she worked at the Empire State Building as a secretary, fresh out of high school, and once took me to her office, which was somewhere in vicinity of the 40th or 50th floors, the girthy mid-section of the ESB.
Barbara hosted many Christmases and Thanksgivings and non-holiday visits, and my children have great memories of the freedom of Brooklyn. Entenmann’s cake! Coca Cola! Unlimited cartoons! Nok-Hockey in the basement. Largely free from parental interference, my kids and their three cousins roamed her house like sugar-crazed wildebeests, and woe betide the parent who got in the way of their fun, because Barbara would give them what for, and woe betide the family member who unfailingly messed up the VCR programmed to record Barbara’s programs. It wasn’t me, just sayin’.
Barbara made acres of lasagne and metric tons of turkeys. Even in the leanest years of our childhood, Sunday was pot roast day, and I still make mine according to Barbara’s recipe. She was the designated gift-buyer for her family and could wrap a present like nobody’s business, her carefully guarded sharp scissors gliding through paper. Each Christmas, her brother Glenn would videotape her reaction to generous gifts (she wept easily), while adding annoying voiceover commentary (Hey Barbara, need a tissue?). She was an affectionate person. She taught my son to hug properly (You call that a hug? What’s wrong with you? Come back here and hug me again). I can still feel how she would completely envelop me in her arms, coming or going.
Barbara was a busy aunt who performed many unsung hours of niece and nephew oversight, and she knew how to make a kid behave with merely a glance. All those kids learned how to clean dishes and sweep up a floor and set a table, when they weren’t busy reprogramming the VCR. Oh My Nerves became her catchphrase (believe me, your nerves would be shot, too), and she had the t-shirt to prove it.
When we got together in our later years, we would reminisce about our collective pasts, lives winding in and out of each others’ as time passed, attempting to confirm or deny certain facets of the truth, fact-checking, teasing, laughing uproariously, and sometimes falling silent from the overwhelming weight of everything we’ve been through, alone and together.
I spoke to Barbara just a few days before she passed away, never thinking it would be the last time. She had been in intense pain for weeks, and on that day she simply was unable to converse for more than a brief moment. I had been planning to visit her, and then she was suddenly hospitalized, and then she was gone.
Goodbye, Barbara. You were my friend as well as my cousin, and I will miss you very much.