About ten years ago, I met a couple named Benny and Zee at my mother-in-law’s house. The moment I met this tiny Sicilian couple, I felt a kinship, a connection that has no explanation in the physical world. They immediately felt like family and they reminded me of my earliest memories of family gatherings in Brooklyn, many years ago. Just seeing this couple and watching them lovingly banter with eachother made me smile.
As the years went by, I would see them on their Friday “card nights,” either at my mother-in-law’s house or at their house. They lived in a mother-daughter house on a canal on the south shore of Long Island, they on the first floor, and their daughter and her family, upstairs. Benny and my son developed a close friendship based on my son’s fascination with anything to do with WWII and Benny enjoying the fact that a young person was interested in what he lived thru 70 years ago! Since my son never knew either of his deceased grandfathers, Benny became very special to him too.
It was natural for my mother-in-law to open her home to Benny and Zee when word came that Hurricane Sandy was approaching and they lived in a mandatory evacuation zone. They packed for a day or two, also packing Benny’s medication because at 91, his health had been failing over the previous few months. He had recently spent a lot of time in and out of hospitals, but that hadn’t damped his spirits and he was still as charming as ever.
When the lights went out at my mother-in-law’s house, they made the best of it, playing cards by candlelight and keeping each other company. At first, it was a party atmosphere, but as the days went by and the lights didn’t come on, worry set in. Gas was on short supply and the lines were long at the few gas stations that were open. Food spoiled at the supermarkets and canned food flew off of the nearly empty shelves. It was a week before I could visit them. At that point the electricity had come back on at my mother-in-law’s house but cable and the phone were still out. My mother-in-law had borrowed a cell phone because her’s wasn’t working, but the borrowed cell phone had run out of battery life and she didn’t have a charger for it. So they were all happy to see me because I brought a connection to the outside world. They were even happier when I showed them that they could watch a DVD even though the cable was out! I left them as the were ordering a pizza and watching “Cocoon” on t.v. That was the last time I saw Benny.
The first floor of Benny and Zee’s house was destroyed by the floodwaters. Hurricane Sandy robbed a lifetime of memories and prevented them from returning to their home. Their daughter made arrangements to have the damages repaired, but it would take months before the home would be livable again. So Benny and Zee boarded an airplane for Flordia to visit with their other daughter for a while. Unfortunately, Benny’s health continued to decline in Florida and his doctors said he was not well enough to fly back home. Yesterday, I received a call. Benny had passed away. They are now flying his body home for his funeral and eventually, Zee will have to move back into her renovated home alone.
My son and I will attend Benny’s wake and say goodbye to him. But five months after Hurricane Sandy hit our shores, she is still leaving holes in our hearts.
http://www.theresadodaro.com Author of The Tin Box Trilogy