Until we meet again, Auntie Del
My mother’s last surviving sister, my Aunt Dolores, passed away on April 20, 2021 (interestingly enough, her late husband’s birthday). She was a very special lady—quite the card. Here’s the eulogy I wrote, and a smattering of photos and a snippet of video. My brother Chuck’s eulogy is also included as a PDF.
Thank you for always believing in me, Auntie Del. We’ll drink our wine, smoke our cigarettes, eat that pepperoni and anchovy pizza no one else would touch and play a mean game of UNO somewhere down the road. Love you.
There’s a meme that depicts a table spread so thick with antipasto, salad, pasta, meatballs and biscotti that there isn’t any room for plates. The text reads, “Italians be like, ‘we’ll just put out a few snacks.’
If you knew Dolores Squeglia, then you knew this was not a joke. Her holiday meals were over the top. The dining room table was so crammed with braciole [BRA-SHAWL], cavatelli and champagne turkey that the stuffed clams, artichokes and potato croquettes were relegated to an ironing board that bowed under their weight. Any guest I brought to her home was overwhelmed. But as big and grand as all of that was, Dolores didn’t consider herself larger than life at all. In fact, she considered herself nowhere near as grand as her two pre-deceased sisters, and would often remark, “Gee, I’m the one that’s still here and I haven’t done anything.”
Above, Delores’ stuffed clams, which I started learning how to make in 2017. Also, the recipe in her handwriting, in case anyone’s interested.
That couldn’t have been further from the truth. Dolores may have felt overshadowed by her Tarantella-dancing, all-night baking mother, beauty queen sister Linda and her business-savvy sister Marie, but she certainly shouldn’t have. She was the rock upon which they could tether themselves, the steady voice in the melee, the emotionally open door when the windows were locked. She was the one who gave of her heart, fully and without question, refusing to let her personal ambition get in the way. You could see it in how she smoked her cigarettes, burning down in the ashtray after she’d taken only one drag and moved on, tending to others’ needs.
Yet, as expensive as cigarettes were, this never bothered her. She always had a kind word, and didn’t seem to have much of a temper. She was pleasant to be around, and her chuckle was one that rose above the others. Anytime you asked her how she was doing, her response was always “I’m good.” She never wanted to be trouble for anyone, and never wanted to put anyone out—although she was never shy about insisting on pepperoni and anchovy pizza on the Friday night orders.
She was also anything but a wallflower. She was more courageous than people gave her credit for. She gave birth to her greatest joy, her daughter Maryanne, after several attempts at pregnancy, and despite the odds of what was considered “too old” in the 1960s. She voluntarily took care of her ailing mother, which was, she’d tell me in later years, the most difficult challenge she’d ever faced. She beat cancer, gout, and COVID, drove hours beyond her comfort zone to visit, and stepped in to deliver sage advice on womanhood and menopause to motherless daughters. She worked, by choice, as a cafeteria lunch lady—a thankless job—and when you asked her why, she’d say, “I know you kids like the free pizza and chocolate milk.”
In her youth, she was a fine athlete, and when she was a young woman, she loved a glamorous night out. Whether it was hitting the supper clubs to hear all the greats like Frank Sinatra and dance to the likes of Benny Goodman or glitzing it up at the casinos in Atlantic City, she and her husband of 65 years, Lou, were always up for a good time. Although she despised the heat, she was a fan of watching the summer parades on Campbell Avenue. She also loved to watch others shine—a book deal, a job promotion, a starring role in the second grade play—it didn’t matter. She delighted in celebrating achievements. Just hearing her say, “That’s won-der-ful!” was a reason to celebrate in itself.
It was time spent with her family that she cherished most. There were endless games of pinochle and Put and Take around the dining room table with cocktails and her myriad of great aunts and sisters. There was shopping, there were vacations, summer afternoons in the screen house that seemed to last forever with countless pitchers of sangria (from which she’d frown on Aunt Sylvia feeding the kids alcohol-soaked peaches). There were puzzles and games with her daughter Maryanne, and there was plenty of play time with her many dogs, Sargent, Casey, Max.
Read my brother’s eulogy to Auntie Del here: Chuck’s Eulogy for Auntie Del
She understood that not everything in life was a bed of roses, and took time to look in the dark. She adored a scary movie—especially a ghost story—and binged crime dramas and noir before the rest of us even knew what the term ‘binging’ meant. And as much as she could appreciate that, she loved all things beautiful. She could render any painting or drawing shown to her, and would often draw things from the newspapers. Her favorite pastime, in her waning days, was coloring, and the fine detail on each stroke was quite something to behold. “I should’ve been an artist,” she said once, “but I could just never think up anything on my own.”
The funny thing was, she could. She loved nature and the outdoors, and when we were younger, would often accompany us on our camping trips. When we camped on Lake Otis, in Massachusetts, she had to improvise to cook her marinated chicken over a campfire because someone had forgotten the grill. She cooked it on sticks. She loved thunderstorms the most, and met them with wonder, not with fear. During a particularly bad one in New Milford, my house got hit, and a fireball shot past my head. I was unhurt, but hysterical. After taking care of me, she stood on the covered front porch, unfazed, while I cowered under the kitchen table. “It’s just a storm, Kristi,” she said. “I’m so glad you weren’t hurt, but isn’t it amazing that you were touched by it?”
Auntie Del’s thoughts on vodka. At my house, Thanksgiving, 2012.
In their lives, people gravitate toward certain animals. Del’s was the owl. Like Dolores, an owl is a silent observer, is wise and strong, and sees clearly through the dark. And although Dolores was a devout Catholic and deeply loved God, in Celtic mythology, the owl also represents a connection to the other side. The next time we see an owl—whether it be on a painting, a coffee cup, or in nature, let it be a reminder that as she watched over the family in life, so she will from beyond, the silent observer, strong and wise, who will always be with us as long we remember her.