"Take the little old lady from The Golden Girls and add about 120lbs. and that's Mema."
It wasn't just a line in my act. It was real. Josephine Lucidi was something. That's for damn sure.
The boss. Mema didn't take no shit. She was the leader of the entire Lucidi clan...and what she said, goes. She was a tough Dago lady. She stood her ground and you couldn't shake her. She had to put up with Jerry...her husband. A big, burley bear of a man who appeared to be a grizzly bear, but was actually a teddy bear. Jerry, or Papap, tortured Mema. It was a tough love kind of thing. Of course he loved Mema...but why not have some fun with her too?? He would sit in his favorite chair, just like Archie Bunker, and trip Mema as she would walk past. He wasn't trying to be mean or hurt Mema, he just got a kick out of watching her get mad at him. If people would see it and laugh, Mema would snap, "dontchu laugh at him, he's not funny." But he was. And Mema didn't like being the butt of jokes. She was the boss. You don't poke fun at the boss. You're supposed to respect the boss..and in a way, fear the boss. Papap and Mema were always making comments to each other...picture the relationship of the parents from Everybody Loves Raymond...but make that rated R. She referred to him as "you no good son of a bitch," or "you dirty bastard," and to those two that was just as good and wholesome as "sweetheart" or "babe." When talking about death and being ghosts, Mema said that she was going to come back and haunt Papap...and in the most certain and condescending tone, Papap responded with, "you wouldn't know how to haunt." There wasn't anything you could try to get passed her. She raised siblings, kids, and grandchildren. So pretty much after raising so many people, she knew every trick in the book. You gonna try and live with her at age 18 or so in her basement and after a long night of drinking try to sneak in at 4am to think that she doesn't know what you were up to? Think again. She needs her cigarettes at 7am. And a half hour later, she needs some bread. And a half hour after that? Well of course she needs some milk. She's heard and seen it all. When my mom died when I was 2, me and my dad moved in with Mema. She was a 2nd mother to me and raised me just like all the others before me. I was "her boy." She wanted what was
best for me and she knew how to make sure I got the best. When my dad remarried, Mema was NOT a fan of it. Her babies were being taken away from her. And in a way, I wasn't a fan of it either. Of course I love Maureen, but at the same time, I was going to be moving out of Mema's. Look at any picture from Maureen and Jimbo's wedding and find me in them. I'm not smiling in a single picture and have tears in my eyes. What a dick move on my part, eh? But I wasn't going to be living at Mema's anymore.
The fighter. For someone to have to raise so many kids, you have to eventually gain some kind of thick skin. Who knows what all those kids are going to get into. Right?? They could run away and get hitched or go to jail. She had to be ready for anything. And she was. She wasn't just a strong woman when it came to her family. She was a strong woman when it came to her health. She had 9 lives. She was a smoker...and after awhile, that can take it's toll on you. I remember being about 10 or so and being down Mema's with one of my cousins who was older than me. Mema was on a new medication and was supposed to take it with food, but for some reason (probably stubbornness) she didn't. I remember walking around the corner into the kitchen seeing my older cousin staring into her eyes and trying to look at what she was staring at saying, "what the hell you staring at Gram?" Something wasn't right. She was standing upright, leaning on the counter with a folded towel under her elbows like she always did, but she was shaking and staring...but as I walked by her to get to the phone to call 911, her eyes followed me and she smiled. That was just one of the many things she went through. The smoking caused her to be on oxygen...which she didn't like. She was stubborn. She didn't want to be seen in public wearing one of those things...and she sure as hell didn't want "that damn hose up her nose." She had too much pride and didn't want to be seen as weak. It wasn't just that. She got Alzheimer's and dementia...it wasn't that bad at first. Just mixing up some names here and there. Then starting to see things in her yard. Then seeing babies walking through her house and telling people to be quiet because the babies were sleeping in the back. They say that Alzheimer's is the worst disease a person can have...because you lose the loved one twice. And it's true. To see the invincible woman's mind to start whittling away was a painful thing for me and my family. But she knew something wasn't right. Her sister (my aunt Irene) passed away near the beginning of her opening stages, and when I was laying in her room with her (and how she would slowly scratch my back while watching tv) I remember her saying to me, "She's really gone, isn't she?" And I said, yeah. And she said, "I know that I'm losing it. I know I'm going to go and try and call her one day and she won't be there to answer." As I got ready to leave, she was laying in her room in the dark and I went to give her a kiss on the cheek like I always did, and she pulled me in for a hug to say, "No matter if I lose it or not, you'll always be my baby. Remember that, okay?" Around New Year's Eve, she came clean again in front of everyone. Which was both unbelievable and heartwarming. After the ball dropped, she calmed everyone down from drinking, laughing, and hollering and said, "I wanna say something." No one knew what was coming. She said, "I just wanna say that I'm sorry to Maureen. She turned out to be very good to Jim and Adam. And I love you." THAT was something that no one knew where it came from. For big, bad, Mema to openly say in front of everyone that she loved someone that she put down and to say that she was sorry, was huge for our family. She knew that something wasn't right with her...but no matter what, she was never ready to call it quits. She was a fighter. She was the boss. What happens if the boss is away? Things get out of hand. And she'll be damned if these 'gypsies' were gonna run amuck. Not on her watch.
The mouth. "You're looking a little heavy." "Those shoes look like something a gay would wear." Just a few of the many, many things that would spew out of Mema's mouth. She didn't have a filter. Why should she?? She didn't have to answer to anybody. My dad and mom began dating and my mom always got really really tan (and thankfully, that was passed along to me) but something didn't sit right with Mema...so she just had to make sure and ask my dad, "Jimmy, are you sure she isn't black?" My parents ran away to Florida to get married and when my dad called to tell Mema that he was married, she responded with, "I don't have a son," and hung up the phone. Then went and ripped up his birth certificate. She's the boss, remember!? She did the same thing to one of my aunt's whenever she ran away to get 'hitched." But what happened when my dad came back to PA? He walked in the front door...and there was Mema, sitting at the kitchen table, elbows on the table, with a lit cigarette in her hand and started the conversation with, "You want something to eat?" She may have had a lot of bark...but there wasn't that strong of a bite. I have no idea how she did it but when she would throw out a "God damnit," or a "son of a bitch," you knew that something fired her up. As weird as it sounds, her cussing wasn't just regular cussing. She cussed to make a point. She didn't have a dirty mouth by any means. As a matter of fact, when someone else would cuss, and God forbid toss "fuck" around, she would respond with "ttt-ttt-tttt." But when her temper kicked in and she had to lay down the law, she made that cussing into some kind of poetic melody. When Maureen and my dad began dating, Mema thought that Maureen was coming into the picture too soon after my mom had died. But my dad knew that me and him couldn't live with Mema forever. I would always be down Mema's during the day when I wasn't in school and when Maureen and my dad would pull out of the driveway and head up the road (in 2 separate cars) Mema would always look out the window and say, "Look it, look...there she goes, right up his ass." Mema was intimidating. Being so young and losing my mom, then having Maureen come into the picture, I still remember Mema telling me to never forget my mother and to not call Maureen my mom, because I only had one mother and she was gone. Pretty heavy stuff to toss to a kid, eh? But she was the boss. And in a way, that messed me up somewhere along the line in my head...which might still be why I refer to Maureen as just, Mar.
Mema was my buddy. And I was her boy. There was no doubt about it. Everyone in the family knows it. I protected her and she protected me. When I was in elementary school, a truck drove into Mema's house. I remember being on the bus and hearing that a big truck drove through a house down at Searight's Crossroads. I was a kid at the time, but I still knew that there were only 2 houses that it could be...and 1 of those houses were already condemned. So I knew that it was Mema's. I remember seeing the truck through the front of the house and knowing that Mema could be in there somewhere. I ran off that bus only to see her standing in her front yard with her hands on her hips looking at her house and running into her arms crying...and she laughed and said, "baby, I'm alright." And it was. Being so young, you don't really think about things like death. "Grown-ups" can almost be seen as heroes and immortal. You don't ever expect to see them in pain or cry. As years go on and the real world sets in, you start to see how these grown-ups are just like everyone else...and how eventually, you're going to become one of those grown-ups. Mema battled with Alzheimer's and dementia for about 7 years. 7 years to slowly have her mind erased one day at a time. It was like a video tape. It was a full video tape and it was going in rewind and erasing what was on the video. She couldn't take in any more information. To see that same boss, fighter, and mouth to slowly waste away to a frail and helpless person seems to be unfair at times. But it's part of life. She lived her life for 81 years. She raised a bunch of 'gypsies.' She did her job. And now she's gone.
She was a mom. A Grandma. A sister. A friend. The fighter. The boss. The mouth. The cook. The gossiper. The smoker. The gambler. My Mema.
So how does a family so dependent on a woman like this move on? We laugh.