I have always taken inspiration from the women in my life.
From when I was a very young child, I always noted how people interacted with each other. I knew what my mom meant and she didn’t have to say much, to me, my father or anyone else in the family. My aunts conveyed love in different ways – one did it with brownies, the other, with challenges to me, her children, and my cousins.
I had cousins who were very influential and more relatives in an extended family who led without ever letting anyone know that they were being led. Women who did what was expected, did a bit covertly to get what was needed for the sitjation, some who achieved just by believing in the power of support.
This past week, for me, was the end of an era. I had said goodbye to my mother’s sister, my uncle’s wife. And although I still have the gift of many of my mother’s friends from younger years (some from her childhood), on Sunday, we lost the last of my wife’s aunts.
So why are you writing this post, you ask….
I write this post, along with the others I have written here for my Aunt Flo, Mother Theresa, and my own mother. I write this post with the title “How fortunate were we” because her name reflected that – Fortunata; we all called Fay, Aunt Fay, even Uncle Fay (my brother-in-law’s pet name for her).
A long and winding history with Aunt Fay and her family, I had known her for at least the last thirty years of my life. She went from being my friend’s aunt to a welcoming hostess, to a business advisor and confidante, to one of the best friends a person could have. And although we were quite different in age, I looked to Aunt Fay because she embodied so much of what women of her generation were never supposed to achieve.
She was the second child of three, born to immigrant parents in Brooklyn. She lived through The Great Depression, World War 2, Korea, Vietnam, 9/11, and plenty of global issues, good and bad; technology, transportation, and communication innovations along with the change empowerment, education, and expectations for everyone. She wanted to go to college and did, with her parents’ blessings and encouragement. She changed majors and found a life-long love for numbers and business.
She was Valedictorian for her graduating class; she earned her CPA license in 1961, which she held until a few years ago. She served on the Board of Directors of a prominent hospital and volunteered at many school functions. Along with her husband, she ran one of the most successful dealerships in the Northeast for decades. A mother to five children, grandmother of seven, and great-grandmother of two.
Her faith was always one of the most prominent things in her life. She drove to Mass every day until a few years ago. She took great joy in celebrating with her family, her extended family and was always ready to reminisce about the “good ol’ days”.
But here’s why I have to write about Fortunata, Aunt Fay…
She welcomed me into her family from day one. She didn’t question why she simply said “Grab a plate and help yourself!” And as our friendship grew over the years, Aunt Fay would sit with me for hours and talk about my business, her business, and where things were headed in the world of business. We usually had our conversations over a nice glass of wine or a long after-dinner drink. We often went for dinner with our “Gang” – Age, Mother Theresa, Rae, Grandma – and although our group got smaller as the years went by, we always raised a glass to toast the ones who were no longer with us.
Welcoming was one thing Aunt Fay did so well. The other, for me, was supporting. She supported me like my own mother. She always had words of encouragement for me. When I graduated from the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Business Program, she came to the ceremony and told me that she was so proud of me and my accomplishment. We spoke the language of business, the language of women who were ofttimes marginalized, and understood how important it was to have a sounding board, a mentor.
So here’s to my friend, my “drinking buddy”, my Aunt Fay. She was the last of a long line of characters in my wife’s family whom I can say I had the honor of meeting, the pleasure of knowing and the gratefulness of their friendship. When I saw her for what would be the last time a few days before she passed, I said to her “Aunt Fay, we have to go for a drink soon, right?”, she perked up, smiled and said “Absolutely!”
Cheers to my friend who brought me nothing but Buona Fortuna in knowing her.