Featured Column
Week of 6.28.2004
All I want is for you to be happy
The loving Mary
          Once in a while my friend Mary will put on some makeup. She doesn’t do that often, but when she does, mostly when all her children are gathered in her home, she looks a full decade younger than her 91 years. More important now, to Mary, is that her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren are happy.
          Her husband died in 1981, and most of her children live a 5-minute drive from her. She helps care for 35 caged birds in her home and she spends ample time each day listening to her favorites sing for her pleasure.
          She drove the family car for 45 years; she had to, as her husband was legally blind. Mary remains the heart and soul and guiding force of her family. She’s a tad hard of hearing and arthritis has touched some of her joints, but her four grown children still know who remains head of the family.
          Mary was a superb businesswoman and a strong partner with her husband, with both of them owning ten pieces of property in their adopted home town, which is a long ways from where she was born – in the village of San Roberto in the province of Reggio di Calabria in Italy.
          Fortunately for family and guests Mary still retains the culinary expertise of her homeland in her spacious kitchen. For special occasions Mary reverts to her younger years and dominates her kitchen – creating masterful dishes in the Calabrian style.
          Once in a while Mary will sit back in her recliner and reflect on her beautiful family home in Calabria - a two story, Italian hacienda style home, high on a hill, looking down on acres of orange trees and the fragrant white flowers that bear the fruit. Once in a while she can recall the wonderful scent of the blossoming flowers and how the perfume filled the house.
          Mary’s father, Vincento, had come to America to prepare a place for his family. When he was sure they would live in the same manner as in Calabria he returned to the family home and prepared his wife Catherine, now pregnant with the first son, Joseph and two daughters Mary, now seven years old, and Josephine for the Atlantic crossing. They came, as did millions of others from Europe on the big boats, landing first at Ellis Island.
          Mary remembers the alarm she felt, looking around the immigration offices on Ellis Island, searching for the sight of her missing father, Vincento, who appeared only moments later with their first foods from their new country – fresh bananas for his family.
           With his family now all in America Vincento became a successful real estate broker in Syracuse, New York.
           Tragedy hit the family when, at the age of eighteen, Mary’s sister Josephine died of tuberculosis. By now the family consisted of Mary, brothers Joseph and Frank and sister Frances. Mary, the eldest, learned responsibility by helping her mother raise her brothers and sister.
          The family thrived in Syracuse. Mary, at sixteen years, worked in her father’s office and became his trusted assistant. She learned more responsibility as a teenager by working the counter in the local drug store, making sandwiches stews, meatballs, pasta and ice cream sodas for local businessmen.
           There were few Italians in Syracuse then, so Mary became friendly with the many German and Irish families, gaining their trust and their friendship. She often reflects on her two closest teenage friends, who remained close to her throughout the years – Helen Curtis and Mary Wyatt. When she wasn’t working, learning and caring for her family Mary excelled at sports - volleyball, tennis, skiing, baseball, roller skating and basketball were her favorites. Mary’s athletic prowess grew and she became famous in upstate New York as a champion runner.
           Soon, Mary was married to Jack, who started a successful Venetian Blind manufacturing plant in the Syracuse area.
           The penetrating cold weather of Syracuse took its toll and in 1946 Mary and Jack relocated to California. By now the family consisted of sons Anthony, Robert and daughter Jacki. The youngest, daughter Marilyn was born in 1950.
           Mary’s mother Catherine died in 1989 at ninety six and father Vincento passed away in 1977 at 88.
          Caring for her blind husband, raising her four children and making the family investments successful illustrated Mary’s lifelong sense of responsibility.
           Today, at 91, Mary finds some time for herself. She reads, cooks, cares for her beloved birds and talks with her children every day. She’s had a full life, stretching from the verdant mountains of Reggio di Calabria to the icy winds of upstate New York to the cordial weather in California.
Her children, friends, neighbors, grandchildren and great grandchildren revere and respect this active woman. They know well that the woman from the mountains of southern Italy has tasted life and remains filled with energy, love and caring and when they each ask her for some hints of the meaning of life and direction she usually answers with, "Search for happiness, just be happy."
      Ron was born in the Bronx, New York. He was raised in Southern California and lived in Honolulu, Hawaii for three decades. He attended Inglewood High School and U.C.L.A.. His youthful goal was to become a major league baseball player. In Hawaii Ron played on a series of championship softball teams. He is an active tennis player.
      Ron’s career began at the Inglewood Daily News where as a youngster was enrolled in a publisher training program. He served as an advertising salesman, circulation manager, writer and layout and design staffer. He has been a newspaper publisher at the Oregon City Oregon Enterprise Courier, the Beloit Wisconsin Daily News, the Elizabeth, New Jersey Daily Journal and This Week Magazines (Hawaii).
      Ron lives with his wife, Marilyn, in San Diego, California. His two children, Douglas and Diane also live in the San Diego area. Ron’s interests range far and wide and are reflected in his columns diverse topics.
Ron Cruger