I've been thinking a lot about my grandmother lately. Maybe it's because Dawn and I are grandparents to the cutest little three-year-old you ever did see. I want to be the grandparent to Avery (and any future grandkids) that Mimi was to me.
Mimi, like my mother, pop in my mind frequently. Mimi loved music, and loved to dance. Since last weekend would have been Frank Sinatra's 100th birthday, his music has been everywhere over the last few weeks. Listening to Sinatra classics like "Come Fly With Me", "The Way You Look Tonight" and my favorite, "Summer Wind" makes me think of Mimi. Just as Perry Como, Benny Goodman and Dean Martin do.
Mimi was born July 23, 1920 and passed away March 14, 2014. I've been trying to write this tribute for more than a year-and-a-half. I think all of the Sinatra music lately helped.
Phyliss Theresa Bigelow, was born Filomena Theresa Napoletano to Italian immigrants, her father Michele Napoletano and mother Maria Tursi. Her dad came to America first before being joined by his wife several months later. The Napoletano family settled in Connecticut and had eight children. Eventually Mimi moved west to California, following her baby sister, Gloria.
Mimi married my grandfather, and middle-namesake, Jerome Bigelow and was married to him for 36 years. Years later, in 1988, she married Ralph Gomez and showed us all what it meant to be a dedicated wife.
She and my grandfather had three daughters, Faith (my mom), Grace and Hope. She and Ralph gave our family a fourth daughter, Joy (Kelly) - in a way only our family could "give" a daughter.
For many years, Mimi lived in Vacaville, where she operated Bigelow School of the Dance with her friend and business partner, Janey Callahan, and eventually my aunt Hope and her daughter Gianna.
Mimi suffered a stroke a few years before her death and moved to Lodi to live with my aunt and uncle. Even as her heath was declining she danced (90 years young: Phyllis Bigelow teaches dance at Hutchins Street Square, Lodi News Sentinel August 13, 2010).
My mom used to say to me, "Remember, everything you do reflects on Mimi." My grandmother was always the matriarch of our family. She was the boss, there was never any doubt about that. She was in charge. But she was also a lot of fun. I will always cherish my memories of going blackberry picking with her and Ralph, or going to R-Ranch and learning how to ride a horse.
When I was moving to Missouri to go to college, my mom threw me a going away party. Family members brought me practical gifts, things I might need living in a dorm nearly 2,000 miles away from home. Mimi bought me a big duffel bag filled with socks, underwear and condoms. Hundreds of condoms. I was pretty embarrassed, and my aunts, uncles, brothers and cousins had a good time cracking jokes about it, but Mimi just thought it made sense. She wasn't oblivious to the humor behind it, but she was just being very practical, and generous. Seriously, hundreds of condoms, she had more confidence in me than I did.
Mimi was always practical and quick with a lesson. She taught me about CDs when I was a teenager - certificates of deposit, not compact discs. She used to always ask me if I was saving for retirement, even if just a few dollars every week. This is a no-brainer as an adult, but it was a pretty heavy topic for me as a 12 or 13 year old.
She lived long enough to see the passing of all of her siblings, her brothers Angelo, Emilio (Emo), Francesco (Francis) and her sisters, Giovannina (Jane), Elvira (Vera) and Carmela (Gloria). She lost two daughters, my mom, Faith, and Kelly. I broke the news of my mom's passing to Mimi, on her doorstep. She kept saying that parents aren't supposed to outlive their children. I believe that part of her heart never healed.
This amazing woman was truly our matriarch and so much of my life is, in fact, a reflection of her strength and love. I miss her dearly.
Phyliss "Mimi" Theresa Bigelow
7/23/1920 - 3/14/2014
Here's the video we made for Mimi's funeral. Unfortunately, the music was taken out of the video, you know, copyright rules and all. So, if you watch the hour-long video, just put on some Frank Sinatra, Benny Goodman and Perry Como in the background. That's how Mimi would have wanted it.