On Wednesday morning, August 29th, we flew from Boston to San Francisco to visit cousins, see the Bay Area, and, most importantly, celebrate Aunt Mary's life with a memorial service and family reunion. My parents, Grandma and Pop-Pop to the kids, flew out with us, and having them with us on the flight and then almost non-stop for the next 4+ days was one of the biggest treats ever.
Samantha and Pop-Pop immediately set off in search of the wheelchair that had been promised for Grandma (still recovering from foot surgery, and using a cane even when not needing to hike long distances across airports).
The wheelchair was eventually located, and we split up to go through security--Samantha went with Grandma (now seated), Pop-Pop, and their attendant, skipping the line for wheelchair purposes, and the rest of us went through the TSA Precheck line with Robert. We made it through just about at the same moment.
Now came the fun part. Earlier that morning, we'd gotten emails that our flight was going to be delayed for two hours for a mechanical failure. At the airport, Robert noticed there was another flight that was supposed to leave just half an hour before our original flight, and he persuaded the gate agents to get all seven of us onto that plane. Good thing, too--after we were in the air, United cancelled our original flight entirely! So the airport was a bit rushed, but we made it, and we had lovely seats together near the back of the plane without a lot of other people around us.
Samantha sat between Pop-Pop and Grandma and watched movies ("Greatest Showman" and "Paddington 2") and did sticker mosaics. Helen sat between me and Marcus and napped and ate snacks. Both big kids wrote in their travel journals. And Robert sat behind us in a row all to himself and spread out. (He would like it noted here that he wasn't happily spread out--he was lonely and missing his family, even though we were right in front of him.)
When we landed in San Francisco, someone met my mother with another wheelchair for the trip to the rental car terminal. The attendant loaded her in and took off, and I realized that Robert was still picking up the carseat we'd gate-checked, and Marcus and Samantha were somewhere with him or Pop-Pop. "Oh, uh, wait, excuse me, could you please--" I hustled after my mother in the wheelchair, trying to get the attention of the attendant. Nothing. The guy was on a mission. Hurriedly I decided I better follow her, even though I could see none of the rest of my family, because otherwise who knew if I'd ever see my mother again! I trusted Robert could hustle everyone else along, and with Helen in my sling I broke into a run to catch up with the wheelchair. This guy was booking it. We zoomed through the terminal. He moved way faster than the moving sidewalks so I just kept up with him, periodically looking over my shoulder, to no avail. At the airport shuttle stop I made him wait, at last, until everyone else caught up with us.
We rode to the rental car terminal and finally got on the pick-up line for Fox, for our mini-van. There were perhaps four people ahead of Robert, but it took a solid hour to get the car. The wheelchair attendant suggested a bathroom break, and wheeled my mother to the bathroom door and then back to the counter, found her a chair, and then settled back against the wall to use his phone and apparently relax. "Is he okay?" Robert asked me. "Should we tip him? Is he bored?" Uh, the guy looked fine to me--totally unconcerned that this was taking well over an hour from start to finish to get one person from plane to curb. Eventually we got our car and said goodbye to our attendant, wishing him the best of luck in the upcoming Olympic speed trials for airport workers. (I was sure he'd been in training.)
We drove 5 minutes to the world's worst stripmall parking lot, a congested horror show with a Panera, In-n-Out, and--our destination for the moment--an L&L Hawaiian BBQ. After a lunch of saimin, loco moco, teriyaki chicken, roast pork, and haupia, we headed thrugh San Francisco, across the Golden Gate Bridge, and to the Best Western Plus in Novato, where we'd be staying for four nights. My parents had a room on the second floor close to the elevator, and we had a suite (two bathrooms, two rooms, three big beds) on the first floor off to the side. We checked in, dropped off our stuff, and went to Rie and Steve's house, about fifteen minutes away.
It was really great to finally see their house. None of us had been there before except for Robert, who hadn't adequately described the house and grounds to us. They have some beautiful mature palm trees on the grounds, both of the short and fat variety and of the super tall and spindly variety. Samantha, Marcus, and Robert immediately got into the pool. Helen was more cautious and just put her "feets" in. We had dinner that Rie and Steve made, got to see Davy and meet Hazy, and then went back to the hotel for bed around seven, since we'd been up absurdly early that day.
On Thursday, after breakfast at the hotel,we left my parents to take a nap and meet up with Rie and Steve while we went out for adventures. First stop was Johnny Doughnuts, the main location that makes all the donuts for their food trucks. Someone on the internet had compared them to Voodoo, and we don't think the comparison is accurate: Voodoo are much more fun. "Where are the people?" Robert kept asking in disappointment. The donut people, of course. Still, the sweet potato base donut with chocolate frosting was good, and the white potato base donut with passionfruit frosting was a lot more than just good. I actually keep thinking about that frosting and coming back to it in my mind, now a week later. That was really an excellent donut--lack of "people" aside.
From donuts we went to Muir Woods, having previously reserved our parking slot, and got in for free thanks to our fourth grader. The kids loved seeing the redwoods, and Robert felt a huge affinity with them for also being tall.
We went on a little hike, Helen falling asleep midway along, and then headed straight from redwoods to Punjabi "burritos" in nearby Mill Valley. Driving there was a bit perilous: there was sporadic cell service, lots of precipitous drop-offs right next to the car, and kooky directions that had us maneuvering through residential "streets" (I use that term vaguely, as these were better described as "steep alleys") with blind spots bigger than they were wide. Still, we finally made it, shocked that we were really only about five minutes out of the redwood forest into a trendy downtown areas. I had the pumpkin and curried chicken "burrito," and Robert had eggplant and curried lamb. The kids shared a plate with rice and blackened chicken, but only Helen ate it with gusto, the other two declaring it "spicy." Our next stop was artisanal ice cream at Posie in Larkspur, where we had a long talk with the owner/ice cream maker, who creates all his own flavors (candy cap mushroom, grassfed (wheatgrass + olive oil), and sake rose raspberry ribbon were our favorites). He was really friendly, giving us tastes of all of them, and the ice cream was fantastic.
Finally, we went back to Rie and Steve's house again for more swimming, and this time Pop-Pop joined the kids in the water, to Samantha and Helen's joy. Even Maria and a naked and adorably chubby Baby Hazy joined in.
Dinner that night was at a Chinese restaurant right in Novato, and then we said goodnight to Rie and Steve and went to the local A&W drive-through for soft serve cones and root beer floats and freezes for dessert.
On Friday the SoCal cousins started arriving: Sal, Sue, Jenna and Maria, and Annie; Winnie, Gracie, LE; Larry and Rosa; and Jeff and Alex. They were all staying at the same hotel we were, so they filed in throughout the morning. We meanwhile had breakfast at the hotel, swam in the hotel pool, and then went to Monument Playground in San Rafael, where the girls played and Marcus found a small geocache across the street. Then we got tacos (lengua y cabeza) and a delicious fat burrito and some self-serve salsa and chips from Taqueria Cancun, right under the 101 entry ramp. There was another terrible parking lot there--Robert had Samantha and me stand outside the car and help him back up to get out of our spot, while another car not-so-patiently waited. There was also an episode of carsickness en route to the taqueria (Samantha, sigh), but we all made it back to the hotel. The girls waded in the hotel pool with Pop-Pop while Marcus methodically ate every bit of lengua taco he could find.
Then we changed and went to Steve's church for the memorial service for Aunt Mary. Rie and Sal spoke, and I put together a slideshow of pictures and read/recited the 23rd Psalm. Steve led a really nice service. Afterward Sal and Sue said Chinese tradition says you have to eat something sweet after something bitter, like a funeral, so we had Aunt Mary's favorite See's Candies at the reception (basically all of us sitting in a church fellowship hall eating candy--Aunt Mary would have loved it).
Then we converged on Hilltop restaurant for dinner in a private room (good food, kind of crummy service--people getting served at really random times, special requests like rare or well-done entrees totally ignored). We had a great time talking with cousins we don't get to see nearly often enough.
Saturday was fun too. We all did breakfast at the hotel again, and then we went to a local mall (Century Northgate) where Marcus and Robert saw A.X.L., a movie about a robotic dog; Larry and Rosa saw Searching, about a missing teenage girl; Alex and Winnie went shopping and had their nails done; Jeff and Sal went off to watch football; and the remaining eleven of us saw Christopher Robin, with Samantha (second movie theatre experience ever) and Helen (first) both adoring it. After fun with a photo booth and a stop at Super Duper Burger for ice cream, milkshakes, garlic cheese fries, and a couple burgers, we split up with some opting for naps and us heading back to Rie and Steve's for the pool.
Dinner on Saturday night was at Joe's in San Rafael, where the food was a little worse and the service not any better, but Robert asked everyone to share memories of Aunt Mary, and there was lots of laughter along with the stories.
My father talked about how the first time he came for dinner at their house, when he was seriously dating my mother, he lifted up an extra chair to bring it to the table and accidentally knocked it into these decorative shelves she had on the wall with fancy cup and saucer sets—like things you buy as souvenirs from different places or in different patterns—and one shelf went crashing into another and allllllll the cups and saucers were broken. Aunt Mary said “it’s fine—it’s fine,” and she meant it. Things were never important to her, only people.
We talked about how one of Aunt Mary's favorite things to reminisce about herself was the summer Chris came out to stay with her and Aunt Grace and she got him work in the stockroom at the company she worked for. She had him open a bank account and save his money, and he bought his first car, later, with the money he earned that summer. He always said Aunt Mary and Aunt Grace put him on the right path that summer. Aunt Mary would laugh, but also be proud, about how on his last day at work, at the end of the summer, she told him they were stopping to buy donuts to bring in for his co-workers, and then he walked in and raised the donut box up and proudly showed everyone what he'd brought.
I mentioned how when Samantha was a year old she was sitting on Aunt Mary’s lap for the end of Christmas or New Year's or something dinner, and she was quiet and happy, and then the next time we looked back we saw she was eating whipped cream out of the big serving bowl where it had been sitting for everyone to put on their pies. “Aunt Mary, are you just letting her eat whipped cream out of the bowl?” someone said. She was indeed. “Why not?” She said. “She wanted to.” She took a spoonful herself from the serving spoon for good measure.
We also remembered how Aunt Mary used to laugh and laugh, sometimes even at herself. Once when I was a teenager we were all going out to dinner at a Chinese restaurant in flushing and my father pulled the car up to the curb to let everyone—my mother, Aunt Mary, me, and Aunt Grace—out. It was winter and there was some snow on the ground and Aunt Mary stepped out of the car and then it looked like she just dropped two feet. “What’s going on? Did you fall? What happened?” We asked. She was laughing hysterically—too hard to tell us what was wrong, and Aunt Grace and I were still in the backseat behind her and couldn’t see what had happened. She had gotten out and stuck her snow boot accidentally down into the sewer grate, and she went in up to her knee, and she laughed uproariously as we all hauled her (complete with boot!) back out. It became a joke every time we pulled into any parking spot by a curb—“be careful of the sewer, Aunt Mary!” And on and on.
In loving memory of Mary Failla (April 28, 1925 - August 17, 2018)--everyone's Aunt Mary.
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Created: 9/2/18. Last Modified: 9/6/18.