So much love.

In 1988, since I wanted to be a stay-at-home mom, we moved to Kansas City because Funk was offered a job there that covered my lost wages. We’d changed locations many times, but this was a difficult move.

Missouri is in the middle of the country and the people were so different than the people in my hometown on Long Island.

Growing up in my neighborhood was like living around the globe. There were families from different cultures and religions settled in every other house on my block. The neighbors were always popping in to give us a taste of a special dish they’d prepared for dinner, its origin being from their mother country. From the Feliciano’s, I had my first taste of Paella, and from Mrs. Belinsky, the most delicious blintzes in the world.

Relatives and neighbors visited often.

Many times, I’d be walking home from a friend’s house on a chilly Autumn evening only to find a foursome playing Canasta in my front yard. My mother and Mrs. Rooney would have their mink stoles on, relishing the opportunity to wear them, their husbands looking on like they were married to some kind of movie stars.

There was laughter and conversation—the banter would be considered “bawdy” by today’s standards—give me a break, how boring! The only negative was, there were too many mothers to “catch” me doing something wrong.

Things were not like this in Missouri.

Those who didn’t know me in Kanas City said I talked too loud, laughed too much, and was too forthright. Neighbors kept to themselves. Since none of our relatives lived closer than 1,500 miles away, I had to create my own community by importing “family.”

Choosing an exchange student was as exciting as picking a puppy out at the pound.

In the ten years we hosted, I was surrounded by children of different nationalities – including Spain, France, Germany, Ukraine, Austria and Italy. The kids came to experience America, yet they brought me so much joy and laughter. In their presence, I lived in constant awe, it was almost like being on vacation every day.

Many of those children became family.

I’ve spoken of the Big Blow that came in the Fall of 2020. Well, two of my favorites know the details, and once they learned of them, they surprised me by living up to my ideal of family. They circled the wagons, making me feel loved, cared for and wanted. More, they allowed me to give voice to that horror, something I desperately needed to do with close intimates.

And now, one of my favorites is coming to visit tomorrow, because, like she said, she doesn’t want me to go another day without family surrounding me. I could’ve died when she said that, it was like balm to my heart.

We had decided not to host the year that Anna came to us. But the organization that brought her over was in a bind, and since Anna was from Italy, I agreed to taking her on. Anna is 40 now, but she was only 17 when she arrived in 2000. She left just before 9-11 hit, yet she behaved as if that national tragedy had happened to her too. She’s come home for many important family occasions, like Funk’s inauguration. She even interned in Kansas City, on her way to becoming an international lawyer.

Intellect aside, Anna is just an all-around gorgeous human being. Warm, funny, fun, and loving, even if she does hate me kissing her on the lips! (New Yorkers do that, you know!)

And she’s respectful.

It was only when we visited Anna and her parents in Verona that I learned from her mother that I’d hurt her daughter’s feelings soon after her arrival in the United States. Apparently, I’d told Anna that she wasn’t a “real” Italian because she didn’t understand any of the Italian language that I knew. Her mother said that, of course, Anna didn’t understand me. I was speaking dialect from the 1920s, my parent’s time! While her mom kind of admonished me, I liked knowing how She-Bear all of us Italian mothers can be!

Here’s to you! if you also do the work to find and give love wherever you can. To me, it seems that “family” is a dying institution in America, and how sad is that? Yet Anna holds the same values as me—she is bringing her husband Marco with her to meet her “other” family. Believe it or not, she’s told him everything there is to know about me, and he’s still excited to come. Imagine that?!

The Photo: Anna and her parents visiting in 2012. Isn’t she a beauty!