Farewell Formel


The suitcase lay crumpled in the garbage can…so rank and disgusting in smell, even flies

avoided it…

Having been told by my mother as a young man that cheese could be used as a weapon of

revenge, only then, that day, did I fully appreciate one of her idiosyncratic, but usually valuable

lessons in life. My wife had flown to New York City for a few days and when asked what she

could bring me as a present I suggested she go to Zabars, the famous Jewish grocery store in

Manhatten, and as a treat pick out the strongest, smelliest cheese she could find . After several

hours in her suitcase at the airport and later in the hold of the returning plane it had softened,

permeating its pungency beyond normal human tolerance. Not only was the cheese not edible

but the house had to be aired out and the suitcase was ruined…

Born to older Italian immigrant parents, my mother, a “mistake”, something her mother never let

her forget, was often left to fend for herself in a small village in rural Illinois where Piedmontese,

a dialect of Northern Italy, was the main spoken language. Nearly all the occupants of

Wilsonville were immigrant families who worked the coal mines or farmed the local lands. Her

older brother by 16 years and sister by 14 had little to do with her and found her to be a

bothersome pest. As a very intelligent but unwanted mistake she learned to be assertive, tough,

resilient, resourceful, and persistent in reaching goals far beyond her family’s minimal


Such toughness often led to fights at school with children much older in age.

One such altercation, at the tender age of eight, was rewarded with a teacher’s punishment of

” Write 1000 times , I will not fight “.

As my mother trudged home , a mile on foot, she passed the butcher shop, paused, and then

turned back toward the school house casting forth a sly, mischievous grin…

The next morning , arriving at school, she was accosted by the teacher who demanded her

1000 line punishment…out from her cloth bag came sheets of greasy salami wrapping paper

covered in smeared number 1 pencil lead…” I will not fight ” 1000 times. With ginger touch the

teacher laid the punishment in the trash can and ordered her to sit down…

Later that winter, again punished for fighting, Mariarosa decided to up the ante of revenge.

Swiping a chunk of limburger cheese from her mother’s cupboard…now for those of you who do

not know, this is a distinctly rancid and foul blue cheese when warmed… that night leaving her

warm bed, she walked a mile in the dark, snuck back into the schoolhouse and liberally applied

the softened butter like blue cheese to the inner cast iron cylinders of a steaming radiator…

which was…conveniently situated next to the teacher’s desk…

As expected the morning stench was overpowering… and the school room…well… had to be


While adults searched for the source of the foul smell, quite well hidden within the radiator

pipes, the children were sent off to play and eventually told to go home…for 3 days…

To the little ones, a Heroine had been born…

Age 16, precocious for her age, she finished high school and left to find employment in St.Louis,

a difficult goal for a young woman with millions of men returning home from WWII.

5 years later through resourcefulness and hard work she had put herself through college (a

waste of time as far as her family was concerned), and had a full time job as a city social worker

(not a real job according to her brother).

A year later she married my father, also of Piedmontese stock, got pregnant, and had a child.

When her young husband parted for the Korean War, she unfortunately found herself again at

home now unable to work with a small child in tow. Unlike hers, my fortunes in life were just to

begin as I was not only accepted but quite loved by her parents, the same two who had all those

years …and even then… shunned her both as a daughter and a person of worth.

A year and a half later transferred to Italy she was able to reconnect with her Italian roots, a

large extended family which lovingly accepted and took her in. It was there that Sabrina, my

sister was born, and Patrick, my brother, conceived.

Many moves and years later my parents divorced…years of struggles, fights, and pains

compounded by his excessive alcohol use and the climb of the military chain with demands on

her to be an military officer’s conforming wife…not her natural style in life…

Suddenly she found herself alone, with three children, no child support, and just a small income

as a state employed social worker. Luckily she did own 20 acres of forest land 15 miles east of

her Fairfax home.

Turning to survival mode she tapped into her childhood strengths and started all over again.

Giving up that plot of land, she acquired two small 3 unit apartment buildings not far from

Arlington Cemetery. With years of hard work as a landlord, plumber, painter, cleaning woman,

and yardman… while still maintaining her “full time job” …she used the rental income to send

three children to college and Medical School before beginning to buy other properties to create

a lasting financial trust for all of her 5 grand children. At the same time she, for herself, finished

a Master’s Program at George Mason University and later a Doctorate of Education traveling

back and forth to San Diego, California.

Misfortune again began to knock at her door in the form of small strokes in her late 50’s. Never

very good at taking her health seriously she finally had to come to terms with her own mortality.

Repeated cerebral infarcts began to slow her down until a major event in late 1999 left her

completely paralyzed on the right side. After a short hospitalization she was transferred to a

rehab unit near Mount Vernon. As a family we met and clustered around her bed to “asses the

situation”. Something seemed not quite right to me…there looked to be a flicker of movement on

her right side. Now there were many facets to my mother’s personality and multiple driving

forces to her day to day life but as her children, we all knew her preoccupation with money…

Before the astonished stares of her doctors and nurses, also gathered round her bed, I threw a

shiny coin on her bare white belly, looked her in the eye, and said ” Mama, get the dime with

your right hand”. Slowly, ever so slowly, she moved her “paralyzed’ right arm, grasped the coin in

her hand and smiled from a supposedly immobile face. I looked up at the medical staff and said

“ She will be just fine, now push her hard, no rehab limits”.

One Dime

6 weeks later she walked out of the hospital and drove herself home.

Over the next 15 years repeated small strokes chipped away at her body but not her soul.

Three years ago , knowing her time was nearly at hand I took her back to Italy to see her family

one last time. We were supposed to pick out a burial plot, but aghast at the cost of a funeral and

stone box in an above ground vault , she quickly rejected the idea of death and decided to live


Even for the strongest of us time takes its toll. Over the past 10 months her health rapidly

declined, due to an unknown heart condition present for many years. As her thoughts turned to

the afterlife and her reunion with passed family and friends, she seemed to postpone death over

and over again, waiting for her grandchildren to marry, for me to return from a cross country

bike ride, and finally for the birth of her great grand son, Leonard Vincent Patrone.

4 weeks ago she told me she was tired and it was time. She went so far as to ask me to take

her to Oregon for a physician assisted suicide…she was just too tired and exhausted to go on.

We compromised… she said she would try to eat better, rest, and think of reasons to live but

her body just continued to wear down…

In poignant conversation she asked permission from me and my sister to be allowed to die at

home in peace… could we as her children accept her decision?

Of course we could, it was obvious the Matriarch’s time was at hand.

Hospice was arranged but she lasted less than a week. As she deteriorated she asked only that

we “ not leave her” and be present at her death. Sliding in and out of a sleeping state she

mumbled her repeated thanks to all of her family who came to say their goodbyes, to all of her

family who accepted her and loved her in her vulnerable dying state. It was ironic, yet fortunate,

that in the end she was finally able to recognize the love and acceptance she had craved all her


Her last spoken words were “ I want to go to church”.

An hour later her forehead was anointed with holy oil and she received a final blessing to allow

the gentle passage of her soul while my sister held her hand.

My family would like to thank the Mormon church for all their help and concern over the past 15

years. A special thanks goes out to all the Missionaries who repeatedly visited her home, to Yen

Zhao and to the Nantos family…all people who added so much to her life.

Finally I would like to propose a toast in memory of my mother. I know that Mormon’s do not

drink alcohol but there are other kinds of toasts. One of her favorite meals was cornflakes and

blue cheese soaked in milk , the blue cheese being a close cousin of the infamous radiator

Limburger cheese. Accordingly I have included on the “After the Service Refreshment Table”

cornflakes, blue cheese and milk. Please do her the favor of tasting this treat, and in so doing,

share in a communal toast to her soul.

So ends the Eulogy of Mariarosa Vigna Patrone.


P.S. On Janruary 4th, 2016 I will take her ashes home…one half to where her mother and father were each born, at the base of the Italian French Alps from a time not so long ago…

Vulnerability and Security: Two Sides of A Coin


A warm ,dry, Spring day…late afternoon…the scent of Wisteria overwhelms…

…crickets chirp, bees buzz , crows call out to to each other in puzzlement at the cacophony of noise from  nearby …

drunk, lodged in the hook of an old oak tree, singing away without a care in the world, her cow, Flossie ,munching away on grass somewhere out of sight….

my mother…after downing a fair amount of her father’s home made wine…

Covid has finally eased itself out of sight and with any luck I soon will again be on a cross country trek. Training is going well, up to 50 miles a day. 

Today I realized it was time to go find Angel and Flossie  …I need to break the news to them, they too must get in shape for the upcoming ride.

Wondering where they have been over the past two years I think of their significance.

Cassie, my Dear Cassie, goaded me into the second, third, fourth and so on rides by telling me to “get out of your comfort zone”…I thought the first of 4000 miles many years ago would suffice….how wrong I was…

“Getting out of a comfort zone “ is an understatement…it’s more like the scouring of a  soul to the core. Each mile strips away more and more of the quotidian veneer until only the  “I” is left…

To be alone in 400 square miles of Eastern Montana with 30 mph headwinds and 30 miles to go… to be drenched in cold rain surrounded by crackling lightening and thunder on the Great Plains…to be in the sixth hour of 7 hour mountain climb with no leg strength left to get to the top…  to be coming down the other side at 45 mph praying there is no deer or moose just around that curve…

a soul stripped to the core…vulnerable and alone…

Children have discovered a wonderful safe way to deal with being in that state, a “ security blanket”…a cherished stuffed animal, favorite piece of cloth or rag, a shredded multicolored ribbon…

What we may not appreciate is that we never really give up those safety nets as we age…they are just  transformed…

In later life the little girl stuck in the tree, whose security blanket was a tin box full of coins, 

would often apologize to me for her lack of mothering…it is true, she was not the nurturing type… material goods, money and status were “her thing” …but she , with the help of NUNS, made me who I was to become. She taught me the value of hard work, goals in life and perseverance in the face of adversity to reach those goals. 

For that I owe her gratitude. 

I often listened to her stories of growing up and Flossie, her cow,  seemed ever present…perhaps this beast was something safe for her in her troubled life…a tin of coins was just not enough…

Beside her teaching at home I was sentenced  Catholic school at a very young age and partially raised by NUNS. As I grew older I rejected the male dominated Catholic Church and the concept of sin and eternal hell but did retain something from those times…the gift of a Guardian Angel.

I was always fascinated by the idea of a Protector close by and just never let fade the idea of my own Angel …I am not quite sure if Angel is HE or SHE…St Thomas Aquinas argued on how many  could dance  on the head of a pin but left the concept of gender aside …

As I grew older Flossie, from of my mother’s life, and Angel, from Catholicism, just followed along somewhere deep down inside.

Security blankets are good to have when you are alone…beacons of light to guide you in the darkest of times…

So now I need to go find mine again and get them in shape for the ride since it is they who will protect me over and over again speeding down the curving mountain side…

PS:  For my next story I will share the eulogy I read at my mother’s funeral. ..she certainly did mold me to become  the person who I am…someone who would dare take on these crazy cross country rides…over and over again…

PPS:  For new Readers unfamiliar with Flossie and Angel feel free to peruse stories  from previous rides…they can be found by going back in time on this site…