If you didn't know better, you might think that Mary's House was a popular bar in Chicago. People from as far away as California, Virginia, Boston and even Cuba would excitedly tell you of their vacation plans-- a trip to Chicago to visit Mary's House!
Walking into Mary's house, you're instantly overwhelmed by numerous sensations. Smells of French toast, coffee, and gravy instantly accost you when you enter the front door. Mary's meatballs are famous throughout much of the country and were a sign of welcome to any visitor. Equally famous is the gravy that accompanied these meatballs and, of course, the flavor-filled neckbone Mary added to spice up the sauce. As Mary loved to share, she always offered this neckbone to her visitors, none of whom could think of any reason to eat such a disgusting food! Mary's response was always the same: "good. I wanted the whole thing for myself anyway!"
After you've become accustomed to the delicious smells of Mary's home, you become aware of the various sounds. Laughter, the clink of glasses, and the low roar of chatter fill your ears. It doesn't matter if you're joining a party or if you're the only person in the room, the house always sounds the same. So many gatherings have taken place at Mary's house, the memories linger long after the party has ended. Miraculously, Mary's table can somehow fit 4 or 14 just as comfortably. And, somehow, there is always room for one more. Mary's house has always been home base-- the place where family meets, where celebrations occur, where shots of sambuca are raised in celebration of those no longer with us. Upon entering the house, regardless of the number of people present, you become immersed in these memories.
Mary's house was the meeting spot not because of its grand stature, but because of the grand woman who lived there. Fiercely independent, opinionated and strong, Mary was also warm, giving, caring and open. Mary knew no stranger and regarded everyone as family. Her son-in-law Tony has several nephews; these children became Mary's Cuban Grandchildren. Her granddaughter Kaelyn's boyfriend, whom Mary never had an opportunity to meet, instantly became "Our Andrew." Everyone was special to Mary.
Of course, caring for so many was not without drawbacks. Perhaps the most important feature to Mary's kitchen, second only to the magic table, was her refrigerator. Overwhelmed with photos, the fridge was a way for Mary to honor anyone and everyone. The problem, of course, is that she never really took pictures off the fridge! You'd find yourself asking "Mary, who is this baby?" She would take the picture from your hand, stare at it for a second and then say "oh that is my neighbor's priest's sister's daughter's child" as if it were perfectly normal to have this random baby on the refrigerator.
The fridge was also a horror to Mary's grandchildren. Because she never removed photos, it was not uncommon for Kaelyn to discover a photo of herself with braces, or Amara to find herself with oversized glasses that she wore in the early 80s. The thing is, though, to Mary, these were pictures of her beautiful granddaughters. She saw no flaws in these pictures, but only the beauty of the people behind them.
Mary found beauty in everything-- she traveled the world over and brought back wonderful mementos and photos of the world. She was adventurous and daring; few can forget the photo of her in some foreign country eating fire. She was the life of every party and the strength of the family.
The loss of Mary is palpable. But, so, too, is the effect she had on the world. She died knowing that she had raised four intelligent, strong and caring children, that each of her seven grandchildren (or seventy-seven, depending up on whom you choose to include) was happy, healthy and had inherited her independence and strength, and that the world is a better place because Mary had been a part of it. We should all be so lucky.