The Overstory

Ida Zaccagnini Zborovancik was my great aunt - my maternal grandmother's younger sister, one of seven children from an Italian Catholic family. These old ones lived long: most past ninety. But over the past decade, year by year, another one died. Last fall, my great uncle Tony died, making my Aunt Ida the last.

My Aunt Ida lived in a small town in southwestern Pennslyvania. Her parents were immigrants, coal miners trying to rise out of poverty and prejudice. For a long time she ran a bar with her husband, where she fell in love with the music of country musician Charley Pride. She was a fabulous baker and known for her cooking - the most famous were her gobs, chocolate sandwich cookies that my aunts and uncles would fight over.

As she got older, bad knees meant that she could no longer bake, or go to mass. I know it was hard for her, and I called my Aunt Ida regularly. I asked her to tell me stories. She asked about my family. I used my land line because I could adjust the volume as high as it could go so she could hear me - that side of the family is known for hearing loss. The last few times I called, I could feel her sadness. She didn't want to be the last, and the loss of her brothers and sisters was hard on her - even as she dearly loved her living family.

I think she was relieved when she died this week at 95. We are heartbroken. She was the last of that generation, and there's something about losing those old ones that leaves a hole. You miss them, and you also miss their towering presence.

I wasn't able to travel to Pennsylvania for her funeral, another loss to bear. I channeled my grief and sorrow in a poem. My aunt Jeannie said it made her laugh and cry, which is fitting if you knew Aunt Ida. May her stories remind you of your old ones, the oaks in your forest.

The Overstory

For Ida Zaccagnini Zborovancik

If I had the words I'd tell you about the way
she said all our names: Greggy and Frankie,
Roni Sue and Shelby, Ty and Kelsey.
The shape they formed in her mouth was like
the gobs she baked, each a particular note of love.

When my kids ate too much candy
I told them about visiting Aunt Ida and
eating too many popsicles as a girl.
She called my mom and said I had junkitis.
When I called Aunt Ida on the phone she'd say,
“You're calling me all the way from Texas?”
She'd tell me she was being a pain in the ass
and I said we all were. She said Frankie
made her apples with cinnamon and sugar
that tasted just like grandma's apple pie.

When she came to visit, Roni Sue drove her up
with her foot on the dash of the car. She told us
we were all crazy and she was staying home.
She held up her glasses with a loop of yarn around
each ear. When she read the missal at mass
they'd fall off while Shelby laughed and laughed.
Aunt Ida told me that story while I sat in her kitchen,
clutching my sides, unable to breathe
while she said, “You're all laughing at me.”

She was the last. I can see each of them
in my grandma's house – the Pennslvania twang
of their voices, the shouting over hearing aids
that were never on. I can feel their soft hands
and the faded cotton of their housecoats.
The last time I called she told me Frankie
takes such good care of her. When I said goodbye
she said, “I love yuns all.”

They say a young tree learns how to be a tree
from the woods around them. Without the forest
they can't grow. There was never a time when
they weren't the over story of my forest. Now
I'm trees for others, and they taught me how.
I will miss those old oaks.

If you appreciate receiving the poems of O Nobly Born, I'd love to have your financial support. You can make a $10 donation here by credit card or a donation of any amount through paypal below. I cherish every donation, as they support my work and enable me to offer these poems freely to all. With a grateful heart, Karly

Show Comments