My Grandmother Taught Me To Fly

Paul Martinelli

The phone rang and it was my sister, tearfully sharing the news that Bella had a massive stroke and I needed to get home immediately. My heart was broken, my stomach churned and I was overwhelmed. The backbone of our Italian family was in critical condition and I wanted to see her one more time: my grandmother, Bella.

Grandma Bella played such an important role in my life; every Italian matriarch stereotype was embodied in this beautiful, beautiful lady. She had such a green thumb and her garden produced wonderful tomatoes which we canned every season. She taught me to make sausage using a coveted family recipe, and we played Crazy 8’s until the wee hours of the morning more times than I could ever count!

“What do you mean the ticket is $600? I can’t afford it. I told you, I have to get to my family NOW. Please help me, please”, I told the Delta Airline representative.

Despite tears and my strongest desire to be there, I could not get to my family for three days because the only ticket I could afford required a three day advance purchase. No available credit on my maxed out Visa, no savings, and not an extra dime in the checking account. Sadly, I didn’t even have anything of value to pawn, and my pride did not allow me to admit my financial situation and ask my family for a loan.

For three days, I constantly called my family, asking repeatedly, “How is Bella? How is Bella? Tell her that I am coming. Please tell her that I will be there.”

I could hardly eat, I was restless, I was crying, and I was devastated that I was stranded in the tropics known as South Florida. The sense of helplessness was greater than I have ever known. My family was in shock and I was a thousand miles away, but it might as well have been a million miles. Finding $600 to reach them immediately was an impossible task. Being alone and realizing my financial situation made matters much worse.

When I finally made it home, my arrival was bittersweet. Bella was out of pain, no longer incapacitated by a stroke. But, I did not have the chance to tell her I loved her, I did not have the opportunity to lay my head by her beating heart, and I could no longer clasp her aged, worn hand safely between mine. She was in heaven now. Tears flowed and I knew in my heart Bella had taught me one more lesson: never ever to be a victim of finances.

After an incredible celebration of Bella’s life, I headed to the airport for the lonely flight home. Gazing out the plane window, I looked at the big fluffy clouds fully expecting to see my Bella dancing in the heavens. At this point, I made a commitment to be like Bella: free, beholden to no one, in bondage to nothing.

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