Today I share with you, the blog of a wonderful family friend. We have kept in touch through Facebook, but until my mom’s wake, I had not seen her awhile.
Growing up Ellie was one of my mother’s closest friends. Perhaps it was the first time that I really understood what friendship meant, how important it was to our survival as humans, and how a friendship can really last and endure over the years.
These two women met before I was born at the Junior Woman’s Club and rumor has it that Ellie pointed a finger at my mom when she was pregnant with her fourth child, telling my mom to watch out because she could have a third. At that time my mother wasn’t planning on having a third child, and sometimes she mentions the curse of Ellie’s finger, because a year after Ellie’s son Timmy was born my mother was pregnant with me. Her perfect child. I really owe my existence to Ellie. Or at least legend has it.
As I was growing up a lot of my first memories, strongest memories, memories that are still intact revolve around Ellie and her family. I loved going over for the fourth of July because her house sat on top of a hill and in the distance you could see the New York City Skyline. Perhaps this is when I first fell in love with the city. Their parties were always full of the usual cast of characters from our town, and right when dusk turned to night the sky would dance with colors. The city was just beyond my reach on her porch. Fourth of July’s at the Gianni’s is what my childhood was about. I remember the layout of their house, the run down the hill in their backyard, and going just beyond the property where the trees were. Their basement had amazing toys, the kitchen always had wonderful homemade smells, and upstairs I would play with Kathi’s cabbage patch dolls. Creating our own shows and dreaming of being on the stage.
Ellie created a warm welcoming feeling whenever we went over to visit from the time my memory had developed to the last time I saw her right before my cousin Evan’s wedding. We had stopped by her house to change and get ready for the wedding. Her breathing had become a bit more difficult but her spirit remained the same.
Growing up Ellie loved to entertain, as does my mother. When she was hosting one of her parties it almost felt like the whole town gravitated toward her, and her family. I remember New Years Eve in their den when I was in elementary school being allowed to stay up, if I could, and watch Saturday Night Live. As the parents were celebrating in the living room and kitchen us kids were in the den watching TV. I remember trying hard to keep my eyes open so I could ring in the New Year for the first time in real-time. I think I made it to 12:01am and promptly fell asleep on their couch.
Ellie supported my theatre adventures at the Papermill. Coming out to see me as the Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz. I remember her joyous smile, her excitement to have seen me on the stage. Her love was unending for all the people in her life, the family she adored, the friends she counted on, and the community of Maplewood/South Orange.
I left Maplewood at eighteen for college and returned on breaks for the next four years, but in 2002 my parents left the town I grew up in and I hardly returned until last Thursday, when I went home again for Ellie’s funeral. My mother wasn’t able to make it to say goodbye to her friend, but I was able to show up with my dear friend Josh and say goodbye to a woman who was such a huge part of my childhood.
Ellie Gianni was a symbol of love. She always put others before herself, a trait that she shared with my mother. She raised a strong family who has always remained close. I’m so grateful that I had her in my life. Her death was unexpected but her life was something that will always be remembered and treasured by the many who were lucky enough to know her.
Thank you Ellie for teaching me about friendship at a very young age.
Have a great day!