Chaotic Stability: Accomplishments by grandfather give hope for future
I sat sipping wine and dabbing tears from underneath my dark shades while the hot Tucson sun beat down on the family and friends that had gathered in my late grandfather's back yard a few weekends ago.
They were all here to remember John Fino in different ways - as a father, neighbor, grandfather and friend - and the ceremony was going smoothly, perfectly highlighted by the intermittent pings of golf balls being hit off the ninth tee tucked just behind the property.
Before I knew it, the family-memories portion of the ceremony crept up and I had a chance to speak. I knew it was now or never.
Nervous and emotional, I stood up, misjudged the step and stumbled, sloshing Pinot Grigio onto my yellow lace dress and nearly face planting on the cement.
It was so typically me. I'm probably the only ex-ballerina whose grace tragically leaves her as soon as she exits the stage.
But my stumbling wasn't just in the literal sense. It seemed as though I had been tripping over everything life threw at me lately - relationships, finances, career and even this ceremony, which was proving to be much harder to get through than I had expected.
Recovering, I walked in front of the crowd, held up my glass and blamed my slip up on the wine that my hatred of public speaking had forced me to drink. It wasn't exactly true, but at least I got a chuckle out of the group as well as a, "That's a Fino!"
A large Italian family that likes to drink wine, imagine that, I thought, as the same man added, "She sure looks like one."
It was similar to the comments I received prior to the ceremony while everyone was chatting and looking at the old photos of Grandpa and family, newspaper clippings and numerous military awards set up around the house.
My sister, Gina, and I had sat on the couch thumbing through albums and giggling at pictures of a young, handsome Grandpa, our mom and aunts with flipped Farrah Fawcett hair and Uncle John Jr., playing golf in hideous, red plaid bellbottoms.
But what really caught our eyes was the book full of letters Grandpa received when he retired as International President of Allstate Insurance in the late 1970s. It appeared as though every single Allstate underwriting department in the world had taken the time to express its disappointment that Grandpa was leaving the company by praising his fun, enthusiastic professionalism. One letter even used the phrase "The John Fino Fan Club."
Gina and I were in awe as we read page after page. Sure, we had heard a few stories of such things throughout the years, but we'd never known the extent of his accomplishments nor that others held him in such high regard. We just knew him as Grandpa - the loud, grand gesturing, animated and hilarious character who took us to the nature store, bought us kaleidoscopes, drove us around in his golf cart terrorizing the retirement community he lived in -who produced so many vivid memories for us.
Instead of being completely overcome with embarrassment from my pre-speech trip up, I was inspired and continued to read the words I had prepared, remembering John Fino in my own way, while the crowd laughed, cried and nodded their heads in agreement.
Grandpa came from immigrant parents and humble beginnings and there were undoubtedly a few stumbles along the way to becoming a highly decorated World War II B-24 bombardier, a husband and father of five, a successful businessman and the kind of person people form fan clubs around.
I learned more about where I came from and where I could go that day alone than I had in my entire 25 years of life. I realized that I not only looked like a Fino, but I had the trademark tenacity of one too, and I would make it through this rough patch just fine.
While I find myself struggling a bit through the perils of young adulthood - trying to have a healthy social life while building a career, being flat broke and still managing to feed myself occasionally and pay rent, realizing that balancing a checkbook is not rocket science and surviving the young professional dating scene (ugh.), just to mention a few - that's just part of the process. It's about finding a little stability in a chaotic world, learning from your mistakes and recovering gracefully from the inevitable stumbles and figurative (or literal) face plants of life.
Feel free to laugh, cry and nod your head in agreement as I share my clumsy tales here every other week.
While I'll always strive to blaze my own trail, it's good to carry a reminder of where I came from with me for a little extra reassurance. I think Grandpa would not only be proud, but would lift his glass of wine in a celebratory toast.