|Birth: ||Jan. 5, 1927|
|Death: ||May 18, 2011|
The day of Agnes' passing, last Wednesday, her daughter called to tell me Agnes passed at 7 that morning. I prepared this memorial ahead of time, in truth because I dreaded the day it would have to be done, so better to have done it when not in sorrow.
"I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I acted, and behold, service was joy." -- Rabindranath Tagore
That I was able to visit Agnes not long before her passing is a bit of a miracle. The last I had seen her was 20-some years before when I'd moved to Northeast Philadelphia and she had me to dinner at her downtown apartment at 22nd and Girard. When I'd left, Agnes said it was too cold for what I was wearing, and she sweetly forced me to don her wool winter coat, a nice one with flattering black and purple vertical stripes that was midi-length. She did not have a phone then, but every time I was downtown I kept trying to return that coat to no avail. Finally Agnes was gone from there, and over the years I could not find her. It seems she moved a lot. Agnes rarely had a phone, but when I did find a number for her, by the time I called it, it would be no longer working.
Agnes and I met by chance. For a few years as a tenant, I shared a home with a professor and author, Bernard, who lived on a quaint shaded street between the old Eastern State Penitentiary and Girard College. That's the Art Museum area, or Brewerytown, depending on who you ask. Anyway, eventually I thought it was time for me to live on my own for the first time, and as I was moving out, Agnes was moving in. We just hit it off, and I used to come back to visit her and Bernard. She was very kind to me, shared her good cooking, and was a lot of fun to talk with. I believe in retrospect that Agnes liked having a friend close to her daughter's age, and I surely appreciated having an older woman who was concerned for my welfare, and such a lively friend. It was like having a cool mom to whom you could tell anything, because she didn't judge, and you could ask her advice and have the benefit of her experience. The picture shown on this memorial is not of Agnes, but of a woman who could easily be Agnes, if you just lengthen the nose a little. Agnes would have been a perfect character for the author, Brautigan, to have used in one of his stories, and oddly, Brautigan looks an awful lot like Bernard.
I like to think I am pretty good at tracking folks down, but Agnes eluded me. By 2011, I knew she would be getting older and I didn't want to wait. After much searching, I found her on a list of contributors to Lyndon LaRouche's last presidential run, and thankfully, there was an address listed, though no phone number. Googling this address, I learned it was a housing complex for seniors, so I called the office. They told me she'd left some years ago and did not know where she'd gone, but happened to mention her daughter's first name - coupling that with the last name I already knew I was able to find and speak with Agnes' daughter who kindly clued me in.
I feel very blessed to have had one more chance to thank Agnes for her friendship, and to play her beloved music for her. She no longer spoke, was barely eating, and was in bed with her eyes closed the whole time I was there, but she did smile, and actually hummed when I played Puccini's Turandot, ironically "Nessun Dorma" - "No One Shall Sleep".
When I knew her, Agnes struck me as delightfully eccentric, and she had a fanciful mind in the very best sense. She was a force of nature when she felt strongly about something. Agnes was also an Earth Mother, a nurturer, one who was compelled to take care of others. Appalled by Bernard's terrible eating habits (such as his having a can of peas for dinner) she'd be spurred to whip something up, often a salad and some pasta. Raised in a Pennsylvania German home, I knew little about Italian food, but from her learned the value of fresh grated Locatelli cheese. She always kept a little nugget of some on hand.
She'd once hoped to be an artist, painting when young, but had to work to support her siblings. She was intuitive, as well as quick and smart, and it's a sin she did not go to college because she'd have thrived in an academic environment. She was involved in causes, especially ones where she perceived an underdog. She had no single profession when I knew her but had done Veri-typing before her eyes began to fail, and had recently done some housekeeping. She knew people in every strata and was always trying to set me up on dates. I remember once she tried to hook me up with young John Egan who was then running for Philadelphia mayor in 1983, and I turned her down, just on principle, because I didn't want to encourage her matchmaking ways.
Overall, she was a woman of great conscience. She left the Catholic church over their former "Jews as Christ-killers" stance. Her distinguishing feature was an unwavering sense of right and wrong, and when she was critical of any person or entity doing wrong, she was firm in her criticism, and a just a little self-righteous... for this, we jokingly called her "Agnes... of GOD!"
To see her near her end was hard, but then, Alzheimer's is never kind. Her lovely thick black hair which she always wore past her shoulders was gone. She'd always worn great clothes, having an exceptional eye for good bargains. To see her laying there in a nightie, makeup-less, with her hair chopped short was almost like seeing a stranger. The only way to know it was her for sure was to look at her hands- strong, almost masculine peasant hands that had seemed out of place on this tall, elegant lady. The only other way was when the ghost of a smile crossed her face for a moment... then I could remember Agnes' charming smile, lips pressed together, a little Mona Lisa, the bottom lip plumply forward.
I prefer to remember her as the spirited generous woman I knew. Never will I forget one of the nights she had me to dinner when she still lived at Bernard's home. It was in a lovely, safe and clean area, but just then the street was terribly dug up because the city was installing new water pipes. I'd come directly from work and we were chatting in the kitchen when I noticed movement in the living room out of the corner of my eye. I dismissed it as Mittens, Bernard's cat, until something clicked in my mind saying "Mittens is black and white and whatever I saw was brown." Agnes was talking away, and I finally cut in and said "Sorry, but what the heck is in the living room?"
I still remember, Agnes was wearing a dark wool pencil skirt and knit peasant vest over a turtleneck, and had on dark hose and wonderful furry peasant boots, kind of like Ugg boots before they became popular. Agnes righteously stomped in those boots through the kitchen and into the dining room, hands on her hips, and peered into the living room exclaiming "Oh my stars, it's a rat!" With all the drilling commotion on the street, this poor creature had bungled into the house, probably through the basement. Agnes spotted Mittens, scooped her up, and gently hurled her at the rat, saying "C'mon bunny, do your job!" Mittens took off -the rat was nearly her size- and I was already clambering up on the kitchen chair in the stereotypical "scared female" move, my high heels punching two holes in the vinyl seat cover.
In no time at all, Agnes had rounded up a posse of men from the block who were thrilled to be called on to do the manly rat hunt. They marched around and exchanged ideas while I hollered "It's going into the basement!" and they followed. They never did get it, but it went into some hole there and never showed itself again. That was Agnes... fearless, and managing to rally others. I hope she stayed as strong, as sure of herself, and as fearless as that day. Perhaps the fact she was alive long enough that I could see her once again attests that she still was that same woman. Her life was never very easy, and I find myself hoping there really is a special place in heaven for her.
I think of her there in her bed, with whatever was left of her drinking in "Nessun Dorma" and I remember the ending and hope it suits her:
"Vanish, o night!
Set, stars! Set, stars!
At dawn, I will win! I will win! I will win!"
You probably know this wonderful aria without knowing you know it, and if nothing else, you know the triumphant ending. To hear a three minute version by Pavarotti, click here. This will open a new window. That last "I will win!" ("Vinceṛ!") features a sustained B4 followed an A4 sustained even longer. These notes are way at the top of any tenor's range, and the look on Pavarotti's face is priceless. I hope Agnes looked like this, triumphant and grateful, as she left us and saw the face of God.
Sincere, deep thanks to P. David Eastburn for sponsoring Agnes' memorial, recognizing that you need leave no huge monument behind to be appreciated and remembered. You can be simply a really fine person.
Costanzo Cedrone (1902 - 1987)
Helen Skovron Cedrone (____ - 1956)
Cremated, Ashes given to family or friend.
Specifically: Agnes' memorial service was to be held in June.
Created by: sr/ks
Record added: Apr 07, 2011
Find A Grave Memorial# 68022249
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With love on your Angel Day,|
Added: May. 18, 2014
Added: Dec. 15, 2013
Thinking of you slipping away at this time of year, and missing you.|
Added: May. 22, 2013
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