Although she was just a whisper, the house is so quiet without her bigness

Today was her day

Martini Bednorz   11/4/02 – 2/26/16

How do you say thank you to a bundle of white fur that taught me all the more about unconditional Love, who won my husband’s heart (as much as he resisted), who made me a better person, dog mom, and stripped me of my big dog snob ego. 

How do I say thank you to the Creator for making such miraculous creatures.

Pets teach us that no matter what we look like, how big or small, rich or poor, white, black, purple or green, we are the bee’s knees to them. They are always there to listen with their floppy ears, and happy beyond belief to see you with the inability to hide it because of their wonderful truth tail. I’ve always said dog is God spelled backwards, because they show us how God Loves us.

How do I say thank you to her bloomers (groomer & beauty parlor blended together) Ray & Joe, all her babysitters Arlene Parker, her backup babysitter Emily Boyes, backup to backup Mindy Rae Lawrence, and her familial auntie babysitter Kasey Louise.
How do I recognize my manager Rafael, and all my colleagues who enjoyed having her around everyday & Loved her. Natasha, (Moo Feyh’s mom) always willing to keep an eye out on her if I needed to go to a meeting.

Pink princess resting under my desk PHOTOGRAPHER: Karen Bednorz


Bossy pants taking over meeting PHOTOGRAPHER: Cheryl Endo

To my daughter, who called me when she was moving back to Vegas and couldn’t take Martini. I said without hesitation, I’ll take her! It was suppose to be for a month. I transferred all my Love of my daughter into this one year old pup.

She Loved everyone she met. When she was young she was lightening fast, and gave us unending entertainment when she would ricochet around our house, us unable to catch her, when we would come home from the day at work. She grieved Betty for months. 
Martini lived fast and died fast. I was with her the entire day, held her for hours waiting for Gary to come so that he could hold her one last time too.
IMG_3407 (1)

Tender & intimate heartfelt goodby PHOTOGRAPHER: Karen Bednorz

Martini had great Vets, and today especially, those who tried to save her. I know she is with Betty now. The Catholic church espouses animals don’t go to heaven. C’mon!!! I say how can they not? It just wouldn’t be paradise without them.

Letting go

From his website about loss, Howard Lunche describes:“Mourning is the expression of sorrow for the dead. It is what we do to demonstrate the grief we are experiencing, and is the means for sharing the pain and disruption caused by a death. Funerals, prayer, unveilings, wearing black, sobbing, visiting the gravesite, journaling, memorials, and looking at photos are examples of how we overtly express and acknowledge the importance of the one who died and his or her death and absence. It is important to foster grief’s natural and healthy progression toward an outcome of acceptance of, and adjustment to, the reality of the death.  Mourning is how we do this.

In summary, grief is what is happening to us; our uniquely personal experience in all realms of our being. Bereavement is about who we are without the one who has died. Mourning is the method by which we alleviate the pain and disruption of grief and solidify the memory of the deceased and meaningfulness of our shared life and relationship.”

This precious family member was more than a dog, she was Love, and the loss is great, and so very real.  Losing Martini has also brought up for me, the many losses we’ve suffered this past three years.  Some happening so quickly upon one another, I realize now, I didn’t process each grieving period fully at the time.

We buried Martini’s ashes on Easter Sunday, as we did with her doggy sister and best friend Betty just three years earlier.  In a beautiful cardboard daisy shaped box with pastel polkadots, along with all the condolence cards we received, next to the fountain in the rose garden under the juniper where she liked to lay her belly to cool.  I see thirteen pink hearts every morning from my kitchen window.  Somehow this tribute / memorial art installation,  lifts and carries me.


Our Journey to Petralia

A photographer I work with said to me, he detecting I was in a “partly cloudy” funk;  “keep going toward your own bright Light”.  That is exactly what I’ve done, just striving to be my best self.  His words lifted me and became my mantra for more than a year, a time of great loss;   Beginning with the decision to put our 18-year dog to sleep as her quality of life and body dwindled,  my Mother passing away, although she was 86, it felt sudden. And, within months, the murder of our 20-yr. old nephew, just 20-months after his older 20yr. old brother lost his own battle with Myelodysplasia.  Immediately, came a car accident where miraculously we walked away with my husband suffering just a scratch, especially since it looked as if a disco ball exploded in my car and we were both covered with thousands of pieces of glass shards.  When I needed my family the most, and my husband would certainly have been greatly comforted by our nephew (my sister’s son) reaching out to him, the  coup de grås, was my nuclear family turning their backs and disconnecting themselves from me.

I was in the depths of despair and grief. In time, I started to gain clarity, and as always my dear friend expressed his wisdom. He said to me; they’ve been living unprincipled lives.  It was bound to happen.  Their choices were to inevitably impact you.   I remembered Janis Joplin and her line from Me &  Bobby McGee “Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose” I choose to view the change in my sisterhood as a gift, although it took some time before I actually believed this to be true. If not for this disconnect it’s doubtful I would have pulled aside an ounce of Mom’s ashes with the thought of taking them to Sicily.

Ashes & discoveries

Ashes & discoveries

Twenty-one months later that is exactly what my husband & I did.  I’ve learned so much on our trip to Petralia, Mom’s maiden name, and the name of the two villages that rest in the mountainous region 43 miles southeast of Palermo, isn’t her maiden name at all. No buses or train to transport us,  we rented a taxi for €200 Euros, with the condition our driver would not smoke or drive crazy.   Toto, our driver, was very kind.  He took his duty to heart knowing our intention, turning into our personal guide.  Popping in a classical CD, stating “you bambino”, leisurely driving us for 2 1/2hrs. through stunning countryside, stopping to point out sites like Mt. Etna, a natural mountain spring that was made into a watering fountain centuries ago, and pulling to the side of the road where he broke off a branch from the Genista Aetneneis bush.

Pure spring water from the Madonie Mountains

Pure spring water from the Madonie Mountains

Ginesta Aetneneis (Mt. Etna Broom)

Ginesta Aetneneis (Mt. Etna Broom)

The clipping was fragrant with beautiful yellow flowers, then Toto successfully explained, in mostly Italian, that this thorny shrub was the plant branches used over two-thousand years ago to make Christ’s crucifixion crown.    Toto knew I was in search of “documents” as he put it, taking us to a government building, and guiding us through halls and floors until we came to a clerk.  He explained we came from America.  She stopped what she was doing opening an armoires of sorts, filled with oversized handwritten bound books of names and birth dates hundreds of years old.  I wanted so badly to take photos, but I already felt I was intruding on her day, and since they were vital records, to ask might have come across as disrespectful at the lest, and possibly illegal to do so at the worst, if those names were not my own family’s.  During this effort the biggest discovery is that Petralia has been mis-pronounced for three generations, and by many American families besides our own. Phonetically spelled; Pet tra lee-a. Also, that my grandfather had a different last name that was dropped when they immigrated to the United States through Ellis Island.  When I told the clerk his name was Joseph, she said adamantly “no Joseph,  Giuseppe. Giuseppe last name of Petralia.

Grandma Ann's Birth Certificate

Nunziata was Grandma’s first name, but she always went by Anna

Then I showed her my Grandmother’s birth certificate, which Grandma Ann had changed the birthdate as she wanted to claim being younger by four years.  When the clerk pointed to this obvious alteration I just shrugged my shoulders.  Grandma’s maiden name noted on the New Jersey birth certificate states Falco, and how I’ve always known it to be.  The clerk again, with hand gestures, corrected the error, and mispronunciation; Falco?!? Fal cone ay!  She was so generous, as well as patient,  with her time considering I had so little to go on.  I thanked her and we left.

Across from the government building is a square with a monument of two figures; a soldier and a monk holding up a sword together, on a pillar.IMG_2513  Across from that monument a terrace that overlooks the valley, and town of Petralia Sottana.  Directly below this raised stone terrace was beautiful foliage, flora & fauna, and butterflies.  There is where we let Mama’s remaining ashes fly.

Joining the butterflies

Joining the butterflies

Petralia Soprana over looking Petralia Sottana

Petralia Soprana over looking Petralia Sottana

Not all of the ashes fell out of the herb bottle that held her.  I didn’t want to force it, so the tiny bit that stayed behind I took with me back to our rented flat in Cefalu, which is situation directly across from the ocean bluffs.  There we emptied the oregano jar completely.

Thee unto the Tyrrhenian Sea

Thee unto the Tyrrhenian Sea






Mom rests next to her husband at the Riverside Veterans Memorial Cemetery, in the hills of Petralia Soprana, and released into the Tyrrhenian Sea of the Mediterranean Proper.  How amazing that her daughter and son-in-law traveled the 6,622 miles to make the journey, to mark her life, my ancestors lives, and the adventure that brought them across the Atlantic to the United States of America.Nearly two years after such loss and despair, I am so happy.  The storm made way to the most beautiful of rainbows.  We journeyed beyond the island of Sicily. I journeyed back to me…Fulfilled, living my life in truth, peace, freedom, and forgiveness.  My proclamation of my sister’s rejection being a gift, in spite of how much I miss her, as it turns out, is true after all.  

Suggested film for anyone who has had family immigrate from Europe through Ellis Island.

My Hero and the Big Sea Shell

My father was a huge influence in my life.  I can not imagine who I would have turned out to be without him.  And, much later in life, standing up to him made it possible to stand up to men, and for myself, in general.  

Even though I made poor choices, and I have allowed myself to be put in negative situations, what others end up learning, once I’ve had enough, is mistaking my kindness for weakness.  Dad hated when I was bullied. He would try to hold back, but often times he couldn’t stand it and would go out of his way to make it better.

Our home in West Covina, moving there when I was just in diapers, was the first home I recall. I even remember the address; 1334 Glendora Ave. With that first home came my first friend, Ricky. We lived next door to the Fox family. I Loved his parents, Helen and her husband. They had two much older children than Ricky, a son and a daughter, who didn’t pay much attention to their younger brother, or me. They were Jewish and owned a deli. To this day I have never had such crisp and tasty pickles as from their family owned restaurant. I would make paper ring chains with Ricky at Hanukkah, and remember fondly their menorah. We rarely displayed candles in our home, so I found this to be very pretty, and different from our traditions.

Ricky came over to our house daily asking if he could play with me, and when he did my Father dreaded it. More often than not, Ricky would hurt, and make me cry. Everything from bite marks on my hands and arms, to bouncing my hand in the car door. Not sure why my fingers weren’t broken. I just recall a huge bandage on my thumb. Once he got the brilliant idea that he would get the baseball that was stuck on his roof down by hitting another ball up on the roof to knock it loose. He wanted me to watch his know-how so he instructed me to stand directly behind him while he swung his wooden bat, tossing a ball into the air as he aimed to hit it. Well, he smacked me in the head instead, knocking me out cold.

Helen was a responsible, responsive parent. When my sister and I tattled on Ricky for swearing, his mother promptly grabbed Ricky by his ear pulling him into her bathroom, telling us “you stay right here and watch”! She then literally washed Ricky’s mouth out with white bar soap as he struggled and wailed. My sister and my eye’s were the size of saucers!

My childhood recollection of our backyard was an expansive green lawn. Ricky and I were playing as usually, and as usually, he made me cry. As I turned to run into the house, my Father was standing right behind me in an angered Jolly Green Giant stance. Scanning up from his knees, to his 6′ 1″ height, he was indeed a giant in stature. He pointed at Ricky and said “hit him”. I looked down, shook my head no. “If you don’t hit him, I’m going to hit you”. Gulp… as I turned to Ricky, his distance, and the backyard itself, instantaneously grew further away from me as if a warp speed burst just occurred. Ricky was frozen as I slowly approached him. With all my courage, I slapped him across the face. I couldn’t believe I did it! He went running and screaming to his home. I turned to look at my Dad, still stern, he said, “how did it feel”? I said good, and then he affirmed what I’ve been learning my entire life, “sometimes you just have to stand up for yourself.”

The most tender of his rescues was when our family went to Balboa Island Crystal Cove beach. My parents and toddler sister were under the umbrella, and I spent what felt like hours collecting sea shells. I was in my own world, completely content, gathering beautiful treasures. An older boy than me, came up to me, seeming friendly at first, then he stole my entire day’s beach combing. Returning to my parents blanket quietly suffering, my Father abruptly left. He was gone for a long time. I thought perhaps he had gone looking for the young thief and worried for my Dad. When Dad returned, he brought me out from under the umbrella and told me to dig in the sand. I didn’t understand, but he was smiling, and pointing to a specific spot. Low and behold, what I dug up was a huge, gorgeous abalone shell. As young as I was I figured out what he had done. Walking Balboa Island to find a shell shop to buy me the biggest shell he could find, and then hiding it for me to discover. I stayed under the umbrella the rest of the day relishing, and protecting, my grand treasure, not letting it out of my sight, not letting on to my Father that I suspected I didn’t really find and earn this one on my own. Knowing in my entire being, the most important thing that happened that day. Love heals.

The Bell

I think I had just entered the first grade when this boy I didn’t know came up to me nearing the end of recess; “you know there’s no Santa Claus” he proclaimed.  How could he say such a thing?  Of course I didn’t believe him.  Then, tauntingly, he told me parents buy all those gifts for their kids. Laughing at my stunned face, making fun of my clear disappointment, I felt betrayed by him, mostly, for stealing the enchantment.  I remember thinking couldn’t he have waited a few years???  I wanted to hold on to the magic.

My parents each had rich family cultural traditions and sharing them during the Christmas holidays took much effort on their part.  I, appreciating all the coordinating now as an adult, more than ever.

Every year my sister and I had three Christmas traditions to enjoy.  Christmas Eve with my Dad’s Mexican side of the family. Homemade tamales, and, the best part,  staying up late past our bedtime.  After all, Saint Nick had to bless the gifts first before we could open them.  To this day, no presents are opened until after mid-night on December 24th, after the Blessing of course.

Before all us sleepy kids were allowed to open gifts, it was a festive party.  Sometimes we’d even roll up the carpet and dance on the hard wood floor.  Around 1960, the year the Twist became the rage, we were all learning it and doing this new dance craze.  I had to Twist the best, hardest & fastest.  I hadn’t realized I had gotten out of control until my Aunt Queta said “look!  you can’t even see Karen’s face”.  Then as we settled down to watch each gift revealed, the anticipation at it’s height, my Father would insists my sister & I sing Silent Night for my Grandma Frances, her favorite Christmas carol.  Now, a tender memory.

Christmas morning was just our family of four, in our jammies, and our dog or dogs.  The best, or most anticipated gifts were reserved just for our morning family tradition.

My Mother’s Italian side of the family would gather Christmas afternoon where along with the holiday turkey, ham and side dishes, the meal included the mandatory pasta dish, usually lasagna.  With six siblings, this gathering was much bigger, louder, and on occasion a verbal fight would ensue, where our Grandma Ann would cry.  At the time I didn’t understand.  However, now, with the wisdom of motherhood, I understand just wanting for your children, and their spouses, to just value one another, and get along. Treasure the short time we have together.  After our elaborate dinner, always served on the Asian themed green bamboo leaves with gold edged china my Father had shipped to my Mother from Korea when he was in the service,  there would be card playing and adult conversation. Once the meal finished with desert, us cousins were free to move from the kids table and join in a hand of poker and the latest family gossip.

I can’t be certain, but it must have been that same year that mean boy came up to me on the playground. We were at my Aunt Christina’s house and my father had been drinking. Which at that time was typical.   It happened in slow motion, right at my eye level, seeing my Mother trying to put the bell in my Father’s fumbling hand, not stealth in receiving it at all. Both giggling, she trying to get him to behave, and cueing him “it’s time”.  I then remember waiting in line as each of us kids were brought to the window by our aunties, one by one, as I had every Christmas Eve before, waiting eagerly to talk to Santa; This time clearly recognizing my Father’s voice.  I continued for many years after that playing along, never letting on, keeping the tradition for my younger sister, and cousins, as well as my parents, aunts and uncles, and especially my Grandma Francis.  Appreciating the treasure that it was my Dad, our Father, and my cousin’s uncle,  who was our special Santa.


The Christmas Bell ~ Santa’s Bell PHOTOGRAPHER: Annette Alvarez-Godbout

Turns out my cousin Denise has kept that bell all these 60 years.

A Gift for Our Nephew

*In my effort to preserve family history, I recall these stories about my parents. Stories that shaped me and my sister, stories that should, and I hope, will be passed down.

My father suffered greatly over the years from a fungus that ate away at his fingernails & nail bed, yet another result of the toxic chemicals he used daily from his trade of house painting. These same chemicals would eventually destroy his lungs.

When he was very young, 19, and prior to finding a medication, his finger nails had to be scraped off, then, finally the doctors found a topical. The medication had to be painted on like nail polish. It was black, so it embarrassed him intensely, therefore when he would play his saxophone he would try to hide his hands by leaning deep or pitching high with his horn. Because of this condition he discovered he couldn’t wear rings daily. He wore his wedding ring, and his gold and alexandrite blue stone ring only when he played gigs.

Medications improved over the years, finally in a pill form, Fulvicin, however very harsh on the liver. But still rings aggravated his skin, eventually his wedding ring remained in his drawer. I took it out of the drawer decades later and asked my father if I could take it with the intention of cutting it in half to make a pendent for Julie & me to wear as a necklace. He said absolutely.

Once we got home Gary said you can’t cut his ring in half. And, with rediscovering the inscription from my mother on the inside, of course, my husband was correct. So instead, I had our jeweler make a tie bar out of Dad’s ring, and we added a diamond, his birthstone.

When Dad passed away I took the tie bar back telling my sister I had it. I held onto it, but when I saw the photo Julie sent me of our nephew and his girlfriend together, I knew Bobby had found his life partner. When it was clear he would be marrying the Love of his life, I gave the tie clip to my sister to give to her son to wear on his wedding day. My hope was to have been invited to share that moment of passing along Dad’s heirloom, but I trusted this was a decision for the mother of my nephew, and how she wanted to create this memory for her son and her both was for her alone to decide.

Mom filmed Dad receiving and opening his Father’s Day gift. He had no idea what to expect. As it turns out, exactly 5 years prior, to the date, my father passed away.

The faux alexandrite ring, Dad’s stage ring; At some point, before we ever knew Dad was ill, my sister and I were going through some of Dad’s things on his dresser. I asked my sister, when Dad goes, if she minded that I take the blue stone ring. It evoked the memories of when he played & I remembered it’s sparkle from the stage. She obliged that I would inherit it. When Dad passed away in our arms; myself, my mother, and my husband Gary on Father’s Day eve, I just couldn’t tell my sister on the phone knowing she would be too upset driving the 3+ hours alone through the desert. When she arrived that Father’s Day morning, I put on the ring and went outside to greet her, as I still could not say the words. She knew immediately, but all she could say was “why are you wearing the ring – why are you wearing the ring”, we collapsed into each other’s comforting arms.


Around 14yrs. old, peer pressure prevailed in my father’s youth. The gang he so admired decided that the brotherhood could only be strengthen by the ultimate permeant act of solidarity. A common tattoo. Unanimously they decided it would be an eagle, strategically placed on the inner left forearm. Naive, and not the case, typically the chosen location by heroin addicts to hide tracks. Dad was bullied in being the first to enter the tattoo pallor, along with assurances all would follow for their turn at the needle and ink after him. Dad’s recollection of the ordeal to me was graphic, and at a young age I knew I would never do to my skin what has become the 21st century common place; some in efforts to appear unique, express art, claim gang affiliation, tell life stories, express loss, or identify with an ancient culture.

Story telling involved dramatic body language as Dad described the pain and blood being wiped away as the colored ink was forced permanently deep. What seemed like forever, this boy yelled out, revealing he was far less macho, if at all, than the zoot suit persona each hoped to convey. The sounds scared his homies in the waiting area out of their commitment.

Nando, wiping away his tears before emerging from the inking room, to find no brotherhood. All alone, hiding his rite of passage as he entered his mama’s kitchen. Mothers always know when something is up. Grandma confronted him with questions, not waiting for his denial, she grab his shirt arm and revealed the scar of adolescence. Yelling different Spanish curse words, like Qué chingados es eso?! and wooden spoon whaling, she beat fear into my father. Years later as he told me the story, he shared deep gratitude for his mother and her rage. “As little as grandma is, I feared her”. “That fear kept me from straying too far from good”.

How different my father’s life might had been “if” when he emerged from the inking room into the pallor all his buddies stayed and fulfilled their tattoo pact. He might of been one of those tragic endings, many as criminals spending their lives in jail, some died a very early death, he was so grateful to have escaped.

Dad painted homes for a living. When Julie and I were small Dad would come home tired from work. We would tackle him, then he would lye on the floor. The two of us would crawl around him like little monkeys, slowly pulling the dried paint speckles from his hairy arms as he grimaced with his eyes shut tight. Mom would be preparing dinner. Then when we would couldn’t find anymore that would easily peal off, or he couldn’t take the pulling pain any longer, we would cuddle in the crooks of his arms. I often managed to end up on his left side, gazing and touching his forever eagle, that would then wrap it’s wings around me. Dad would end the cuddle session as he’d kiss us gently on each eyelid several times. I never would have guessed I would feel this way, but I so wished I would have taken a photo of his tattoo before he passed.

Orn ~ Aunt of our Hearts

Orn,” defined as ornament, to adorn.”  Orn is my Aunt Margaret’s maiden name.  To be with her is to be adorned with appreciation, laughter, deep Love, and fun.  

Margaret came to be my aunt by being my Mother’s best friend – the aunt of our hearts.  Together, my mother and father took their younger friend under their wings, and while Dad was away in Korea, Nancy and  Margaret would ride the Pacific Electric Railway (red car) streetcars to the Rendezvous Ballroom  or the Waterside Pavilion for dances, working together at Oxidental, and eventually at National Life Insurance Company.  Sharing  lives; through pregnancies, babies, trips to Vegas with their husbands, and later just the girls.  Decades of stories, shared tears through tragic losses, and support.  This is what a life long friendship looks like.

My earliest memory is of Uncle Roman and Aunt Margaret’s exotic home.  Exotic because all I can recall of the home is it had some kind of lava rock project in progress, and a high porthole shaped window near the front door.  The street had mature trees lining each side, and I felt it wouldn’t be a good street to fly a kite.   Then they moved to Hacienda Heights, and my parents soon followed.
Steven, the only child of the Martinez’ young family wanted a baby brother, badly.  He wished and prayed, and although his parents felt they were done adding to their parental responsibilities, Steven declared he was going to received a baby brother for his birthday, determined, he would will it so.  Surprisingly, Margaret became pregnant. The day she and Roman returned home from the hospital, Steven all bathed and dressed up in his his Sunday best, clip-on tie and all, sitting perfectly poised, ready to receive and hold his birthday present, they walked through the door and handed him his heart’s desire, Steven proclaiming “I knew God would send me a baby brother”. Coincidence, or the power of a child’s prayer, Michael came home  to be greeted by his older brother on Steven’s 7th birthday May 4th.  
My mother and Aunt Margaret would take us kids on quick summer trips to different beach locations; once renting a second story wooden apartment near P.O.P., there I rode my first big all wooden roller coaster, which was too much for me.  I also held a kitten for the first time, which gave me ringworm. Much, much later, after getting my driver’s license, I drove to Ocean Side to meet my aunt, her boys & nephew, spending a few days at a beach house she rented.  Little Leo following me around like a protective puppy making sure I didn’t get myself into any boy crazy trouble.
One of my favorite ease dropping stories was when over hearing her and my mother giggling about some party; New Years possibly, or Vegas, or one of my Dad’s gigs, but clearly some indulging of alcohol had been a part of the evening.  So vivid a memory I have of Aunt Margaret telling my mother that when she crawled into bed the last thing she remembered was peeling her flash eyelashes off and  sticking them to the side of the mattress.  When she woke up there they were still stuck, looking up at her.  I still laugh when I envision this, and whenever I happen to see playful VW bug owners who buy & put those enormous eyelashes above their car headlights I think of her.  Such a fun synchronism as Aunt Margaret just so happens to whip around in her own canary yellow Volkswagon, blasting Black Sabbath and other classic rock tunes going just a tad over the speed limit.
We’ve had many shared stories at that kitchen table on Beech Hill Ave. remembering Steven at his Pizza job, or when I got talked into taking him and my sister, because I was the only one with a driver’s license, to the haunted house near Walnut.  It wasn’t the first time I was so frightened I squeezed his hand blue.  Or, stories of my Dad. She often says how much I am like him.  Now we remember my Mother together.  Her best, yet flawed, friend;  The matriarch, the conduit, our social butterfly that brought us all together, and we choose to continue on and Love as family, because we are.