Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Agnes Jaglinski Votto 1925-2008

My Aunt Agnes died over the weekend so there's been no blogging. As with all my relatives who die, I took time to think about them and their impact on me.

"Auntie Ag" married my uncle Pasquale "Pat" Votto at a relatively young age. Pat was a hands-on hard-charger at the Griest Manufacturing plant where they both worked. They moved into a house right next door to my grandparents. This has to be a harrowing situation for a young Polish girl; marrying the family firstborn son with your Italian mother-in-law sixty feet away.

Family lore has it my Aunt Agnes wasn't much of a cook back then. My grandmother taught her to cook Italian over the years. Aunt Agnes took that ball and ran with it, becoming not only a good cook but a great one. She was a scratch baker, too. Turns out Auntie Ag was a bit of a hard-charger as well. I bet that was the initial attraction.

She never did anything halfway. Both my aunt and uncle were the epitome of hard work and its rewards. My whole family is that way.

Aunt Agnes did not suffer fools gladly. She was on warm terms with irony and sarcasm. When relating a story about one dimbulb or another, she would punctuate the dimbulb's aha moment with an ironic but lusty "Hallelujah!" He was not too bright that one letmetellya.

This early exposure to irony and sarcasm probably fostered my love for same. Biting wit was a hallmark of holiday table conversation. Auntie Ag was at the forefront. In our presence she usually let us kids have the floor, especially as we got older. She loved to listen to our stories about high school and college. No matter how young we were or how trivial the topic, She always listened hard to what her nieces and nephews had to say. When I was younger, I could hear her holding court over coffee with the other adults around the dining room table. The woman had strong opinions. We didn't always agree with them but she had them.

Lest one think Aunt Agnes a hard nut to crack, any child could melt her heart. She loved every child ever born and any child yet to be born. She advocated for children. She became a cafeteria lady because she loved children. Of course, she ran the joint after a short while. The food got a lot better too.

If one was fortunate enough to be Auntie Ag's niece or nephew, it was obviously a reward for good deeds done in a previous life. She was loyal beyond belief. That woman sat through a driving rain to watch me run my leg of the mile relay (now 4x400m relay) at a regional high school relay meet. Anyone attending a high school track meet knows they take awhile to complete. Relay meets are to regular track meets as War and Peace is to haiku. There are endless rounds of the same event so as many kids as possible can participate. The mile relay is near the end of the program.

Because she and my cousin Valerie sat through that whole meet (perhaps Valerie will forgive me someday), I did my best to make sure the day wasn't wasted. I ran the third leg, passing two competitors and handing the baton to our anchor in second place. He took care of the remaining competition and Hamden High placed first overall. If Auntie Ag sat all day in a cold rain to watch me run for 50 whole seconds, then cold rain was no excuse for me to let up. She holds the record for most times a relative other than my parents watched me compete through high school and college.

Perhaps Aunt Agnes loved children because she had so much trouble conceiving one of her own. She knew the preciousness of each child. Reproductive science was positively stone age back then compared to today. With time running out, doctors tried an experimental procedure to give her one shot at having a child. The procedure was a success and my cousin Valerie was born in 1961. Which segues nicely into my most memorable Auntie Ag moment....

It was 1961. Auntie Ag was standing in the front doorway. She was wearing one of those maternity smock tops women wore back then. I was sitting in the car but I was so small, I could see upwards out of the window. My mom was standing in the open driver’s door of her white 1959 Ford Galaxie. The two women were shouting at each other over the engine noise. I can’t remember what was said but they were both having a laugh.

Then my mom said something and Aunt Agnes smiled. She always had a nice smile but this was special. I never saw anyone smile like that before. It was a 100-megawatt smile. Not some goofy grin but a knowing smile. That smile was so amazing, it stuck in a five-year-old’s memory. I recall it 47 years later like it happened yesterday.

Later in life we hear people talk about pregnancy making women glow. Whenever anyone broaches that subject I think of Auntie Ag and that smile every time. Every time. At that moment there was no one on Earth happier or more fulfilled than Agnes Votto. Knowing she experienced that level of joy in her life makes me feel a little better about her death.

Three weeks ago, she entered a hospice because she just couldn't go anymore.
Aunt Agnes was no-nonsense even about her exit.

No comments: