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Mae Negrino’s Eulogy

Delivered December 29, 2000

 
Hello. On behalf of our family, I’d like to thank you all for coming here this morning. My grandmother, Mae Valletutti Negrino, was born in Brooklyn in May of 1902 and lived for 98 years. She lived through a time of almost unimaginable change. To put it into perspective, when she was born, one of her immigrant father’s jobs was lighting the gas lamps in the streets of New York. By the time she passed away, her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren spent hours a day bathed in the cool light of their computer monitors.

Mae married young, and stayed married to my grandpa Tom for 60 years, until his passing in 1980. She had two children. The eldest, her daughter Frances, died young of an infection, one that could have been easily cured just a few years later, after the invention of penicillin. Her second child was my father Joe.

Like so many others, the family struggled through hard times. My grandfather worked for the phone company until he was laid off during the Depression, and then he got a job with the WPA appraising houses. When the Depression finally ended, Western Electric hired him back, first in Philadelphia and finally back in New York. Mae was also doing her part to make ends meet: she would go downtown to the garment district, buy women’s and children’s clothing, and then sell them to the neighborhood women out of her home.

Family was always important to her. When Joe and my mother Dorothy moved to California in 1961, Mae and my grandfather regularly drove across the country to visit. After grandpa Tom retired in the late 60’s, they lived in Garden Grove so they could be nearby. However, the lights of Las Vegas beckoned, and they moved there in 1972.

She loved playing the slots, and she would take the senior citizen’s bus from her condo to a nearby casino. She would play for a few hours, always on her machine, then get the staff to shut the machine down while she headed to the buffet, where her table was waiting. She loved having family visit her in Las Vegas, although she never allowed us to tell her friends our ages, because it might give away her age, which was a closely guarded secret.

She wasn’t always the easiest person to get along with. She had very definite opinions—covering just about everything. Everyone in the family has a memory of the time Mae commented on their clothes, their weight, or their choice in mates. Some would call her outspoken. Others would call her blunt. Still, she could be very generous with gifts for her family. In any event, she was fiercely independent; she lived on her own in Las Vegas until she was 96 years old.

At that point, her failing health finally brought her to live with my father. Over the last two years, he has done everything he could to make her as comfortable as possible. No mother could have asked for a more devoted son. My father made sure that she was always involved with the family, and earlier this year, Mae was happy to be present in Albuquerque when the first of her great-grandchildren was married.

She loved food; making it, serving it, and eating it. When she could no longer cook, she took just as much pleasure in backseat driving in the kitchen. One of her favorite sayings was “Mangia!” And that’s how I will remember and honor my grandmother; by following her joyful command to eat, to enjoy, and to live.

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