By Cindy Wiggins Tapia
Some people spend their lifelong searching for a kind of peace. Mine moved in next door.
First time I saw the New Yorkers, they were hanging out on the front porch of the two-story bungalow on the corner of Shadburn Ave. and High St. A honey-blond ponytail stuck out among the dark hair of her companions.
“A buncha teenagers have moved in next door!” I told Mama.
Imagine my surprise when the honey-blond ponytailed teenager turned out to be a Cherokee grandmother. Barbara Ann Holden had three sons, Angelo and Matthew Fanelli, and Frank McAlexander. Matthew and Frank were single. Angelo was married to Cindy. They had four precious children: Angelo Jr., Nico, Alannah Rae, and Cindy was pregnant with Giana. Also living with Barbara was her sister, Joy Walsh, and Joy’s son Fred, who was married to Evie. They had a little daughter named Jessie. As time passed, all the families scattered to their own units in what Mama called the Garner Street Apartments. We grew close. They were and remain the kind of people who don’t make friends—they adopt. I was their sister, their aunt.
It was always chaotic in Mama’s apartment, but I could go to Barbara’s house and find peace, laughter, and wine coolers. The minute I stepped into the living room they turned on the TV’s closed captioning. I was always invited to their block parties. They cranked up the stereo on the off-chance I’d catch a note. I actually caught a shadow of Cindy’s beautiful contralto. When my beloved tuxedo cat Blueberry died, Barbara sent toy-stuffed cat stockings for the two litter sisters I rescued.
Even her pack of Alaskan Huskies loved me—but not at first, let me tell you. Every time I walked by, they would snarl and bark. I was scared to death one would jump the fence and decrease my butt mass. So, I started talking to them.
“Hey there, sweeties! Howya doin, babies?” Soon, they were jumping and grinning. One day, I summoned the courage to stick my fingers through the links, and they had a shoving match over who was going to lick my fingers. Rocky usually won. I miss him so!
Barbara enjoyed looking at my portrait drawings and asked me to draw a Native American warrior for her. I really meant to finish it in short order, but I procrastinated until it was almost too late.
Barbara was diagnosed with lung cancer. It spread to her spine. Soon she was flat on her back, taking oxygen, paralyzed. It was then I finally finished the drawing and gave it to her. I doubt she cared very much about it by then. The cancer spread to her brain, and she went into a coma and woke in Heaven.
Pure dream or visitation, I do not know, but suddenly during a deep sleep, I was standing near a willow tree that hung over still waters. And suddenly there was Barbara wearing the Cherokee dress and headpiece she’d been buried in.
“Cindy, tell my family I’m okay.”
I told them. Straightway. Because Barbara Ann Holden had taught me a valuable lesson. If you promise to do something, don’t put it off, because tomorrow isn’t a given.