Growing up in a small town in Upstate New York surrounded by your extended family was all my brother and I knew. It was heaven for us. However, we both will never forget the day Dad came home from work and said that we were moving to Virginia. He might as we’ll have said that we were moving to Mars. Let’s just say Ma did not take it well. We would be the first from both sides of the family to move out of state. Having spent holidays and vacations with extended family was routine. Going to Grandma’s, the farm, fishing with Grandpa and spending time with cousins was about to change significantly. Bottom line…we did not want to go. But Dad’s job called him to move, so off we went.
And Virginia really did feel like Mars when we arrived. Everyone talked funny, it was hotter than heck and being the new kids in school, we were bullied. They made fun of how we talked and what we wore. One day in the summer before the start of school, Ma took us to meet the principal and to get a tour of our new school. My first shock was seeing that the principal was a lady! What the heck?! I’d never heard of such a thing! My elementary school in NY assigned gender to musical instruments, for heaven’s sake! Girls could play flute, clarinet and violin. Trumpet and drums were for boys. No kidding. There certainly weren’t any lady principals! What eased my shock was her kindness and welcoming spirit. She asked me if I’d like to meet two girls who would be in my class. They were helping out in the library. If I only knew then what I know now…that these two new friends would not only help me assimilate to living in this foreign land, but would also become dear friends for life and beyond…if I only knew to appreciate every moment and treasure every second the three of us spent together.
Jenny and Paige were the best. And our deep friendship helped me to see there was more to life than just my small Upstate New York upbringing. Paige had a pool in her backyard and in my eyes, that meant her family was rich. (Yes, as Paige is reading this she’s laughing at the absurdity.). On many Saturday mornings, her mom and my dad would be encouraging my brother, Paige’s brother and a whole bunch of annoying Cub Scouts to make as much racket as possible in my basement while I was desperately trying to sleep in. I never knew what they were doing down there, but Paige was very thankful that it wasn’t happening at her house. Jenny was Italian, had a bunch of sisters and was Catholic. I grew up in a place where there was the great divide between Catholics and Protestants. Everyone knew who was who. Thankfully my parents believed in inclusion; all inclusion regardless of race, creed, religion, or any other labels that the human race put on each other. Dad often times considered himself a hippie. Not sure how he thought he could pull that off since he was building a career at IBM, but that’s my dad. Anyway, Jenny’s family was so different from mine. I always wanted a sister. Jenny had 4! And many Friday afternoons after school, we would all meet at Jenny’s house while her mom made homemade pizza. Jenny’s mom would crank out the fresh pizza dough with ease while a kitchen full of girls would create the pizza of our dreams with dishes full of endless toppings. Somewhere along the way, Debbie joined our shenanigans and the fun just continued. Occasionally Jenny’s mom would agree to sleepovers. Fresh homemade pizza, Bugles with onion dip and a sleepover watching “Happy Days”; that was pretty good living. We couldn’t even imagine how precious those memories would be as we grew older.
We continued our close friendships throughout high school, with me insisting that when my boyfriend picked me up for school, that meant Jenny too. Her seemingly endless chatter drove him crazy, but he was a good guy (still is) and he knew that we were besties; a packaged deal. Jenny liked him too and encouraged me to try and get him back after a short breakup. Thirty four years of marriage later…but that love story is for another day.
Paige’s dad even trusted us, along with a few other girlfriends to take his Plymouth to the beach for a week after high school graduation. The craziness and nonsense that went on that week cannot be repeated, but it definitely solidified our friendships into something very special.
Life made it challenging for us to stay in close communication though out the years. We didn’t have cell phones, email, etc… We were focused on marriages, kids, moving, work and sad to say cancer. Just the word rocks me to my core. I tell my kids all the time that hate is a four-letter word. Don’t use it. But this is the one time I break the rule. I HATE CANCER!
Praise God that Paige is a survivor! Jenny lost her battle with brain cancer in 2014. She was a devoted mom of 5 beautiful children and deeply loved her husband. I think I heard about her diagnosis first. I had to call Paige. I dreaded telling her because I knew her heart would break. At the same time, my heart was breaking and I needed to talk to Paige; it’s Jenny! I needed to cry with her. And cry we did.
There was nothing we could do, but pray and love her. I had recently taken up knitting again, so I decided to knit Jenny a wrap; something to keep her warm during her treatments. I couldn’t knit fast enough. Somehow, I believed that if I knitted like a crazy lady and prayed for her healing with every stitch, God would make her better. It then would be ok. Between Jenny’s strong faith in Christ and me praying for her recovery, God would certainly hear us and make her well.
We wanted to see Jenny, hug her, love her, remind her that we were still us. But her husband kindly told us that a visit would be too difficult for Jenny. So we arranged to Skype with her. Paige and Debbie came over to my house and the four of us finally were “together again” through modern technology. It was like nothing had changed. We laughed about our mothers, kids, husbands with complete abandonment. The tears of joy and laughter went on for hours, literally hours. We did talk about the cancer, but that was a side note, not the focus of our conversations. However, Jenny did say one thing that I will never forget. “I’m the lucky one. I get to know how and when I’m going to die. I’m not afraid.”
When we got word that Jenny had passed, there was no doubt that Paige, Debbie and I would make the trek down to NC for her funeral. We were able to reconnect with her parents and family. We cried and loved on each other. On the way home, just as the three of us got back onto the highway our car suddenly became surrounded by the most glorious rainbow. It was something that none of us had ever experienced before. Paige and Debbie frantically tried to take pictures, capturing the moment while trying to keep me from driving off the road as I attempted to soak in the colors, a glorious spectacle of pure light. That rainbow followed us, it just wouldn’t leave us! For several miles we were engulfed in the most purest splendor of color; indescribable color, so difficult for me to put into words; incredible beauty that just didn’t seem to want to let us go. Jenny? Yes, we knew it was Jenny; her way of assuring us that it all would be ok. No matter what we faced in life, God was with us, walking along side us, leading the way.
Jenny faced her cancer with amazing bravery and enormous faith. Her relationship with Christ was a top priority in her life and she made sure to spend time every day reading the Bible and praising His grace and glory. Her life with cancer has inspired her sister, Maria to raise money for brain cancer research. Maria has included Jenny’s children, other family members, friends and anyone else who will lend an ear and help support the cause. Maria’s story is amazing and incredibly inspirational in itself. Please take some time to learn more about Maria’s story and prayerfully consider donating to
Like them on Facebook, donate, read the stories, tell your friends and make sure you cherish every moment with those you love.
There is no way I will ever be able to recreate Jenny’s mom’s amazing pizza dough. But homemade pizza is well worth the bit of effort it takes to pull it off. If you can afford a bread machine, get one! I put the ingredients in on Friday morning, set the delay and when I get home from work I have homemade pizza dough. It’s perfectly ok to buy the fresh dough at your local grocery store or the ready-made crusts. Whatever works for you! Gather the toppings, invite your friends, kids’ friends or whoever makes you smile. The important thing is to love those around you every chance you get. And if you do it on a Friday night, I hope you take a moment to remember Jenny, praise God and cherish the moment.
Help Us Be Nice, Amen!
Bread Machine Pizza Dough
2 tsp bread machine yeast
3 cups bread flour
1 tsp salt
2 Tb sugar
2 Tb olive oil
1 cup plus 2 Tb warm water
Add ingredients to your bread machine in the order given. (Option: You can set it on delay if you’d like to set it up in the morning and have it ready when you get home.)
Set bread machine to “Dough” cycle.
Once cycle is complete, take the dough out and place in a well oiled bowl. Roll dough around in the bowl to coat with oil.
Cover bowl with clean kitchen towel and let it rise in warm location for about 1/2 hour.
Knead lightly on floured surface. Roll dough out and placed on greased pizza stone or sheet pan. Add your toppings. Bake at 425 degree oven for about 20 minutes or until done.