Thursday, July 22, 2010

Cancer Music

I love music. I mean really, who doesn't? I plan on listening to a lot of it during the 24 Hours of Booty. There have always been several songs among the thousands I own that really make me grit my teeth remembering my own personal experience at the age of 13 watching my Grandma fight and lose her battle with ovarian cancer.

I was close to her. I spent my summer vacations with her and my handicapped Grandfather camping at Disney World in Orlando, where I was born (I was born at a hospital, not Disney, although, sometimes I like to say Mickey and Minnie are my birth parents). Oh, she was a hard ass, don't get me wrong. Some would say she was strong, but that would be putting it nicely. She was opinionated. I know now, she was the product of the life she had been handed.

Juliet Legendre was shunned by her large family (11 siblings, she was the youngest) for being born out of an affair, something that was not her fault, of course, but something for which she bore the burden. She took charge. She married a pure-hearted military man...a man who would father her three children, one of which is my mother. Master Sergeant Raymond Penda would be called to duty in WWII. He would be taken prisoner by the Japanese in the Philippines and survive the Bataan Death march and 5 years as a Prisoner of War under insanely corrupt conditions while watching two thirds of the prison population die around him. He would come home from Bataan and try to become the family man he wanted to be. With their youngest child being only 10 years old, Grandma faced another one of her many challenges in life.

The affects of the imprisonment on Raymond’s body would become too much even for him. He suffered strokes and heart attacks. He became what you and I would call a vegetable and would need to re-learn how to eat, talk and walk, which he did eventually. For years the military refused to acknowledge that the stress he had endured in Bataan could possibly be causing these episodes. They fought for military benefits, but none came. My Granddad, an American POW, had very quickly been forgotten by the government he had served and suffered for. With 3 children and mounting medical bills, Grandma was forced to become the sole provider for her family having no marketable skills. She did what she could, though and she made it work.

Juliet’s hard personality matched the life she was given. I know that now. I didn't know that then. Not that it mattered when I was 13. She and Raymond were my summertime buddies; my friends. They own some of my best childhood memories.

Grandma was the first person in my life to pass away. Perhaps that's why I cling on to her memory so tightly. Maybe it's because I made a promise to her I know now I can't keep - I can't cure Cancer.

The last movie I ever saw with my Grandma was called "An American Tail." You know it. Fivel gets lost as his family immigrates to America because there "are no cats in America!" Kinda funny given that Raymond's parents were Polish immigrants and Juliet's family was French-Canadian. So, naturally, the first song that absolutely breaks me every time I hear it is the theme from
that film. Eerily, the lyrics haunt me…in a good way.

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