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I know that this article is called On the Silly Side, but every so often a serious story must be told. I am starting a series called Somerville Heroes and Survivors and this is the first installment.
This is the story about a very strong young woman from a Somerville family who beat many odds. Her name is Nicole Marie, but we call her Nikki. She is the only daughter of my sister Christine. She was nine years old when her mother passed away suddenly in 1992. Her biological father was out of the picture. She was living with her mom at her grandfather’s (my father) house and after her mother died she remained in the room that they both shared. It was the room that Nikki’s mother grew up in. With the help of her grandpa, myself and my brother Joe, a loving cousin and aunt, and other relatives, this young lady was given great care, love and guidance.
But let me give you a few more parts of the equation. Nikki’s grandmother (my mother) passed away in 1986 when she was just four years old. Then, in 1994, her grandpa, my dad, who had become her sidekick, caretaker, guardian and best friend passed away. They had been like two peas in a pod. Grandpa used to fix her hair in the morning, make her breakfast and do all the other things a parent does to take care of a child. In his 70’s he had become a dad again as well as a grandpa. As we were in the hospital gathered around him as he was on life support, we explained to Nikki that grandpa’s heart didn’t work anymore. Nikki sobbingly said, “ then I’ll give him mine.” You can understand the sadness that filled the family members that day. It was the one saddest days in my life.
Somehow we trudged on. My brother, who lived in New York at the time, made frequent visits to Somerville to be with Nikki. She also visited New York quite often too. Then in 1995, six months after her grandpa died, we lost her uncle, my brother to AIDS. You might be asking how much can one little girl endure? But this was not just any little girl. By age 13 she had lost her grandmother, her mother, her grandpa, and her beloved uncle. Somewhere along the line Nikki started calling me dad and it is a title I have taken very seriously. Being the typical Italian father when she was teenager came very easily. I used to tell the boys, “That white Camaro you see following you will be ME!”
I had moved back into the family house after dad died. It was my job to step in and be a father figure. With the great support of my then wife, and my cousin and her mom (my aunt) along with many friends and relatives, we became a nice little family. I have to add that the entire staff of The Powder House Community School were extremely supportive along with Nikki’s school friends and their families.
Nikki attended Matignon High School with funds left to her by her Uncle Joe. When I had two sons, Nikki was already in place to become their big sister. She helped raise the boys and the love these three have for each other is relentless. Nikki then completed four years of College at Salve Regina in Newport Rhode Island.
On August 24 Nikki was married to the love of her life, Brandon. Although it was painful planning her wedding without her mother, Nikki managed to arrange the most wonderful wedding I have attended in my life. Nikki is lucky also to have stayed friends with a lot of her childhood and college friends and they all pitched in with moral support. They were also part of her huge wedding party. She now has a very rewarding career, a beautiful home in Rhode Island, and two awesome Boxers names Chanel and Louie. I had the unbelievable honor of walking Nikki down the aisle in the magnificent Church of Saints Peter and Paul in Providence Rhode Island. I could feel the presence of Nikki’s mom, grandmother, grandpa and uncle as we made our way to the altar. It was the proudest moment of my life so far. Nikki’s stepsister Barbie (Barbara Ann) has stayed in her life and was a member of the wedding party. Nikki had a piece of her mom’s wedding dress sewn into hers, as well as a portion of it that was used in her bouquet. The bridal bouquet also had a picture of her mom on it. Her wedding was absolutely perfect. The slide show of Nikki and Brandon through the years that was shown at the reception was heart wrenchingly emotional. Speaking of Through the Years, that was the dance I chose for the father-daughter dance which was an unforgettable honor. The pictures of Nikki dancing with her two brothers at the reception are priceless.
Nikki can now enjoy her new life with her husband and start her family. The strong little girl who had every imaginable obstacle thrown at her was the most beautiful bride ever. She is a happy, well-adjusted young woman with tons of friends and many, many people who love her. She is a true survivor from a strong Somerville family who all pitched in to make sure she had everything she needed. But it was her own inner strength and self-determination that kept her on a successful course through many adversities.
I wish her all the happiness in the world. Her mom, uncle, grandma and grandpa’s presence were strongly felt on Nikki’s wedding day. They were all smiling down with love and pride. My only dilemma now is trying to figure out what I want the grandkids to call me. Papa or Grandpa.