I don't usually write about personal family matters here.
But this time is different, so I hope you will bear with me.
My sister, Lenora Annibale, would have been 78 years old this Saturday, October 21.
She remains deeply missed and dearly beloved.
Many people thought they knew Lenora and many people did know facets of Lenora. Some only knew the Lenora that Lenora wanted them to see.
Still, since the death of our parents in 1988 and 1999, no one on this earth knew Lenora longer than I did and few knew her better.
So, here are some things about Lenora that I want to share with you as we approach her birthday:
Lenora's full name was Lenora Nancy Cirucci Annibale. She was actually named after Lenora (Lena) Bantivoglio, a dear friend of my parents. My father was a sidekick and trusted confidante to members of the Bantivoglio family in Camden. This well-to-do family controlled a very prosperous and influential scrap metal business in Camden during the city's heyday. Lenora was very proud both of her namesake and her name. She liked the fact that her name was distinctive and, except for a brief time in high school, she never answered to a nickname. It was always Lenora.
Lenora's middle name was taken from my paternal grandmother, Annunziata (Nancy) Santone Cirucci. Though Lenora always pronounced her married name as Anna-Bell, the correct Italian pronunciation remains AnnieBallet with the accent on the nee and the final e. But the name has been Americanized to AnnaBell. If you knew Lenora, you knew that she was very proud of her Italian heritage.
Lenora was most definitely a "daddy's girl." Her father absolutely adored her and the feeling was mutual. She was a pre-war baby who arrived in 1939 and she actually remembered the air raid drills in Camden during the war and recalled my father working as a civil defense officer during those times. Since she arrived seven years before my birth, she had plenty of time to be celebrated and pampered by my parents as the "only child." But Lenora was never over-indulged or spoiled. Nonetheless, it must have been quite an adjustment when, at the age of seven, she took on the responsibility of being an older sister.
One of my earliest recollections (maybe I was two or three years old) is of Lenora fussing over me and combing my hair. My parents were 33 and 40 years old when I was born and, at that time, that was considered a rather advanced age to have a newborn. So, a lot of the responsibility of caring for me and watching out for me was thrust upon Lenora.
She was a very loving and protective sister and she continued to watch out for me even into her final days. Shortly before her death, she said to me: "I can't leave. I need to take care of you." I assured her that she cared for me and loved me more than any brother could possibly imagine and that she needn't worry about that anymore.
Many mothers and daughters have difficult relationships. This was not the case with Lenora and our mother, Italia (Dolly) Perozzi Cirucci. In fact, mother and daughter never argued and never had cross words. Never! Lenora shared everything with her mother, often late into the night as they exchanged details of their days and stories of their activities.
It helped that my mother was a calm and patient woman who always listened and always understood. This special relationship with her mother endured through Lenora's teen years and into adulthood. Even after she married Frank Annibale, this relationship continued. Wisely, Frank was not only tolerant of the relationship but he eventually grew as close to my parents as Lenora and I were. We were all privileged to be the beneficiaries of their unconditional love.
When Lenora gave birth to her own daughter, Danielle, she began to establish the same relationship with her daughter that she enjoyed with my mother. And so, the story continued.
To say that Lenora was vivacious would be an understatement. She had the ability to talk to anyone about anything. On some level she understood that everybody wanted to be recognized and she had a knack for making everyone feel special. If a person was particularly shy or diffident, she took it as a challenge to get that person talking, to draw that person out of his or her shell. And she nearly always succeeded. I always told her that she should have run for office because she had a way of attracting people and making them feel good.
But Lenora had no desire to make this her life's work. In fact, she sometimes complained to me that it was a responsibility to always be "on," to always be expected to be the life of the party. I explained to her that she had raised expectations and people expected her to meet those expectations. If she wasn't smiling; if she wan't engaging; if she wasn't effusive, they knew something was wrong.
So, on those rare occasions when Lenora wasn't feeling up to it, she quietly withdrew. Most of the time, these periods were brief. But they gave Lenora a chance to catch her breath and spend some time with herself. And, believe it or not, there were days and there were moments when Lenora actually enjoyed being alone. She really didn't need the audience quite as much as they needed her. But still, she never let them down.
Lenora had a great deal of personal pride. I think she got this from my parents who continued to look their best and carry themselves with a certain bearing even into their eighties. Lenora never left the house unless she looked her best. She believed that being well groomed, putting on your makeup and getting dressed up would not only make others feel good but it would make you feel better about yourself.
She loved fine clothes, jewelry, the nicer things in life. It's not that she was overly showy about it. There was nothing shrill about the look that she put together. It was natural. It worked for her and it attracted others to her. If she couldn't look her best, she didn't want to be seen. That was not just a matter of personal pride but also, because on some level she was a very private person as well. She never, ever wanted to be viewed as an object of pity. The mere thought of that was abhorrent to her. And she shied away from burdening others with her own problems. She felt that people have enough of their own problems and also that talking about adversity or illness or disappointments was a downer.
Lenora wanted to talk about happy and beautiful things -- vacations, clothes, dining and so forth. In her own life, she had the remarkable ability to compartmentalize. She could take the unpleasant things that might be happening and just put them aside -- simply put them out of her mind, if need be. For her, this proved to be a remarkable blessing but she simply looked upon it as pragmatic.
No one could keep a secret like Lenora. If you told her something in confidence, her lips were sealed. What she learned went into the vault. You could count on it.
I suspect she developed this ability during her first two jobs when she worked as a receptionist in a doctor's office and then later as a secretary for an insurance company. Those were places where loose lips could cost you your job.
But part of this ability to keep secrets stemmed from the fact that Lenora was not gossipy. In fact, she hated gossip. She did not waste her time seeking out or talking about the mundane details of other people's lives. If others were having problems and Lenora could help, she was there for them. But she was always circumspect when it came to talking about the private lives of others.
Lenora had an innate sense of fairness. Born under the sign of Libra (represented by the scales of justice) she was usually able to see both sides of an argument and she would tell you if she felt that something was unfair. She could clarify an issue or an argument very quickly, size up the opposing views and issue a sort of "verdict" about who was right and who was wrong.
And even if you were a close friend or relative, if she thought you were wrong, she'd tell you honestly and in the most helpful way she could. I always said she would have made a good judge. She always had her wits about her.
Lenora greatly valued friendship. She had many friends and reached out to people of all strata and all economic levels. From her closest friends, Lenora expected a certain degree of respect, discretion, loyalty and understanding. Given that she was a devoted friend to those she most trusted and valued, she didn't expect more than she herself was willing to give in abundance.
If you crossed her, her pride might have prevented you from finding out about it. You might simply notice that you weren't hearing from her as much as you once did. Those who knew Lenora well and who understood her, knew that this was a warning sign. If you moved quickly to repair the relationship, Lenora was very forgiving. Indeed, she disliked unpleasantness, confrontation or protracted disagreement and avoided such situations whenever possible.
And then there are so many other things. She loved children -- boundlessly! --all children. She dotted on her grandchildren and on her grand nieces and nephews. She loved sports and was naturally competitive in an open, healthy and balanced way. She adored elegant, cushy environments. She was a generous tipper and consequently was known to and looked upon favorably by many in the service industry. Having grown up in a political family, she kept herself thoroughly informed on current events and was quite political. For all the eating out she did (and she ate out a lot) she was a surprisingly good cook who could whip up one of her favorite dishes in an instant. Her pasta sauce (gravy) was incredible and she made the most wonderful crispelles (the Italian version of crepe). She loved to go to the movies and the theater. She had opinions on most everything and wasn't shy about sharing her views, though she was always more tactful than I.
You could write a book about Lenora and maybe, someday I will.
But that's enough for now.