Thank you all for coming to celebrate the life of Eve Rodriguez. My name is Mark Palumbo. I’m her second grandchild and godson. First and foremost, I would like to thank Eve for all she has done to create, raise, and steer this wonderful family. She did a great job.
I would like to take a couple of minutes to share a story with you, then give you some insight into our relationship and the life lessons Eve has taught me, some of which may be humorous, but they are all true Eve.
First off let me set a familiar scene:
Many of you know that the Rodriguez household was always full of children, everything from teenagers to babies. This may have been what kept Eve so energetic.
You know the effect babies have on adults, right? You bring a baby into a room full of adults and all of a sudden people change. Even the most brazen/brash of individuals will change, they light up. You know what I’m talking about, people start smiling, making funny faces, and changing the pitch in their voices. Then all of a sudden there is this glow emanating from around the adult whether the baby reacted or not.
I’ve been seeing a lot of this lately because about five months ago my wife and I had the pleasure of welcoming our son Luke into the world, Eve’s second great grandson. Everywhere we go we see a similar situation occur. Except one time this past February, things went a little different.
My wife and I took our son Luke on his first trip, and it was a long one especially for us, being new parents. We went down to Florida to introduce Luke to his great grandmother, my grandmother, Eve. We call her Yaya. After a long stressful day of travel we finally arrive at Yaya’s not knowing whether the baby would be scared or fussy and not knowing exactly how Yaya would react, since she was supposedly a little down.
What happened that day was amazing, but I would not grasp the magnitude of it for some time. We came in the door and once Luke laid his eyes on his great grandmother he lit up. Sure Yaya was happy to see him, but Luke was ecstatic. This 3 month old who traveled all day seemed to light up like a Christmas tree when he saw Yaya. He had a smile from ear to ear and he was laughing and giggling (this was the first time we heard him laugh). To this day we have never seen our son react to anyone like he did to Yaya that day.
Weeks later it occurred to me what had taken place. Almost the complete opposite of what I had first described. Yaya did not change; she did not get that glow that people get when a baby enters the room. Why not? Because she has always had that radiance, from day one.
She is, and always was that glow, that light. She did not have to try to turn it on. It was already there and it has always been there. She was able to light Luke up just by being herself, instead of the other way around. I guess this did not become visible to me sooner because that glow was a constant, and I never knew Yaya without it. She has always been a natural with children.
Ever since I could remember, her company meant joy. From Ridge to Plainview, sitting in the car when I was young became the longest 45 minutes of my life, the anticipation of a visit to Yaya and Poppy’s house. You can see it in every picture, the joy, the fun, the city, the beach, the boats, the friends, the family and the food. It was pure heaven.
Yaya has been the light in so many people’s lives for such a long time. I’m fortunate to have been one of the recipients of some of that light during my life. The funny thing about light is that it does not do anything for you, but it does help you. It helps you do a lot of things. During a power outage, the light from a flashlight will not carry you where you want to go, but it will help you find your way.
Yaya has helped me find my way many times just by being herself. She was like a lighthouse whose sole purpose was to guide me, or better yet help me guide myself. We had a special relationship, she has taught me so many things, but I have a suspicion these lessons were not only for me alone. I’m sure the people in this room can relate to some if not all of them:
Yaya taught us to love life.
To love ice cream, no flavor in particular, but ice cream made all situations better. Whether it was served in her father’s restaurant, on the fire escapes of Brooklyn, or on the docks in Montauk, ice cream was always best served with friends and family.
Yaya taught me to roller-skate, not by telling me how, but by showing me. She was never afraid to try anything, waterskiing, snow skiing, tennis, swimming, you name it she tried it. I was the only kid in the neighborhood with a grandmother who would actually put on roller skates and skate around the roller rink with me, my friends thought it was pretty cool and so did I.
Yaya taught us to value family, and family was not reserved for just relatives. Friends became Aunts and Uncles, neighbors became part of the family unit.
Yaya taught me it’s OK to have an opinion, or better yet, an unpopular opinion. We all know she had plenty, some of which were a touch liberal, and she would never to back down from anything. Ask anyone who tried to talk her out of something. For example “Yaya don’t drive back and forth from here to Florida” yea that got us far. Speaking of driving I’m glad she did not teach me how to drive. I don’t carry enough insurance to drive like her. She may have single handedly funded most of the police departments from here to Punta Gorda, FL. I heard the Tampa police department is getting a new plane and they are naming it the “Flying Eve”, because that is what she did she flew down the road.
Yaya taught us working hard and failing was much more satisfying than having it given to you. And if you learned from the failure then it was not a failure in the first place. Given the time, she was able to do anything.
Yaya brought experiences to a family who may not have pursued them otherwise. She showed us that class had very little to do with money or social standing, and everything to do with passion.
Yaya taught me art did not have to look good to be a masterpiece. Just ask the people at the Met, I’m sure I was not the only grandchild to speak out in a quiet museum “what the heck is that and why is it hanging there?” She loved the arts; ballet, opera, theater, museums. She loved to share the arts with others whether it was taking in a two-for-one show with her sister, getting dressed up renting ear amplifiers and having a blast, or taking her middle grandchildren to the museum and getting them toy suites of armor and letting them beat each other senseless, then letting them become her personal body guards in New York City. Not that she needed any protection. She owned New York, she loved New York. This love would later translate into Camp Yaya Poppy, a program to teach her seven grandchildren about the city, and how to enjoy it safely and effectively. These seven grandchildren would later become affectionately known as the seven dwarfs with Yaya as our Snow White.
Yaya taught us you must look your best every time you leave the house. You never know who you may run into. I remember she would always be concerned about her hair and her jewelry. Who did she think she was going to run into, The Dali Lama? Only Yaya, and only here in New York.
She taught us no matter how lost you get you can always find a way. Like the time she took me to Manhattan and we got lost in China Town. I was with Yaya so I knew it was going to be OK.
She never lost her cool in difficult situations, like the time she just about chopped her finger off and just asked for just a band aid. She was calm when Poppy did chop his finger off. She would do anything to keep her family safe.
She taught us silence is boring, music is king. It took me four trips to the store before we could get her a CD player with the sound quality she liked. Tell me this, how could she tell one stereo from the other when she could not hear what I was say when I was sitting right next to her?
She taught us life was about the approach, both figuratively and literally. The approach could have referred to going up the mountains in Greece by donkey or her approach to life. She always stressed approach and how it made all the difference, not necessarily the destination. She never missed a mile stone event in that approach when it came to her grandchildren: Weddings, graduations, competitions baptisms, first communions, confirmations. Both Yaya and Poppy made it a point to be in attendance.
She taught us about determination and that there was more than one-way to do things. Look at her life. She did it her way! Never was this more evident than when she taught Nick how to swim, in a public pool. Her way consisted of dunking him under water repeatedly and trying to cover up his ear-piercing screams by bellowing out the musical score from “Singing in the Rain”. She did not care what people thought. She taught us not to care. To this day the Navy Seals marvel at Nick’s ability to hold his breath without formal training.
She saw things in people that they did not necessarily see in themselves. She was an overwhelmingly positive person. She would befriend anyone. People on the street, Jehovah Witnesses, young people, old people, you name it. She would turn the coffee pot on, sit and talk for hours. If you were lucky enough to engage in a conversation with her at her table, don’t expect to leave without gaining at least five pound in food and drink. If the situation was not positive then get ice cream and it would get better.
Yaya taught me the only expectations I had to live up to were the ones I set for myself.
Yaya lived a full and spiritual life. She did not have to be in church to be spiritual. She could be anywhere and reflect on her faith, it got her through some difficult times and it accentuated the joyful times. We should all be so lucky to experience half of the good things she did: a long successful marriage, three beautiful grown children, seven even more beautiful grandchildren and two and a half stunning great grandchildren.
From Brooklyn, to Plainview, Punta Gorda to Vernon; she was able to instill a value system in her family just by being herself; caring, honest, loving and loyal. She was a beacon of light, a ray of life.
Mortality may have taken Yaya’s body from this earth, but every time I see that glow in Luke’s face, or reflect on this caring family, it reminds me, death has no power over spirit!
Yaya your spirit is strong in all of us! We each carry inside us a little bit of your character, and when we look close we will remind each other of you.
I love you Yaya!