Let me make the case as to why I should be your next First Lady of New York or at least your next post-quarantine date.
- I’m a widow, no pesky ex-husbands to write expose’s about tiny skeletons.
- You were married to a Kennedy, so I can’t imagine any youthful indiscretions on my part will bother you over much.
- You can dress me up and take me anywhere, I promise
- I’m educated, smart (but not an egg head)
- Family comes first.
- You can ride your motorcycle and I won’t pout or call you reckless-do your thing.
- I’m Italian and Irish–which means I like italian food, I just can’t cook it.
- I’m a Covid Contessa–instead of walking around looking messy through this pandemic, I have used my time to cut and dye my own hair, become accomplished at manicures and pedicures (please don’t look at my feet too closely), and have refined and refreshed my wardrobe with the help of online shopping and touch-less delivery.
- I’m funny–I won’t care that you have a nipple ring, if you don’t care that I make fun of it.
- Most importantly, I’m resilient, bring it on.
I know as writers, we strive to capture the sheer craziness of the time we find ourselves in today. I’m no exception, however, in my case, my life situation has made this particular crisis different–different from the devastation of coastal hurricanes, different from the chokingly horrible and sorrowful 9-11, different from SuperStorm Sandy and different by the death of my husband. .
These were the bomb blasts on my personal timeline–these are the times when it was the voices of those close to me that got me through, either as a child, or later as a partner in crisis.
So what does a widow do when all the usual sources of solace are gone? Look for a new one, and that is what I did hence my borderline obsession for Andrew Cuomo and #claudiacuomo2020,
But I’m getting ahead of myself, this all started with my father.
Never Let Them See You Sweat
My father was a young dad. A man who was raised in Brooklyn, achieved professional status with his own thriving New York City engineering firm, but who at the heart, was an adventurer. It was no great feat for him to take his four kids, ranging in age from 9 to 3 on assorted weekend jaunts to give my mother a little breathing room.
It was one of these, a fishing trip, that I remember at this time. My father had two boats, a beautiful wooden sloop for sailing and a Lapstrake, a wooden outboard skiff used for zipping around our little waterway and into the Great South Bay.
It was with must built-up excitement that we planned for this small adventure. A special trip to a bait shop, where we got containers of bait, small fishing poles and lures. Armed with a mom-packed picnic lunch and kisses goodbye, we left our dock on a beautiful summer’s day. Of course, my father insisted, much to our combined consternation that we were to wear life preservers. Not the nifty, multi-colored vests that kids can wear now, but the bulky squared off, upside down “U” shaped thing that went around your neck, strapped around your waist and tied at your chest. The safety was a prerequisite to the fun, so we acquiesced but the oversized things almost covered our ears and the orange nylon stuck to our sweaty summer skin.
My father made everything fun by making the simplest thing a big production. He made you feel like you were a vital part of the process, “Here kids hold this line.” and we would earnestly hold on as if our lives depended on it. He found the perfect place, near one of the small islands in our Bay, where he cut the engine and threw the anchor overboard. We had our lunch with cans of cold coke from a styrofoam cooler, and then took our positions spaced out evenly on either side of the open cockpit. We waited our turn as our father baited the hooks and helped us “cast”. Now, my father was never then, or even later, a fisherman. This was just something that he dreamed up to do with his kids on a hot summer day.
After a few hours of marginal success, I was bored and started looking around. Black clouds were rolling in and I remember feeling really chilly, really fast. The little boat started to bob incredibly and the littler kids were losing their balance. My father told us to pull in everything, we were going home. The wind picked up further and the little skiff turned with the wind, the anchor holding fast to the back of the boat–the transom, and pulling it down under the waves. My father, a rather unseasoned power boater at that age, had in his enthusiasm, put the anchor off the stern of the boat and not correctly off the bow.
He instructed us to sit in the little cuddy cabin where we watched him try to untie the taut anchor line from the cleat. We must’ve looked like three nestlings peering out, shoulder to shoulder in our little preservers watching our father fight. By this time, the waves were cresting over the engine and the stern–aided by the grip of the anchor and the weight of my father.
But the man was a cool customer. All the while, as he struggled, he was narrating to us what he was doing. Voice raised over the wind, he was yelling, but I wasn’t scared–this was an unexpected twist in the planned adventure.
An eyeglass wearer, he had to continuously shake his wet black hair out of his eyes and rub his face on his shirt. “Hey kids, someone hand me that knife.” There was a small knife that we had used to cut bait, so I crawled out and did a half crawl to my father’s outstretched hand. “Ok, GET BACK” he yelled as we took on more water.
We watched as he feverishly sawed at the anchor line until with a snap it came loose and the small boat bobbed like a cork, lurching forward in freedom. From that point, my dad was able to start the engine (a major feat because under the best of circumstances it was temperamental) and we were released from our haven and handed small coffee cans with which we were to bail out the collected water. We were told not to stand, but to kneel and dip the little cans into the sloshing water and throw it overboard.
Even this job seemed vital and grown up, we were doing a job–a job that was going to get us home. My father did not go too fast, but kept looking over his shoulder to make sure we were all ok.
When we pulled up to our dock, which was literally three feet from our back door, my mother came out and helped each of us off. She had been worried by the weather, but always had faith in his ability.
We were dressed and cozy (my mother’s doing), and sitting around our big, pine kitchen table, eating and talking about the great adventure. My father narrated the entire story, citing the heroism of each of us and our part in making sure we got home safely. The man was a ham so his heroism was in no way diminished, but our assistance was generously acknowledged. I know at some point we must’ve been a little scared, but caught up in the adventure, we didn’t have time. And when you looked at him, you couldn’t be scared.
A few years later, a large Nor’easter hit coastal Long Island, and our house on the natural creek was threatened with flooding. We listened to the radio, in the dark, the electricity having gone out hours before, while we camped upstairs in my parent’s bedroom. By that time, there were five kids, my youngest brother Chris was only a baby.
My mother packed food and water and brought it up as we waited for the water to arrive. It wasn’t a question of whether the water would breach the bulkhead, but when. In turn, my father would take one of us down to see whether the water had lapped up to the house, With the wind howling, we would take a flashlight and shine it on the back door. We did this all night, until on one of the trips, we saw the water seep under our door, but also under the walls as well.
But we were not afraid, again it was an adventure. Both my mother and my father made it almost fun–with an air of danger and answering caution and preparation. There was no recklessness, rather a studied game plan. When the water receded, there was cleaning up to do, but always the story of how our childhood home, a converted boathouse, had weathered the storm.
These were the stories of my childhood, the adventure that we each participated. Each one of us had our job to do, and we did it with the grave import.
Is it any wonder that when I was pregnant with my first child and about 20 family members were at NYU waiting, that it was my father, who at this point was living a different life, offered to walk me around in my labor.He was funny, and supportive, a little out of his depth–all five of his children were born in a sterile delivery room, while he smoked cigs in the waiting room. But it was his voice, always assuring, this was another great adventure and he was there with me.
Big Guy, Big Presence
I was married to my husband for almost twenty years by September 11th. We were having coffee in our kitchen when my mother called to tell us to turn on the television, something had happened to the Trade Center.
From that day on, we prayed and made sandwiches for relief workers and attended funerals for friends and neighbors. Michael and my brother-in-law volunteered on the ferries, bringing food and supplies down to Ground Zero. It was a horrible time, but Michael was great at trying to explain the unexplainable to our children. Although it was a time of national fear, sorrow and angst, he had a way of talking to the kids with a matter-of-fact style that didn’t leave room for terror.
A big guy, he always gave the impression that he could protect them physically from anything that could harm them. They trusted in that–they also trusted in the truth,
When SuperStorm Sandy hit, Michael prepped in the only way he knew how–a big, two-cart trip to Costco for everything from wearable headlights to food of every kind. Raised Italian, food was love, but it was also protection, so our Mega-Costco trip was his way of dealing with that.
In our home, two houses from the river, we were as prepared as we could be. When the waves breached Sea Bright, the barrier island between our place on the mainland and the Atlantic Ocean, everything got real. We had not been required to evacuate, but on a routine trip to my old Suburban, I watched the waves roll up the street and knew it was time to get out of Dodge.
We had two kids home at the time, middle school and freshman in high school. I kept my cool as I asked Michael to go out to the truck. He came back in, silently put on his shoes and the two of us, by mutual yet unspoken consent, put our furniture on chairs as high as we could. When finished, we packed the kids in the car and began to drive the ½ mile to my sister’s house, inland and on higher ground. As we turned on to our street the water was as high as the running boards and it began to seep into the cabin. Three trees were already down on the road and as we both surveyed the situation, we knew that we would have to go off the road. Using four wheel drive, we trampled some bushes and downed branches and thought we were homefree until we were foiled by a small tree that fell right in front of the car. Michael and my son got out and together lifted the tree just enough for us to drive by. Laughing in relief, we blew in the door to my sister’s house, laughing, headlights, bobbing.
As with most people, this pandemic was on my radar from January. As a reader, I had been keeping an eye on it’s passage since the early Wuhan days. I wrote memos at work, and my boss slipped one day and referred to me as “Covid Claudia.”
In March, when we were assembled and told that we would be outfitted remotely, I was gratified. We would be transferring our operations remotely, much of which could be done without a wrinkle.
Like most, my “office” was in the dining room. Mid-morning I would walk into the kitchen for more coffee and would take a minute to listen to Andrew Cuomo’s daily address. As a transplanted New Yorker, my heart and much of my mind still belonged to the Empire State.
I liked his delivery and I was interested in the way he presented information, but that was all there was.. then.
After the second week of remote work, I was furloughed. I knew it was coming. The day before the Governor had halted non-essential construction, and it sounded the death knell for our daily business. My job evaporated. My company collected our remote technology and now, for the first in a long time, my day was my own.
My new normal was to sit with my first cup of coffee and watch the morning news. Then I would take a walk and do errands, until the alert for the Governor’s daily briefing. So prompted, I would sit on my couch with my feet up, coffee in hand and listen to him. There was something about the sound of his voice that was bolstering to me–it was educated and New York-accented. In the storm of this Pandemic, his was a voice of reason, outlining danger, discussing obstacles, and always ending with hope.
My furlough stretched along with the Executive Order to “Stay at Home”, and I found myself more engaged in his address. Now, with coffee in hand, I would sit at the end of the section of my couch closest to the television–my face three feet away, leaning in as if to absorb the information transdermally. I would listen and become reassured. The cadence of his speech reminded me of my father, but that realization would take a few weeks.
Everyone was in love with the “Luv Gov,” but for me the attraction ran deeper. It was the voice of assurance, and when he began his litany, it was as familiar as a loaf of semolina bread. When he talked about family, I heard the echoes of my own father, and in a different way, my husband.
So I looked to Andrew Cuomo to be my voice of safety. Even when he was talking about the most unsafe situations, when the peril of physical closeness was threatening not only our lives, but our livelihoods, it was his voice that promised a hopeful and eventual solution.
“Our lives will never be the same,” he said one morning, and I thought back to how many times in my lifetime I had thought that.
One of the most memorable was when my husband had the first of many cancer surgeries. Looking at my children, all trying to do homework, or on their phones in the large surgical waiting room, I remember thinking “Our lives will never be the same. Their lives will never be the same.” And they weren’t. Later that year, when my siblings and I waited with my father for his death. I thought, “Our lives will never be the same.” The next year, when Michael died, I waited for my family to come to the hospital and thought “We will never be the same. Our lives will never be the same,” and they haven’t been.
After this surreal period, our lives will never be the same, that is true, but today I’m doing what I can and have to do for my family. We are surviving with laughter, some bad and some good meals, (by the way, leisure time does not make me a better cook). My kids are too old to make isolation a great adventure, but they have occupied themselves with remote work and a good amount of reorganization of their space. Two of my children are not even with me.
I’ve been honest about what is happening, I’ve been straight about my situation and I know that we will get through this intact. So in fact, I’ve taken a page from each of my crisis partners, but at the end of the day, it is my natural optimism and positivity that will pull me through–I take that realization to heart.
Since Michael died, my prayer had always been, “Let me be enough.” I thought the aftermath of his death was the test, but it turns out that there will always be tests. Maybe I’m doing ok so far.
Claudia Lucey is a widowed mother of four, mostly adult children. Her “happy place” is the beach, where she spends every waking moment in the Summer. But spending time with her children is her greatest joy. Her philosophy is that laughter, even through tears, is the greatest emotional outlet. Nothing makes her happier than a good laugh, even at her own expense. She is a Director of Marketing for a construction company, yet she is a trained journalist who loves to write and photograph buildings of any size or shape.