Judi Valentine: Judi Fainted

Posted:  Friday, April 18, 2014 - 11:15am

I have never fainted in my entire life. Even when everyone watched me drop like a rag doll at my Italian grandfather's funeral, I was faking — a 15-year-old drama queen at the top of her reign.

My Poppi had just finally died. Well, that's how my aunts said it: "Sammy's finally dead," then,"thank God." With a quick, "God bless his soul," and a redemptive sign of the cross, eyes looking upward.

I was never sure what to make of that contradiction. I had heard my grandfather referred to as both a saint and a “somabitch,” which I knew was "son of a bitch" in English.

My grandparents owned a well-known Italian restaurant in town and they lived in the large apartment upstairs with their seven kids. To this day I can still picture Poppi sitting in the restaurant in his wheelchair; both legs amputated from diabetes, his pure white hair coiled and free floating around his serene face. He usually wore a dark green wool cardigan, often buttoned in the wrong holes. The legs of his brown pants were tucked up into themselves, empty where legs should be. Noni, my grandmother, carried him up and down the stairs every day. Poppi fussed over his grandkids — adoptees and bloods alike, and with both arms waving around his halo of locks; he told us stories of Calabria in his mesmerizing accent.

I'd come away from his stories with love in my heart, but would often overhear my aunts whispering about Sammy, the somabitch, behind their crocheted handkerchiefs and Chianti glasses. My grandmother, who was the truest of angels, never uttered a word of gossip or complaint. And from what I know today, she had damn good reason to.

I remember her at the wake sitting by Poppi's dead body yelling his name and picking him up as if to drag him out of the clutches of death — the aunts wailing their dutiful background sounds.

As expected, the three-day wake was a mega fest of pickled faces, back slapping, crying, wailing and arm waving - with some head nooggies thrown in by the boy cousins. The entourage consisted of the Italian side of my family and a massive turn out of paisanos — Italian family friends — many just recently plucked from the old country. I was fascinated by their emphasis on every other syllable and the way they joined their four fingers in the air to make a point.

I didn't know it at the time, but calling them my "Italian" side was a stretch of yarn. I later learned I was adopted by my Dad so I'm really 110 percent French Canadian with a little Lightfoot Indian thrown in — that's the 10 percent I think. The Lightfoot part could be family lore; but it sounds romantic, so I'll keep it.

Back to the wake — after I had slid with convincing grace from my wooden kneeling bench to the dusty floor, I lay still as a stone and waited. For what seemed like the longest time, there was no new sound, no acknowledgement of my award winning drop. I was dangerously tempted to peek out through my lashes; but I am nothing if not disciplined and so I kept them slammed shut and quivering. That way if anyone was looking at just that moment, they would be convinced of my near demise.

Finally, I heard the words, "Judi fainted, Judi fainted," echoing around the funeral home. I heard people rush over and could feel eyes boring down on my still form. A new level of drama was unfolding like gasps in a coliseum, all rising to see who the lions got next.

Although my eyes were closed with convincing detachment, I could sense the aunts finally approaching like black crows assessing the kill. High emotion already filled the room, but now the level of drama cranked up like the allegro of an aria approaching its crescendo. Voices whispered and some shouted in alarm. I felt the air swirl around me.

"I did it!" I thought, as my strong, curly headed cousin picked me up and dropped me onto a nearby couch like a sack of potatoes. He was suspicious no doubt, but to the adults, I had made a memorable, and more or less expected, contribution to the Italian death cinerama.

As I think back today, in my more humble years, on this embarrassing, yet courageous, attention-seeking ploy, I have to admit it was a classic and convincing performance. You may have noticed I did not reveal where this happened. Let the paisano memory stand strong — the day Sammy's little nipote tried to follow her Poppi into the afterlife.

Judi ValentineDr. Judi Valentine is a clinical nutrition specialist with 20 years of experience in private practice and consulting to hospitals, clinics and corporations.

She is currently working with Kennebec Pharmacy and Health Care in Rockport, offering expertise on nutrition supplements and other natural approaches to optimal health as a free service to customers.

Judi grew up in Maine and, with her husband, Barry, lived in Washington, D.C., and Annapolis, Md., for 20 years. They now live in Camden and are very happy to be back home.

In 2003, Judi published Weight Solutions: The New Body-Mind-Spirit Approach with co-author Dr. Janet Cunningham. Contact Judi at

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Kathrin Seitz teaches Method Writing in Rockport, New York City and Florida. She can be reached at Cheryl Durbas is a freelance personal assistant in the Midcoast area. She can be reached at