Books, Butterflies, and California: A Tribute to Elizabeth Fidone
As I watch my 3-year-old son Luke water his garden, I’m reminded of how life renews itself. The young carry on for the old and keep the memories and traditions alive. Luke is a part of the newest generation of Richbourgs. He will carry on for Elizabeth, his great-grandmother, who passed on. He will have few memories of her, so I will share my memories with him and also with you now. These memories start with three things: books, butterflies, and California.
Although I’ve been an avid book reader most of my life, I contribute much of my love of books to my mother and my grandmother. Every time I visited her, we would have book discussions about what each of us was currently reading. She always seemed to be reading a great book long before it became popular. The first time I ever heard of “The Da Vinci Code” it was in her hands and she was explaining it to me. She was reading the fourth Harry Potter book before anyone had ever heard of the series. But the book that will forever make me think of her is David McCullough’s “John Adams”. She knew I was a great fan of American history and recommended the book to me. It was a very long book and it took me some time to get through it. But I’m so glad I did because we had wonderful discussions about one of America’s most important founding fathers. Our discussions also turned to politics and education, two subjects we talked about for hours on end. Her grasp of current events on both subjects was far beyond mine. I hope to be as lucid as long as she was. Even the very last time I saw her with my sister, her mind was razor sharp as we talked about education and careers.
Butterflies. Everybody loves them but no one more than Elizabeth. To me, butterflies will always symbolize my grandmother: beautiful, elegant, graceful, and nurturing of life. She had books on butterflies, she painted butterflies, she adored them. For that reason, I decided to start a butterfly garden with my son in her name. I call it the Donee Butterfly Garden. I hope she likes it.
Finally, there is California. As a child, California was always a faraway mysterious place to me. When Donee came to visit us in Pensacola, she brought a little bit of California with her. I remember her husband Sam Fidone and their blind poodle Pierre. Pierre was very old and had been to my parents’ house years before. Even though he could not see, he still remembered the layout of my parents’ house, much to the amazement of us all. Sam was a wonderful man who hailed from Sicily. He cooked incredible meals for us including a honey-glazed braided baked bread that was the best we had ever tasted. My mom took furious notes on his cooking and even audio-taped him through the recipe.
Donee flew back to Florida after Sam passed away. She came to my brother’s high school graduation. Even though he was the oldest grandchild and the first to graduate, I think I’m the one who got the true gift. My parents decided to send me with her to California to stay for the summer. I was 13 years old and had never left Florida, much less flown on an airplane to California. It was thrilling to get my Continental wings and experience flying for the first time, especially with my grandmother. That summer, I stayed at her house in San Jose with my Aunt Linda, cousin Angie, and Uncle Mickey. It was one of the greatest times of my life. She took us to see San Francisco, Carmel, Monterrey, and the giant redwood trees. I spent many days with my California cousins, some of whom I had never met before. Elizabeth was the center of it all, and I came back home to Florida changed forever.
Today as we all have gotten older and had families, I think of the legacy Elizabeth has left behind: eight children, twelve grandchildren, and even more great-grandchildren. This legacy includes doctors, lawyers, engineers, teachers, and many others who do great work. Her memory lives on in all of us and our children. I know she is very proud of us and rightly so. I believe she is in heaven right now quietly reading a book in her butterfly garden and looking down on all of us….smiling.
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