(Editor’s note: This column originally ran on Oct. 7, 2015)
Me: Mother, I know you don’t like to share, but I’d really like to give my friend Christina that furry, conical ski hat you bought in Austria in the ’50s. She’s the only person I know who could pull it off. Plus she has a vintage coat that matches it and she’s heading to Sundance.
Mother: Are you admitting that you can’t pull it off?
Mother: Well considering that this is the first time you’ve ever asked me to bequeath a vintage wardrobe to a friend rather than selfishly coveting it for yourself, I’ll say yes.
Me: You won’t regret it. She will honor it, like I do.
Mother: I know I won’t. You have excellent taste in friends.
When I first met Christina Calabria, she scared the bejesus out of me. I was fairly new to Greensboro, fresh out of college and she was a late-bloomer coed with a biker boyfriend and gorgeous, tough-girl look that made Chrissie Hynde look like a Chi Omega. She possessed an attitude that made bouncers a moot point at the dive bar where she slung cocktails. I skirted around her big personality for a long time — in fear of not only an ass-kicking, but also of having to emerge from my crab-like shell. She seemed like the kind of woman who would call you out on… well, being a woman.
Then I think the universe decided that our paths needed to cross and, wow, have they been crossing ever since.
It’s funny to remember realizing that yet another superlative in her roster was that she is always, almost annoyingly, nice.
Yep, there’s nothing that pisses another female off more than meeting a beautiful woman and realize that she’s not the b**** they had wanted her to be.
I’ll never forget one of our first in-depth conversations. Christina sought me out because I had sojourned to Spain as an undergrad on two separate stints with the UNC system, lived with a family in Madrid and attended classes at Universidad Complutense. She interviewed me Oriana Fallaci-style and extracted more details from my experience than I even remembered from my journey. Shortly thereafter, she moved to Madrid and lived with the same family. And like I said, our lives have been intertwined ever since.
When I lost my mother this summer, she was the first person at my house the morning after for a “walk it off” hike through the cemetery. She, of course, wore a diaphanous, tie-dyed maxi dress with sandals while the rest of us were in vomity T-shirts, working-girl sneakers and soccer-mom shorts.
So when she called to let me know her dad Joe (my dad was also a Joe) had passed, my heart and pen went out to her.
Christina: Will you help me with the obit?
Me: Duh, I do my best work with the dead. Want to meet for lunch tomorrow to go over the details?
Christina: Sure. Heading to “Burning Dad” at 11:30. Things you say out loud when planning a funeral: “Do you think the bag pipe player can do ‘Ave Maria’?”
The celebration of life took place on Hurricane Joaquin weekend as friends packed the room at the Green Bean in downtown Greensboro. Red wine flowed as Christina took the mic and toasted, roasted and boasted the life of Joseph Francis Calabria, 81, the Philly native who followed his kids (Christina and stepson Beau Calabria) south after retirement.
Like Christina, Joe was an adventurer at heart. He lied about his age at 17 to join the United States Air Force and served as an airplane mechanic during the Korean War. Upon his return to Philadelphia he studied engineering at Villanova and Penn State universities, respectively, and graduated at the top of his class. He began his aerospace career at General Electric, later to become Lockheed Martin, where he served as a chief engineer and was actively involved in the invention and implementation of global positioning systems until his retirement.
A natural bon vivant, Joe was a passionate sailor, jazz enthusiast, gardener, world traveler, sportscar aficionado and lover of women. He was married to Bunny Wells, the mother of his children, from 1963 to 1983 and an active bachelor in the years hence.
“He was the most interesting man in the world,” says Christina, “He bought Zsa Zsa Gabor’s Ferrari. Rubio [international playboy Porfirio Rubirosa] gave it to her and she couldn’t drive a stick. He actually sold it to buy my parents’ first house!”
Me: You know it’s legend that his other former lover Doris Duke had his legendary penis enshrined. I mean Rubio, not your dad.
Me: We can leave that detail out. That’s what editors are for.