500 Thursdays

For Andrew Cotto’s daughter, every Thursday is a special day.

My daughter was born on a Thursday. We’d gone to the hospital with still plenty of Wednesday left, but, on that day, complications arrived instead of a child. As the sun sank into the distant horizon and night sifted down onto the city, my wife endured unimaginable things associated with a difficult childbirth. The pregnancy had been a breeze, so we, as first-time parents, figured the delivery would be the same. The sudden uncertainty was overwhelming. We were displaced and unprepared. My wife was heroic but seriously shaken. I was a helpless wreck. It was our first lesson about the vulnerability of parenting, and we weren’t technically even parents yet. Finally, after too many hours to report, a C-section was scheduled. At some point in that blurry evening or gauzy morning, a baby was born. I helped give her a bath in a tiny tub. She had brown hair, brown eyes and chubby little thighs. I’d never seen anything so beautiful. As my daughter and wife slept like they deserved, I went down to where some family had settled into the waiting room of St. Vincent’s Hospital.

Winnie was there. She’s the sister of my mother-in-law and the beloved aunt of my wife. She is beloved by many people. Her name is Winifred, but no one calls her that, expect my father-in-law, kind of, who loves her lots and calls her Fred. To everyone else she is Winnie. To everyone else that matters to her—her dear sister, her two nieces, her two nephews-in-law, her four great-nieces/nephews, and a select group of others she claims she can count on one hand (though she is lying because there are many others)—she is a figure of unconditional love. She is tall and fair of skin and hair. She has maintained her formidable figure into her 60’s and carries herself with casual elegance. Urbane and small town, she wears designer black during the week and college sweatshirts on the weekend. Winnie never married, and her intimate life is a mystery to most. She’s a self-made woman of eager independence who lives in Manhattan, but her home is by the beach. She’s an unwritten character in a Truman Capote novel or the grand benefactor in a work of Dickens. Most importantly to us, she is an enormously important figure in the life of our daughter.

♦◊♦

We’d been home four days from the hospital when the phone rang. “Hello!” an ebullient voice sang through the receiver. “It’s Winnie calling to wish Sophia a happy second Thursday!” My wife needed to hear from her. The C-section recovery had been painful, and we’d been housebound in Brooklyn in the dead of winter. Our apartment was dark, and the baby didn’t sleep. We had visitors but very little help. We were staggering into parenthood, unable to even delegate. Winnie’s voice was a balm. No advice or judgment, just an open ear and endless faith. “Well, you both are perfect, so you will be perfect parents, too.” Not true, we knew, but still nice to hear. We were vulnerable, and Winnie’s way made us feel less so. We were glad she called. Then a week later, she called again, “Hello! It’s Winnie calling to wish Sophia a happy third Thursday!”

A ritual had begun. Winnie would call to wish Sophia a happy Thursday, every Thursday. She kept count of the week and kept the same cheer in her voice. We figured she’d give up at some point, be out of town or sufficiently distracted, but the calls kept coming. “Ha-wo,” Sophia would say into the phone when she began to dabble with words. “Winnieeee,” she’d coo. Appropriately, her great aunt’s name was easy to say. At 18 months (or 72 Thursdays in Winnie time), we moved to Italy for a year. This had to be the end of the Thursday streak. No chance. Winnie decided e-mail counts, and who were we to argue? She got through by phone on occasion, as well, and visited personally on what we unofficially believe was Thursday #92. When we returned to the States, the phone calls did, too, right in time. And then, on occasions like birthdays and Thursdays marking hundreds, Winnie came over. We drank special drinks and ate mountains of lamb chops, which had officially become the favorite meal of Winnie and Sophia. A glorious routine had been established in our lives. Word spread. The legend of Winnie was born amongst our family and friends, many of whom she’d never met.

On a Thursday of no particular distinction, not long ago, the phone rang:

“Hello! It’s Winnie calling to wish Sophia a happy Thursday!”

“Winnie!” Sophia cried. “How are you?”

“I’m fine,” she answered. “How are you?”

“I’m good.”

“Are you busy?”

“No.”

“Well, then,” Winnie said. “Look outside your window.”

And there Winnie was, standing on our stoop, still talking into her phone and waiving at the window. Sophia flipped. She ran downstairs to let Winnie in for an impromptu party. No reason. Only Winnie. Winnie had surprised a child, given her a thrill by showing up at her door unannounced. Sophia will never forget that. I know of no one who has such a person in his or her life. Someone who makes you feel special in such original and extraordinary ways. In the modern world, such acts of random beauty are rare. Even more so when the set-up was hundreds and hundreds of weekly phone calls.

♦◊♦

Of course, Winnie is more than just Thursdays in our life and of those she loves. Our children, and my wife’s sister’s children, have grown up at her condo by the beach. They’ve learned to swim in her pool and braved her ocean. Inside, there are always toys waiting for them, in hidden places. And Winnie isn’t just a giver of gifts: she plops down on the floor with the kids and plays for hours. When they swim, she swims. When they play in the waves, she stands guard at the edge of the ocean. And after she’s entertained our kids all day, she declares cocktail hour for the adults. We’re hard working people of modest income. Our lives are busy and demanding. We need Winnie’s hospitality and her special kind of love. Our family is at our best when we are gathered in her home. She is one of the brightest lights in all of our lives.

Her relationship with our daughter is the most important. In our era’s new form of over-connectivity that can lack in substance what it provides in ease, their bond is unique and timeless, expressed in a regular act of extraordinary devotion: a message of love that began on the day a child was born and continued, without fail, for every such day of her life. And today—Thursday, September 1, 2011—is a very special day indeed, for it marks the 500th Thursday of Sophia’s life.

Guess who’s coming over to celebrate?

This is an updated version of a piece Andrew wrote in May.

—Photo adamwilson/Flickr

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About Andrew Cotto

Andrew Cotto is the author of THE DOMINO EFFECT and OUTERBOROUGH BLUES: A BROOKLYN MYSTERY. His novels can be found at Amazon and Barnes&Noble.  Learn more about Andrew at his website.

Comments

  1. That was beautiful, Andrew. I remember Winnie’s wonderfulness very well. Thank you for sharing a thing of such precious beauty. You have made my morning coffee.

  2. You are so blessed to have Winnie in your life. Of course, I know you have many others that love you too. Thank you for sharing this story of true love. One of these days, I hope to see Aunt Winnie’s beach!

  3. Andrew: I loved every word of this story. Love to you all, and especially to Winnie!!

  4. I think this article expressed how very important family is and how just a phone call can begin a life time of memories

  5. Thanks, Dumanese!

    You got it right: simple things can be the most meaningful.

    Best,

    Andre

  6. Hi Andrew,
    This is such a delightful story! Now, every Thursday I will be adding on to the 500 mark. Love, kindness, committment and trust are always wonderful qualities to share and demonstrate. Thank you for sharing this amazing love story with us. Salud!

  7. Thank you, Angel!

    I appreciate the wonderful comments and insight.

    Best,

    Andrew

  8. Monica Johnson says:

    This is a beautiful article. I know Sophie must feel really special. I wish i had an aunt like aunt winnie. Mr. Cotto your a brilliant writer. i bet an amazing person also.

  9. Why, thank you, Monica. Lovely compliments from someone “I bet” is an amazing person, also.

    Best,

    Andrew

  10. Andrew,

    I just sat down to read your piece and it gave me so much happiness. What a special gift Winnie is to your family and all those who know her. You have given her a special gift too by writing such a beautiful, heart felt story.
    Happy Birthday, Sophia!!

  11. Thank you, Jen!

    I’m happy to share the happy of Winnie and am grateful for your appreciation.

    Best,

    Cotto

  12. “Ebullient?” Very nice pull, Cotto. 500 Thursdays is some serious dedication, right there. It ‘s nice to acknowledge and appreciate such a solid person in your famiglia’s lives. Winnie sounds truly awesome. Sweet, sweet story. Thanks for sharing.

  13. My pleasure, Doug.

    As always, thanks for writing. You have a Winnie-like dedication that I’m really starting to admire.

    Best,

    Cotto

  14. Hi.

    Doug’s wife here, finally checking out some of your posts. Love them. This one is fantastic. Makes me wish I had at least a 1/2 a Winnie!
    And I had to chuckle a bit b/c our Anna calls her little sister “Fred.” Not sure who she got that out of Gia….

    Thanks for sharing!

  15. HI Daria!

    Nice to connect with you. I’ve enjoyed your posts, as well; congrats on all the good Gia news this summer.

    Thanks for writing. We could all use at least a 1/2 a Winnie in our lives.

    Best,

    Andrew

  16. Amy Bertles says:

    Love it – everyone should have an Aunt Winnie in their lives! Thanks for sharing!

  17. Thanks, Amy! And you’re right – we all deserve an Aunt Winnie.

    Hope all is well with you.

    Best,

    Andy

  18. Monifia Dunlap says:

    Mr.Cotto,
    I want to thank you for sharing the story of Ms. Winne and Sophia it really touched my soul. It shows the importance of Love and Family. Ms.Winnie is a exceptional woman and you Sir are an outstanding Writer, Father, and Professor. Be proud of yourself and your beautiful family because you are truly blessed not many of us have that. Again thanks for sharing

  19. Thanks, Monifia!

    I really appreciate your taking the time to read the article and for all the wonderful praise.

    I am blessed. Thanks for the reminder.

    Best to you and your family!

  20. Marlyn griszell says:

    The article is very interesting and nice to know that Winnie still continue to be important in your daughter’s life.

  21. Thanks, Maryln!

    I appreciate your thoughts. And, yep, Winnie continues to do her thing.

    Best,

    Andrew

  22. mark flaherty says:

    LOVE this one…the world needs more Winnie’s!
    Well written and full of substance, the real stuff of life, as usual. Thanks Andrew!

  23. Thank you, Mark.

    I so appreciate the thoughts.

    Best,

    Andrew

  24. This is an incredibly beautiful story. Thank you so much for sharing – I’m passing it along!

    @HeatherEColeman

  25. Hi, Heather.

    Thanks so much for your kind words!

    Greatly appreciated.

    Best Regards,

    Andrew

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