In memory of the life, love and wit of Carol Versandi
The Legend of Sona
April 21, 2014
It's been almost 3 months since my mom died.
…I say "died" because I hate the term "passed away".
I hate anything that softens or sugar coats difficult situations or experiences.
This has been hard enough to deal with as it is…and those that are close to me know that I'm not dealing with this all that well in the first place…I don't need delicate phrases or cushioned observations.
"Passed away" sounds like there's a possibly she might be back.
"Died" is about as final a sounding word as we have.
So when people ask, I say, "she died". Because that's what happened.
So anyway, it's been almost 3 months. And in that time I've had a lot of time to reflect. Not just on my mom's life. But on my life and life in general.
I've had time to talk to people. Friends. Family. My mom's friends and co-workers. People I knew, people I kind of knew and people I only heard about from her.
And not just make idle conversation.
But really talk to them.
Get to know their story and the person my mom was to them specifically.
You may not realize this, but you as an individual, are perceived differently by different people. You stay the same internally, but externally your identity changes from person to person, and you don't even know it's happening. It's really amazing when you think about it.
Kind of like the way a work of art is interpreted by different people.
Same painting, just different emotional responses.
I have a very specific characterization of who my mother was.
It's clear-cut and exact. And when someone comes along that challenges my personal definition, be that good or bad, I naturally get defensive.
Because it goes against the woman that I knew.
But everyone has a different description because people perceive things differently.
However, there are of course, things that are universally seen within a person. Certain character traits, that everyone, regardless of relationship, can see and agree on. With my mom, it was the fact that not only was she a tender and caring woman, who was well loved by all... but that she was a highly skilled professional bullshit artist.
I say that with the utmost reverence and respect and I finally, after all these years, learned where I got it from.
My father is a pretty straight-forward guy. He's kind of outgoing and somewhat personable. He has a great sense of humor, but it's dry and sarcastic.
My mother, on the other hand, was a genius when it came to tomfoolery and mischief. It was an art form. She would weave these intricate webs of bullshit that sparkled and glistened. You couldn't help but be drawn to it...enticed by it and then ensnared within it. The best part, you had no idea you were even caught. She would sit there and snicker, while you were stuck, taking in all the shiny goodness of her tall tales.
Since I was five years old, my mother told people I was "peppery".
She would tell every babysitter I ever had, "Watch out for Mikey, he's peppery".
But after talking to my mom's friends, I can see that it's something of a hereditary trait.
Let me just stress that what I'm talking about here are not lies.
My mother didn't lie. She hated lies and hated liars.
In fact, she made it a point to instill in both my brother and I the ability to face, accept and tell the truth, no matter how tough it might be (which is probably why I hate the term "passed away) and only lie when it comes to filling out a job application or doing your taxes.
But don't get me wrong…I'm a word class liar.
Just ask any of my friends.
They've all seen me lie my way out of impossible situations without flinching.
I'm not a hypocrite. I fully admit that I'm a liar.
But I'm not my mother.
My mother did not lie.
...she embellished....exaggerated....she festooned the truth with accessories.
Much the same way women use makeup.
Are they lying about their appearance?
No. They are just garnishing it.
Let's just say there was a lot of parsley on the plate of my mom's stories.
But, in all fairness to her, at the end of whatever sordid tale she was telling, she would let her victim off the hook with her famous sly smile and a "just kidding" nod.
If the story was a hoax, you knew before you left the room.
I guess to her it was the thrill of the hunt.
She usually had a pretty strict "catch and release" program….but not always.
Not when it came to Sona.
Sona was and still is, a very dear and close friend of the family.
That's the best way I can describe him.
He loved my mother and was always protective of my brother Chris and I.
I cannot think of a time when he was not in my life in one way or another.
And to this day, there is nothing that he wouldn't do for us.
He met my mom at an Arthur Murray meet-and-greet social shortly after she and my father separated. From what I understand, he was drawn to her because she seemed so timid and shy…two adjectives that couldn't describe her any less… They hit it off and that, as they say, is that.
It was the start of a friendship that would last the rest of her life.
Sona (not his real name – that's just what we call him) was born in Turkey and moved here when he was in his 20's. He achieved a certain level of fame, both in Turkey and England as a professional soccer player.
In fact, it was because of him that I started playing soccer when I was a kid.
When he moved to the United States, he used some of the money he had earned as a professional athlete to invest in certain businesses. And that's basically what he does to this day. In the 40+ years that I've known him, he's owned everything from gas stations to convenience stores to construction companies to restaurants. The last one being Dervish on 47th Street in New York.
When we were growing up Sona would come by once or twice a month.
He always drove a brand new Cadillac and always carried a brief case filled with cash. If that sounds like it might be a little shady, well, you'd be right.
Best not to dwell on it.
That is the real story of Sona.
It may not be the full story, but it's as close to the truth as you're ever going to get.
As I've been finding out these past few months, it is not the story most of my mom's friends have been getting. Apparently, for the sake of her own personal amusement, she crafted Sona into a somewhat mythical figure of modern folklore and has been, unbeknownst to me, spinning wild yarns about him for years.
Different people got different stories and so far, no two stories have been the same. Even people I thought must know the truth, apparently do not.
And I have to tell you, I am loving every minute of this discovery.
Let's start with the person closest to my mom, besides me and my brother, my Aunt Terry. My aunt and my mom spoke every single day.
Sometimes two or three times a day.
If my mom, God forbid, didn't answer her phone, my aunt would call me in a panic and tell me to rush over to my mom's house to make sure everything was ok.
That happened at least once a month.
I have no idea what two people talk about every day.
I can go weeks at a time without giving my wife much more then a grunt.
But they were obviously very close and spoke to each other all the time.
And she, my aunt, barely knew that this man's name was Sona.
When my mom talked about him, he always called him "Turkish".
So my aunt called him "Turkish".
In fact, when my mom died (there's that word again) my aunt asked me if I had called Turkish. I had no idea who she was talking about or even what she was saying.
She repeated "Turkish, Turkish" and I actually thought she was having a stroke.
Now, I know that's not a great example, but trust me, it gets better.
About 20 years ago, my mom worked with a woman named Denise.
Shortly after my mom's funeral, Denise and I were talking and the subject of Sona came up. She asked how he was doing and had I been out to his farm recently.
"Farm"? I asked.
Denise told me all about the farm in upstate New York that Sona had purchased years back after he retired. According to my mom, he moved up there to raise pigmy llamas and sell pies.
I looked at Denise and wondered if she too, was having a stroke.
I told her that I had not been to the farm but that last I heard, he was doing well.
I didn't have the heart to tell her that Sona would rather die then retire, had never, in his entire life, ever, been on a farm and that I don't even think there is such a thing as pigmy llamas.
Next was another friend of the family and former neighbor named Eddie.
Eddie and his wife called me about two months ago just to see how we were all doing. He asked about my dad and my brother. Then he asked about Sal.
Eddie, who knew my family for decades…Eddie, who watched my brother and I grow up…Eddie, whose own daughter used to babysit me…was not spared from my mom's shenanigans.
Turns out that to Eddie, Sona was Sal from Puerto Rico and he owned a deli and a fleet of ice cream trucks.
There is so much nonsense in that description that I don't even know where to begin.
I was starting to see a pattern so I decided to investigate further.
And what I found was not only astonishing, but downright hilarious.
This was monkey-business of the highest order.
My mom's friend Gail knew Sona as a fitness instructor.
Her co-worker Amy heard he owned a charter boat.
And another former co-worker said he used to sell oriental rugs out of a van.
But the best so far was from a woman named Rosemary that used to know my mom through the PTA. Apparently, years ago, she told this poor woman that Sona was my real father and that Robert (my dad) didn't know and could not ever know.
How this story managed to stay together for so long completely baffles me.
I guess Rosemary didn't bother ask my mom any follow up questions because this entire fable would have fallen apart with even the slightest amount of investigation. I actually felt bad telling her the truth. But when I did, she was surprisingly upbeat. "Just like your mother", she said. "Just like her".