Archive for the ‘ memoir ’ Category

A Eulogy

Mary Ellen Nelligar Petti, my wife and friend of 17 years and mother of my two boys, passed away on January 8th.  Below is (close to) the eulogy delivered at her wake on January 13th.  I’m posting it here for any of her family or friends who could not be with us that night:

What in God’s name are we doing here?  More to the point with many of us, what are we doing here without a script and a score and some choreography.

We are in an unreal situation, trying to say something authentic.

I’m supposed to be some kind of a writer, but this isn’t going to be well-written.  Mary El can’t be contained by a narrative.  I was reading a short story collection and they had these blurbs about the authors before each story and one author said of his work, “All I trust is fragments.”

So that’s all I have.  Fragments.

Mary El was dyslexic and she was self conscious about her spelling, so she’d just yell out random words from the other room like “kumquat!” or “Armageddon!”  I had to realize it wasn’t really an impending Armageddon and spell the word for her.  I was her spell check before there was such a thing.

She read voraciously, but she gravitated toward similar types of books.  We’d joke that she needed to find a Tudor history about a poor, young Southern girl who time traveled to Nazi Germany.  The only people sadder than us right now are the folks at Amazon Kindle, because they are going to lose a lot of business.

Mary El has an alternate personality named Fifi Larue.  Believe it or don’t.

She adored Facebook–she called it the party she attended in her pajamas.  Her last post asked her friends to list three people they thought were particularly attractive.  I answered,  because of course my participation was mandatory.  I said Donna Reed, Emma Thompson, and Mary Ellen Nelligar Petti.  A friend of ours posted, “Suck up!” and I replied, “Absolutely!”

Her references were about 100 years out of date.  She’d mention ice trucks, or soda shops, or horse-drawn carriages.  She’d say of some actress, “Who does she think she is, Myrna Loy?”  And I’d say, no, nobody thinks they’re Myrna Loy, they haven’t thought that in at least 100 years.

A friend of ours called Mary Ellen a “wanna-be Jew.”  She was obsessed with the culture and with Yiddish words.  One of the happiest days of her life was when her son James married a Jewish girl.  Her and her friend Sharon danced and sang Hava Nagila at the wedding.  She was so obsessed with Holocaust documentaries that I used to say she couldn’t get to sleep without hearing the gentle strains of a speech by Adolf Hitler.

She had an idea for a book where Rasputin was a vampire, which is why he couldn’t be killed and also why he could help the czar’s kid with hemophilia.  I thought that was brilliant.  If anyone steals it I’ll sue.

This past Christmas Mary El found a site where you could adopt a family who was having financial trouble.  Now, we have been that family.  And even though we are only slightly better off that we were then, she adopted two families and got her sister to adopt a third.  Even though she was sick, the week before Christmas was spent meeting people in CVS parking lots with bags of toys.  I thought that was so Mary Ellen.

There’s 15 years between Mary El and her big sister Gin, so Gin was already working when Mary El was small.  She would get up in the morning to watch her big sister put on her makeup in the bathroom mirror.  But being a little girl, she was a nudge–she put her fingers in the makeup and generally was a pain.  So Gin used to get up quietly to sneak out of the house before Mary El woke up.  When she woke up she would run to the window and cry that she didn’t get to say goodbye to “My Ginna.”  Because Mary El adored her so.

Mary El got cast in Grey Garden and they couldn’t find anyone anyone to play opposite her, so she begged her friend Jimmy to do the role.  Jimmy didn’t wanna.  At that point they had been friends for 24 years, so in exchange for doing the role she promised him another 24 years.  So whenever Jimmy would see her afterwards he would say, “You owe me 17 years, five months, three weeks and two days!”

She loved malapropisms and blown lines.  She was doing a serious scene where a girl playing her daughter described defending an old man being beaten by a group of Poles during WWII.  The line came out something like, “And the Poles hit him with a pole while pole-dancing.”  Mary El’s eyes lit up with what can only be described as pure, evil-elf joy.  She tried to make eye contact with Rich Aufiero (who was playing the father), to share her joy, and he just said out loud, onstage, “Don’t even look at me.”

Her cousin Cliff grew up with Mary El and he has a very stoic personality.  When they would see each other as adults at family functions, Mary El would grab him from behind and start singing, “Feelings!  Whoa, whoa, whoa, feelings! ” She had no walls, not even a brick.  She laughed in the face of other people’s walls and reduced them to rubble.

There was a two week period when I was in the hospital at Mt. Sinai in NYC and Conor was in the hospital in Goshen.  For two weeks, she would spend one day with me and one day with him.  When she needed to be she was strong as an oak.

She called herself an “Irish loser,” which isn’t just your regular kind of loser.  An Irish loser has no self-confidence, but deep down still knows they are as good or better than anybody.  We are a complicated bunch, we Irish.

Mary El had nicknames for people: Mickle the Baby Pickle, Con-Man, Vlad the Inhaler, Tovalah, Reppie, Doll Baby, Yimmie, Sistah Woman, Mandingo Warrior, Weekawah Monster, Sadie–but she saved the majority for her son James.  During his childhood, he had to answer to Jammers, Jammie Do, Mussolini, Lou, and finally…Lou Gossett Jr.  If he heard her say, “Lou Gossett Jr.,” he had to say, “Yes Mom!”

There were so many shows she was brilliant in, too many to list.  For the Just Off Broadway folks, I think she’ll always be Rizzo, to the County Players folks Reno Sweeney, to the Pearl River folks Mama Rose (at just 17!), and to the Creative Theater people she was Adelaide.  There are two moments in her performing career that stick out because I know how much they meant to her.  The first was a straight play called Enchanted April–the ending monologue was her acting at the height of her ability.  The other was her Judy cabaret From Oz to Nuremberg.  If you were lucky enough to be in the room that night, you know why.  She was at ease, confident, healthy, and incandescent.  It gave you a glimpse at what she could have done if she had been healthier more often.

When something like this happens, there are roles that you are expected to follow.  I choose not to be a griever.  I choose to be a celebrant.

After we had our boys, Mary El was showing me a dress that I was pretending to care about and I mentioned casually, “Well, you love your floral prints.”  She said no I don’t.  So I said that’s all you wore while you were pregnant.  So she went and looked at the pictures and there she was in her floral maternity clothes.  Her exact quote to me was, “How could you let me leave the house like that!  I looked like a sofa!”

There are a million others.  She wrote a poem for her mom called “My Mother’s Hands.”  We lost these certain cardboard Christmas decorations in one of our 14 floods and I finally, finally tracked them down this year so we could have them on the tree.  She had members of her “tribe”–her grandfather, her cousin Chris, our son Conor, our niece Kiera–who all had that crazy twinkle in their eye.  She left used tissues everywhere.  We visited our doctor so often we referred to him as “Uncle Ernie.”  When our friend Jimmy lived with us he worked odd hours and would cook on the George Foreman grill in the middle of the night, which Mary El referred to as “Jimmy’s 2AM Cooking Show.”  We had a party over the summer with some folks I had done a show with who had never met Mary El, and long after I went to sleep they stayed out in the backyard talking until 4 in the morning.  She did a search for the name “Nelligar” on Facebook and ended up great long-distance friends with some distant relation out in Seattle.  A childhood friend, without her knowing, wrote a children’s book based on her called “The Adventures of Hairymelon” about a spunky 11-year-old.

Mychal, you have your mother’s touch.  Conor, you have the same empathy.  James, you will always be her baby.

I will remember endless cups of coffee she gave me without asking, shared TV shows and movies, taking an 8 hour car ride and never having a lull in the conversation, how making her laugh–really milk out your nose laugh–was like winning the lottery.

The final word needs to go to Mary El.  As anyone who has ever shared a stage with her knows, nobody follows Mary Ellen…

(click on photo to link to video)



Sister Mercedes and the Temple of Doom FREE June 6, 7 & 8



My ebook, “Sister Mercedes and the Temple of Doom” will be FREE on Amazon on Friday, June 6th, Saturday, June 7th and Sunday, June 8th!

“Sister Mercedes and the Temple of Doom” is a collection of blog posts from this very blog!  From the depiction of the author’s upbringing as a fat, shy Catholic school boy to the vagaries of family life to trying to live hand-to-mouth while on disability, “Sister Mercedes” is a sometimes hysterically funny, sometimes tragic and always human glimpse behind the veil of parenthood, marriage, pop culture and the world in general.

If you’ve enjoyed reading this blog, please spread the word to anyone you think would be interested.  It’s FREE!




Echoes of Ireland at Ritz in Newburgh, NY March 21-23


Hi Everyone,

My play Echoes of Ireland will be shown the weekend of March 21-23 at the historic Ritz theater in Newburgh, NY.  For my local readers, the show will feature Ron Morehead, Cat Barney and Dana Lockhart.  All the necessary information is below.  If you’re in the neighborhood, please stop in and say hi.



A Family Saga Resonates Through Generations

in Brian C. Petti’s

Echoes of Ireland

March 21-23 at the Lobby at the Ritz Theater107 Broadway Newburgh

Fresh from it’s production in County Cork, Ireland!

The sweep of the Irish experience from County Cork to New York City is on display in Echoes of Ireland, a drama about family ties, the immigrant life and the Irish-American experience. Written and directed by Ellenville, NY resident Brian C. Petti,Echoes will hold performances on Friday, March 21 at 7:30, Saturday, March 22 at 7:30pm and Sunday, March 23 at 2pm at the Lobby at the Ritz Theater107 Broadway Newburgh. Echoes of Ireland was recently produced in County Cork by the Skibbereen Theatre Society where it garnered rave reviews such as:

“Powerful …every emotion came to the fore during this story of pride and determination in the face of adversity.” Cllr Karen Coakley, Mayor of Skibbereen, County Cork, Ireland.

Tickets are $15, and may be purchased at There is limited seating, so reservations are strongly suggested. The play is being presented by Safe Harbors of the Hudson and Hatmaker’s Attic Productions, through an agreement with Eldridge Plays & Musicals.

Echoes of Ireland is a series of inter-related monologues that follows the saga of a single Irish family from County Cork in 1860 to 2001 New York City. Beginning five years after the end of the potato famine in Ireland, Echoes follows the Cunyngham clan through their journey across the ocean to the ports of Manhattan, through the lowly existence of immigrant life in the States, to the assimilation and rebirth of their family as American citizens who never forget from whence they came. The journey is part tragedy, part comedy, part history lesson and all undeniably human. 

Show times are:

Friday, March 21 at 7:30

Saturday, March 22 at 7:30pm

Sunday, March 23 at 2pm

Echoes of Ireland features notable local actors Ron Morehead (Cairo, NY), Cat Barney (Kingston, NY) and Dana Lockhart (Middletown, NY). Additional information can be found at: and

Brian C. Petti has had his plays produced Off-Off Broadway (Masquerade, The Love Song of Sidney J. Stein, Banshee) and regionally (Next Year in Jerusalem, The Measure of a Man, On the Expectation of White Christmases,) by such companies as Ten Grand Productions, The American Theater of Actors, Inc. and The Fresh Fruit Festival. Masquerade was staged at Cherry Lane Theater in NYC and Next Year in Jerusalem was the winner of the Humboldt State University National Play Contest in California, where it received a student production. Published plays include The Measure of a Man by JAC Publishing and Promotions, Banshee by Next Stage Press and Echoes of Ireland by Eldridge Plays & Musicals.

Safe Harbors of the Hudson is a nonprofit organization committed to transforming lives and building communities through housing and the arts in the city of Newburgh, New York. The Cornerstone Residence is a unique facility that offers support services and jobs training on-site provided by Independent Living, an advocacy and service organization dedicated to enhancing the quality of life for persons with disabilities. The Cornerstone Residence consists of apartments and artist lofts, with a mixed tenancy of single adults, including the formerly homeless, veterans, those living with a mental health diagnosis, artists and other adults in need of affordable housing. The building offers many amenities and programs including a fitness center, library, computer lab, classes and a GED program. Many of these amenities and programs are available to the public. The Cornerstone also houses several multi-use spaces that may be rented for special events of all kinds.

Future projects include the renovation of three commercial spaces and the restoration of the historic Ritz Theater. As the only remaining historic theater in the City of Newburgh, the Ritz will provide a venue for live performances, educational programs for our youth, employment opportunities for our community, and create an active cultural and tourist destination.

Founded by brothers Edward and William Gibbons-Brown, Hatmaker’s Attic Productions is putting the “community” back in community theatre. They’re working to build a positive and safe creative environment where all are welcome.

The play will be produced in cooperation with Eldridge Plays & Musicals. Eldridge, a leading play publisher since 1906, offers hundreds of full-length plays, one-acts, melodramas, holiday and religious plays, children’s theatre plays and musicals of all kinds.

When Gods Cry–A Christmas Memory

I was eleven and the world was not less complicated, despite what the nostalgics suggest. I was at the ICU at St. Vincent’s hospital. I was told I was born here, in some faraway place called the maternity ward, but I had never seen this building. It seemed huge and labyrinthine. The lights were too bright on this floor, and the nurses too quiet. It was marked in its difference from the rest of the hospital, and by extension the bright pulse of the city and the rest of the world. This was not a place for celebration, or health.

It was a week before Christmas. I didn’t believe in Santa Claus anymore, but I could still feel the impending joy the thought of him recently engendered. Outside of this place it was in the air, crackling like buzzing electricity above us and through us. A shared connection and liked-mindedness I’d only ever experienced in a sports stadium when the home team player hit a ball long and deep and the crowd stood and waited for it to descend beyond the fence. That anticipation.

This place was immune to it. In the lobby there was a tree with white lights. Ribbons and wreaths adorned the walls. It all disappeared when the elevator doors opened. In the ICU, everything seemed blue, the color of veins returning spent blood back to its source to become replenished. Death returning to life, the daily miracle. I imagined veins to be similarly subdued.

I held in my hands a piece of green construction paper cut into the shape of a Christmas tree. Taped to the middle of the tree was a Polaroid of myself, my sister and three brothers sitting on the stairs that led to our bedrooms, peeking through the banister supports decorated in evergreen. It was taken a year ago. We were smiling and looking off to our right at some real or imagined joy. We were evergreen as well.

Around the photo I had drawn colored bulbs, red, purple, orange. At the top was a yellow star. I was no artist, but I liked the way it turned out, and I liked my mother’s and grandmother’s reaction when I showed it to them. Would you look at that! Ah, the creature. It’s beautiful. I wanted to give it to my Grandpa. Not just give it to him, hand it to him myself. I wanted his validation.

But he was sick, which is why we all piled into our rickety car and drove to the city, to our grandparents’ four-room apartment with the tiny Christmas tree sitting on top of the television. We were there so my mother could visit her sick father. I wanted to see him too. My parents looked at each other indecisively.

I was the eldest of my siblings and my grandfather’s favorite, as I heard in whispered declarations from my Grandma. When I was small I would sit transfixed at the kitchen table and listen to him tell tales of his bartending days in his Irish brogue. I remember few of the stories, but I can recall the cadence and intonation. He taught me to play solitaire and rummy. When my grandparents would come to our house in the suburbs, bringing endless brown-paper bags of food and love, he would sit in a lawn chair in our back yard and throw me ground balls. I loved him with abandon.

Which is why I brought red, green and yellow into this blue ICU. Whatever my Grandpa’s condition, I was stubbornly convinced, it would not be worsened by seeing me. I was his favorite and I loved him and I made this for him. But in this hushed place where the air seemed dense, my convictions wobbled. I felt wholly misplaced, in my color, my redness, my youth. I was an interloper, armed only with a piece of construction paper, and I was overmatched. I was left alone in a sterile waiting room while my Grandma and my parents went to assess whether my Grandpa was up to seeing me. The television droned, unwatched and unheeded. I could feel each second pass.

Visiting hours were nearly over when my father came to fetch me. You have to talk really quiet, he said, and we can’t stay long. You’re Grandpa’s not feeling well. OK, I said. I had lost whatever small will I had to argue. His bed was coming off the right hand wall and my mother and grandmother were standing on the far side. My Grandpa was facing them. His glasses were off. His hulk was contained in a light blue gown and a white sheet. He had an IV in his wrist and a breathing tube in his nose. The room was dim.

Look who’s here to see you, my Grandma said, and my Grandpa turned in my direction. He couldn’t make me out without his glasses. Who? Who is it? It’s Brian come to visit you. There was a jolt of recognition in his face, then he turned away and began to cry. I had never seen him cry. I didn’t think such a thing was possible. Can gods cry? I wept myself for causing his tears.

I didn’t want him to see me like this, he said. He came to bring you something, my mother said, something he made for you. I was struck dumb and lifeless. My father took the Christmas tree from my hand and handed it to my mother. My Grandma said, put your glasses on and look. He wiped his eyes with the heel of his hand and reached to the nightstand to fetch his glasses. They were thick, and when he put them on his eyes were magnified. I could see the leftover wetness from his tears. Look at that Jeremiah, my Grandma said, it’s a picture of the kids. My Grandpa nodded. Ah now that’s nice, he said. We’ll tape it up here on the wall, my mother said, so you can see it.

It was dark when we left the hospital, but lights abounded. Taxi headlights, storefront blinking lights, the red and green of the the stoplights extending down into the recesses of Seventh Avenue, turning from one color to the other in a rolling, endless spiral. The city was impossibly big and vibrant, and I was infinitesimally small. Holiday lights hung in odd apartment windows. Reds, greens and whites, shining boldly with arterial life and expectation. The air was cold and bracing. Vital. There was no blue.

Sister Mercedes and the Temple of Doom FREE 9/20-22

Beginning September 20th through Sunday the 22nd, my ebook “Sister Mercedes and the Temple of Doom” will be available as a FREE download on Amazon. If you haven’t read it yet, download it! If you know anyone who’d be interested, please share! Thanks.

Sister Mercedes and the Temple of Doom

Non-Fiction/Humor, 5 stars/19 reviews


“Sister Mercedes and the Temple of Doom” is a collection of blog posts from playwright and author Brian C. Petti. From the depiction of the author’s upbringing as a fat, shy Catholic school boy to the vagaries of family life to trying to live hand-to-mouth while on disability, “Sister Mercedes” is a sometimes hysterically funny, sometimes tragic and always human glimpse behind the veil of parenthood, marriage, pop culture and the world in general.

Moving on Up, to the Least Side


Atlas holding up the world, which is slightly less heavy than our Attic Heirlooms dresser.

You know what’s really freaking fun? Moving. Right up there with dental work, airplane travel or talking politics with a Tea Party member.

We moved Sunday. It’s now Friday. The only muscle I can still use is the one in the finger typing this blog. Everything else is in the kind of pain usually reserved for watching a Miley Cirus VMA performance. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist. It’s actually in the blogging rules that you MUST include pop culture references that take over the planet for more than two weeks, and since the “Ben Affleck is Batman?” jokes had run their course…)

Moving heavy furniture does not jibe with my personal workout regimen, which currently consists of doing nothing physical at all and then taking a nap. I’m not just lazy, as those who follow my blog know well. I’m on disability and I have trouble keeping enough necessary vitamins and minerals in my body to manage tough stuff like brushing my teeth or climbing a flight of stairs. So what were our ex-roommate Jimmy and I doing moving our entire home full of heavy crap by ourselves? What we had to. Who else was going to do it?

For those who don’t know Jim, Jim is gay. Before you get all stereotypey, he grew up on a working farm and used to play very high-level volleyball. I was, I’m positive, slowing him down. The last time we moved I was working at a furniture store and the owner graciously allowed me to hire his son-in-law and another mover at a very good price. His son-in-law is an ox, mid-20s, maybe 6’3”, 240 and the other guy was just as big. Adam the ox said our furniture was the heaviest they had ever encountered. This was what we we up against (or, more frequently, under.)

We went and rented the truck in the early afternoon with Jimmy’s license because after everything was packed I couldn’t find mine. Surprised? Me neither. Little items like credit cards, licenses, and keys should be literally stapled to me forehead, not to remind me they are there, but as a form of punishment for stupidly losing them every time I sit on my couch. We were not ready for this. Jimmy had just starred in my play The Love Song of Sidney J. Stein that Friday, and now it was Sunday. I understand there’s a “coming back down to Earth” period after a show closes, but this was more like a “hurtling headlong through the troposphere and crashing back into the cold, cold ground like a flaming asteroid” period. At least that’s what it felt like when we were done.

The next eight hours (or were they days?) were a blur. A painful haze of sweat, Gatorade, Chinese food, more sweat, bruised and beaten muscles, extreme struggling exertion, more sweat and sweat. Did I mention the pain and the sweat? Good, I want to paint an accurate picture. Thank you Jimmy. I know your back will never be the same, but hey, I wrote a play for you, right? Right? Can you hear me, Jim, or did you pass out…?

Moving is one of the most exhausting things a person can do, physically and emotionally. There is only one good reason to put yourself through it, only one. Because you have no other choice. If it were up to me and I had no family I would live in a studio apartment with everything I needed within reaching distance of my recliner, and I wouldn’t move from that spot until there was a wrecking ball in my lap. Alas, there is more to consider than just myself. Like the fact that our not-so-gradually-shrinking income has continually forced us to downgrade and downgrade, chasing that extra $200 a month that will somehow deliver us from the almighty struggle. We haven’t caught it yet.

Since the time we owned our home (or at least shared it with the bank) we have had to move…let’s see…there was my mother’s (mistake), the cottage on the Irish Cultural Center grounds (even bigger mistake—never let the Irish be your landlords!), the place by the cow farm, the rented house in Durham that was sold from under us, the place we just moved from in Ellenville that we couldn’t afford and now this garden apartment. It’s fine, it’s a nice place and all that, but it’s just that we’re getting too old to be doing this every two years or so. Too old and too tired. After every time we’ve moved, Mary El has said something along the lines of, “That’s it! We’re staying here until we die, ’cause we’re never going through THAT again!” But we do. And do and do and do and do and do.

This one is it, though. We’re done, we give up. We have a good deal on a 14 month lease and they’ll have to pull us out of here with attack dogs when it’s up. We’re declaring ourselves the Sovereign Nation of Bankruptcy. Come get us if you have the guts. If you force us out we’ll just have to live in the parking lot with our excessively heavy furniture piled as a barricade on top of us. They did it in France, it can work here. The Petti Revolution.

Just don’t make us ever pick it up it again, Javier. Please. 

Sister Mercedes and the Temple of Doom–FREE 6/10-14


My ebook Sister Mercedes and the Temple of Doom will be offered for FREE on Amazon from 6/10 to 6/14!  Here is the description:

“Sister Mercedes and the Temple of Doom” is a collection of blog posts from playwright and author Brian C. Petti. From the depiction of the author’s upbringing as a fat, shy Catholic school boy to the vagaries of family life to trying to live hand-to-mouth while on disability, “Sister Mercedes” is a sometimes hysterically funny, sometimes tragic and always human glimpse behind the veil of parenthood, marriage, pop culture and the world in general.

Funny, inspirational and moving. ”Edward Hayes  |  6 reviewers made a similar statement