Vilma Carocari let people know, in no uncertain terms, two vital facets at the core of her being: Which football team she adored more than any other on this earth, and when her time had come to leave this earth behind.
That team, misguided as she might have been (I am, for the record, a congenital New York Giants fan), was the New England Patriots. To say she wore her allegiance on her sleeve is a gross understatement. She wore her adoration like a second skin.
A teacher for 29 years in the Stonington school system, she lived at the end of Wyassup Lake Road in North Stonington, at water’s edge in a home that her father built. From there, she made her way to three Super Bowls, all in New Orleans, including the first one won by the Patriots in 2002, a journey made more memorable because of her being hobbled by illness. She was a longtime Patriots’ season ticket holder.
Though it seems, indeed, a trip back to the last century, hers was the pre-Tom Brady era, and a photo of her, taken in Foxboro, home of the Patriots, in 2002, shows her draped in a jersey bearing No. 11, that of Drew Bledsoe.
She has been gone since 2009 — she was 78 when she died — but if there is any doubt her spirit, draped in Patriots’ colors, is not hovering over U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis today, then a perusal of the obituary she wrote for herself will diffuse any hesitation. It was published in both The Westerly Sun and The Day, and remains one of the most engaging and life-affirming farewells I’ve read.
“So long everybody! I’m headed for a new adventure,” it begins. “If I can figure out the trick, I’ll send back a post card, or something. In any case, stay alert, be on the lookout. I wish I could have lingered a little longer because I didn't get to finish the 'to do' stuff on my life list. But I did put quite a dent in it.
“ … As a kid, I lovingly raised a passel of beautiful little animals, and throughout my life helped many animals in the wild regain their freedom and their health; proudly owned a great, branded western work horse named Toby; learned and loved to operate not only automobiles but also trucks, buses, snow plows and earth moving equipment; graduated from the University of Connecticut (and still root for our great UConn teams).”
She goes on to say that in the late 1940s, she drove with a couple of college friends to Niagara Falls in a 1930 Model A Roadster, and, later, motored around the Gaspe Peninsula with her sister, Noemi, in a Jeepster. She also mentions working for the U.S. government in Washington, D.C., for seven years, about which she was closed-mouth, even among family.
The obituary continues: “… sailed the great Atlantic in the wonderful old cruise ships Maasdam and Leonardo da Vinci and spent a couple of years in Europe, visiting the beautiful Italian Dolomite mountain valley where my father was born; drove the old Jeepster coast to coast all around the U.S. … played out my ‘Jack London fantasies’ by learning to drive sled dogs across the frozen Alaskan wilderness in the dead of winter (and brought home a one-month-old baby sled dog as a souvenir.
“ … spent some time traveling the Far East … sailed to the exact location where the Titanic met its doom and paid my respects while floating there above its remains; traveled to the Canadian Arctic and Greenland with my great niece, Nizhoni, where we encountered polar bears in the wild, up close and personal, and glided, touching close, among breathtaking, gigantic icebergs; reveled in photographic activities my entire life.
“… and yes, fulfilled a lifelong passion by learning to fly, especially those tired old World War II planes (like me). Except for the stinging sadness of losing so many beloved people along the way, all in all, I had quite a run!”
There is a prize for best photography awarded in her name at the annual North Stonington Agricultural Fair.
In 2000, I came across her at a somewhat more subdued undertaking, certainly by her standards. It was at the 15th annual marathon reading of “Moby Dick” at Mystic Seaport, and there, on the main deck of the whaler Charles W. Morgan, was Vilma recording the reading on video. I remember her only too happy to talk about whales of another sort: How the New England Patriots desperately needed players for the offensive line.
Steven Slosberg lives in Stonington and was a longtime reporter and columnist for The Day in New London. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.