She was conceived out of wedlock in late 1939 in Worcester, Mass, to a community of first and second generation Lithuanian immigrants. An apparently valiant member of the community, however, married her mother before she was born and so spared mother and child some of the hatred bestowed on single mothers from the old country. Whispers, however, didn't cease until much later.
She had a difficult childhood, and of this not much more can be said. She was abused in the worst way most can imagine until at least some time into her teens. Despite this, or perhaps because of this, she became a child prodigy at the trumpet, playing and even touring with the Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra even while she was still in high school. Eventually, this won her a full scholarship to the Eastman school of music, where she met the man who would become her husband for the next fifty or so years, until the day she died, on February 19th.
On the day after their graduation from Eastman the two got married. Cornet player Chuck Mangione was their first man. Approximately 9 months later they had their first child, and this represented more or less the end of her career in music. Though the child was by no means the only reason she was prevented from playing the trumpet professionally very often (she still did the occasional Christmas gig), to some extent she resented that child. Being a child, that child didn't consciously recognize the resentment until much later in life, so as a result the child was often rebellious, which didn't help matters. After a few years the couple had two more children, which probably ended not just any chance of her having a career in music, but even dreams of one as well.
During the 1960s, her husband was on the road for long periods at a time, playing with jump-blues bands such as Sy Zidner's. As a result she was often alone in their Evanston, Ill apartment, and money was extremely scarce. Indeed, one morning her eldest child searched the kitchen for breakfast and found only a packet of instant mashed potatoes. When she came out and found the child looking for food, he complained that there was nothing in the frig, but only a packet of instant mashed potatoes in the cupboard. Putting the back of her hand to her mouth she chuckled disbelievingly, Oh my God...Oh my God...
The child didn't understand the problem and asked, Couldn't they just go out and buy more food?
Around that time she started drinking. Socially, for the first few years, and then more seriously a little later, after they moved to New York City in the summer of 1969. After a lot of drama (and exile from the apartment for a few weeks), she eventually dried out and turned her experience into a whole new career. Obtaining a master's degree from NYU in the 1970s, she became an alcohol and drug counselor until she retired, several decades later. By many accounts she helped a lot of people.
She loved cats and she loved doing puzzles and she loved going to the mall and shopping. She didn't really need a lot in life, and didn't expect much. This was her strength, and also the one thing that made her son cry not long after he found out she had died in her sleep.
Her last decade or so was...strange: A slow, inevitable spiral. Perhaps on some levels she understood this and participated in the hastening of her own demise. This is of course unclear. In any event, in the early 1990s she was hit by a Russian driver turning onto Queens Boulevard. Her kneecap and other bones were shattered: Hardware was surgically installed. The shock to her body combined with the cessation of most exercise meant a pretty fierce onset of diabetes, leading eventually to Charcot foot and confinement to a bed. With some of the insurance settlement, she and her husband bought a house in NJ in which they were fairly happy. At least, they didn't have to contend with neighbors who resented her husband's practicing (something their son never comprehended, as rich people often payed lots of money to hear the husband play at the Metropolitan Opera). They accumulated a lot of cats, which didn't help health conditions much. As a result she shuttled back and forth between hospital and their house and, eventually, a nursing home. For some reason, the nursing home tried to charge over $110,000 for a year of care and, when this wasn't paid, sent her back home. A few days later she was found dead by her husband in the morning.
She was cremated and her ashes (placed in a wooden box) formed the centerpiece for an informal funeral service not far from the house she had loved. It was attended by a mixture of brass players and Chinese in-laws of her eldest son, along with a few assorted friends. The son, meanwhile, puzzled over the painful yet valiant arc of his mother's life and found no answers regarding the fairness of life or lack thereof. The son wishes his mother had been able to experience just a tiny bit more in the way of joy and success, but he also acknowledges that she was largely content with what she eventually had and never really wanted much else. He thought also about whether there was anything he could or should have tried to do in the weeks and months before she died, but there too nothing came to him.