Sandra Pimentel’s engrossing memoir, “Blind Acceptance,” starts out with an “Aw, cute!” bright-eyed photo of herself taken in her first year of life, 1942, in Quincy. In a recent phone interview with The Times, she said, “We weren’t baby boomers, those of us born a few years earlier. We were caught in a time of more restrictive mindset, and it took us longer to break through.”
As she speaks in her book about her early, ostensibly happy days growing up with loving parents and a big extended Italian family — “As we children ran around our neighborhood on warm days, the scent of tomato sauce and the sound of sausages crackling on iron skillets spilled from open windows” — she nonetheless felt a “subtle sadness surrounded me in those very early years, but I had no idea then of its origins. I now wonder if it was related to the melancholy that permeates the aftermath of troubled times. I frequently heard stories about what it was like to live with food shortages and through the sacrifices of war.”
Plenty of vintage pictures ornament her story, along with a clean, spare, often poetic style that dips into nostalgia here and confusion there, revealing all the quirks and secrets that accompany a sprawling family of uncles, aunts, and immigrant grandparents. Her eye for detail hatched from memory takes us through her world as if we’re watching a well-paced PBS series: “In 1955, Italian wakes and funerals, like weddings, demanded gestures that might be viewed as inappropriate. It was commonplace to see people crying and screaming — and relatives falling onto caskets, the sign of ultimate respect.”
Friends since middle school, Sandra Pasquale and Paul Pimentel fell in love and married in 1963. Spoiler alert: They’ve been together ever since, sticking it out through the rough times. In our recent phone call, Sandra frequently turned to ask questions: “Honey, when did we move here?” A muffled male voice. Sandra on the phone: “In 2003. We have our kids visiting a lot [six biological, others adopted or otherwise brought into the fold], and all 12 of our grandchildren.” Paul harbors a dream of grouping his offspring in little houses on their Edgartown lot in the spirit of a commune, family-style.
After their honeymoon on Cape Cod, Paul’s career in the Navy took them to Long Beach, Calif., where Sandra, with a nursing degree and a snappy résumé of experience in Boston hospitals, quickly found a job at St. Mary’s Hospital. The adventurous couple made plenty of moves around the country, even as they put down roots as a family. These roots were plenty nurturing, stemming from Sandra’s background in a big, loving clan. Their kids brought home friends, some from unstable homes, who uncannily ended up staying a spell, and healing.
The memoirist keeps the action moving, with Harvard grad Paul’s change to an engineering career in Albion, Mich., the birth of a third baby, rats in their new old house that turned Sandra into an “hysteric,” tornado warnings, friendships, and overt racism in Albion, and other not-so-uncommon melodramas. Sandra started a multicultural social group she called the Melting Pot. Before moving back East again, Sandra mused, “I was sad to leave Albion. The transformation of the little city led us to believe we had transformed a community of de facto segregation that would ultimately become a national model.”
As much fun as this page-turner of a book is to read, things get even more deeply spell-binding when the Pimentels’ take on the foster parenthood of two gangsta-wannabe teen brothers, Frank and Julius. Suddenly we’re in the middle of an episode of the family’s life as fingernail-gnawing as a saga from “Breaking Bad.” But does this stop the Pimentels from taking in other stranded souls and doing whatever they can do be of service? Not hardly.
Even now, in happy retirement on Martha’s Vineyard, the 74-year-old human services manager turned author has jumped feet-first into serving some of our most respected aid groups, such as Healthy Aging Task Force and Community Services, or hosting State Senator Bill Delahunt for the weekend after many years of working with him in Boston in the Alliance Against Racism and Violence. It was this group that first drew Sandra to the Island, when Lynn Ditchfield of our adult-education program invited the community organizer to conduct a workshop for the high school. And, obviously, we know what happens when people start spending time here and falling in love with the Vineyard: They leave less and less until they start calling the Island home.
And while she maintains she and Paul wish to find free time to travel, Sandra Pimentel now finds herself in a whirlwind of author marketing. “Blind Acceptance” has been blindly accepted into many Barnes & Noble branches, she’s scheduled for a book signing in San Diego, and of course, copies are available at our own Bunch of Grapes Bookstore. A reading and signing has been discussed for January.
In this time when so many of us are wondering how we can be of service to our fellow man, “Blind Acceptance” will give you ideas of how to get busy.
For more information, visit sandrapimentel.com.