Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Happy 100th birthday, Nana

Today would have been my Nana's 100th birthday. I'm taking a break from writing my first cookbook, even though I shouldn't, because I haven't accomplished much today anyway. I've been uncharacteristically unproductive all day, and even had to go lie down in the middle of the afternoon to have a good cry. I think I feel her absence more this year than any before, as Gram is no longer here to fill the space she left behind, the one that only your grandmother can fill.She cared for us when we were sick, and loved us unconditionally, even when we maybe didn't completely deserve it.

Nana was ahead of her time in some ways, and hopelessly old-fashioned in others. She was a career woman, a nurse, at a time when most "girls" were concerned primarily with marriage and child-rearing. She married my grandfather, a labor organizer, at the age of 36, and proceeded, in sturdy Catholic fashion, to have six children. She raised them pretty much on her own, too, dealing with my grandfather's long battle with Parkinson's disease, the harassment they endured from the McCarthy commission, her own serious health issues, and a houseful of children who were, from what they have told us, a handful. She drove a car one time only, with famously bad results, and walked everywhere for the rest of her life. She said her rosary nightly and always took us to church, after which she would inform us that we could not misbehave, because we were in a state of grace. Tiny lawyers each of us, we would immediately begin negotiating the terms and limitations of said state, and she put up with it all with patience and love.

I wish she had been around long enough to see that I turned out OK, even though I still have a filthy mouth for which I will probably go to purgatory, if not straight to hell as she predicted. I was fourteen when she died, and to say that I was a monster would be a grave understatement. I wish she could see that I made something wonderful out of my life. I wish she could have met my husband, because I think he might have reminded her of her own a little bit. I wish she knew that my sister and brother are my best friends in the world, because we were pretty much beating the crap out of each other around the clock for the last few years of her life, and it made her sad. I hope she knows how sorry we are.

I also wish she'd stuck around long enough to meet Bill. She only missed him by a few months. I wish she could have met the rest of the amazing little people who came along in the next few years, and known the extraordinary adults they've each become. Most particularly, I would have really loved to know what she would have made of Chelsea. Really, what WOULD she have made of Chelsea?

I feel her with me at times. She was there the first time I held Rebecca, and Nicholas, and all of Ami's babies, too. She is there at our weddings, and holds each of her granddaughter's hands if they shake a little when we put her earrings on to help us remember she's there. She's in the kitchen when we cook a particularly delicious Thanksgiving dinner, or a spectacularly atrocious pancake breakfast. She's there if I happen to put on a pair of shorts that may be a little too short, and then take them off again because I hear her voice warning me of the consequences. She was definitely next to me when I helped to deliver my first litter of kittens. She's right here when I look out my windows and know that I'm looking at the same trees she saw when she looked out her own. And, of course, she's here whenever one of us looks at someone dressed outrageously, and exclaims (or maybe just thinks), "Would you look at the getup on that one?". I'm happy that some things we shared have remained the same, even though I've come so far since I last saw her.

She's here when I look at my aunts and uncles, and my mother, and see glimpses of her face, her expressions, and her love for her grandchildren. I see her in my cousins, too, especially as we begin to grow older. I think she would be pleased to know how her family has stayed together, when it's so easy to drift apart.

I hope they have cats in heaven, Nana. I hope Gram is there with you, and Grandpa, and Catherine, and Mae, and that you're all proud of us. I hope they have rocking chairs, and hot cups of tea, and soda bread baked in a cast-iron frying pan, and that everyone gets to take a nap after Days of our Lives. Save me a seat. And a cat for my lap. And know that I miss and love you always.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the beautiful tribute to my mother.
She would indeed be proud of you, as well as your sister and brother, and your cousins.
I'm sure that in her heaven there are white cats and that she often has tea and soda bread. I know that she is with my father and her sister Margaret and with Loretta, and with her brother Leo, all of whom left her far too early. I know she was there to welcome Gram and to thank her for being the wonderful, loving grandmother to you that she was.