...Dedicated to Nana
You are listening to Italian Romance music. :)
Written in October, 1999
Like every human being, I have four genetic grandparents but when I think upon the stereotypical relationship shared between grandparent and child, greetings with hugs and kisses, presents, warm smiles, unconditional love, genuine interest in my life, one grandparent in particular comes to mind. My father's mother. My nana.
Nana was the oldest little ball of energy I've ever met in my life. Standing at barely four feet, ten inches, she was the only adult I'd ever stooped over. Every time we'd (my father, mother, sister Jana and I'd) come to visit her in her apartment in New Jersey, Baltimore, or nursing home, her face would literally light up. She'd come swarming at us, tackling us with the most forceful hug she could muster, and asking us all about our lives before the first minute was up. She was forgetful, often asking Dad, "How old are my baby dolls now?" (Jana and me,) and when Dad would answer, she'd gasp, "They're growing up so fast!" I remember a picture taken of my grandpa, Nana, Jana and me in their old apartment in New Jersey. I was probably about eight years old, before I slowly grew taller and she slowly grew shorter. This is the Nana I wish I remembered more, before her Alzheimer's kicked in and she was unable to live on her own anymore.
But so far I've only mentioned the time period of my grandmother's life when I was alive. Truly her own journey through life, through the changes in history, the struggles and successes, is a true story with a good moral. My Nana kept her optimism throughout situations I can hardly imagine.
Grace Mary M was born in Italy on July 20th 1910. She was the third youngest of eight children. Her father, older brother and sister immigrated to America first, and every few years my great-granddad would come back to Italy and take a new child to the US. And every time he'd come back to Italy, my great- grandmother would get pregnant.
Finally my great- grandmother immigrated with Nana, her brother Andy, and her sister Mary in 1916. She was with child, and her daughters were only two and six, her son twelve. When I think about being sea-borne for over 30 days, trying to avoid enemy German U-boats, and a long hard journey to a foreign country where my Nana would spend the rest of her life, my heart goes numb. At six, my grandmother had the courage to do something I still can't see myself doing.
Nana's family moved into New York City and stayed there for several decades. My nana went to school until 8th grade and then worked to provide her family with extra money. She met my grandpa at Mary's wedding and they started dating, meeting by the famous New Yorker Hotel in New York. In my own 8th grade year, I had the privilege of singing with my choir at Carnegie Hall, and staying at the New Yorker. When I saw the old, imposing Grandfather Clock in the building, I could imagine my grandparents, young and alive. They were married in 1947.
For the next several years Nana tried to get pregnant but with no avail, until March of 1955 when my valiant father entered the world! Nana was 45 years old and Grandpa, 51.
They moved to New Jersey when my father was 12 and stayed there until well after I was born in 1983. By that time, my grandmother had been through more history and change than I can imagine. She'd seen two world wars, The Great Depression, the Cold War, and unfortunately the loss of several family members.
My grandfather died in June of 1998 and shortly after Nana died at 88 years old. I'd like to share the eulogy I wrote in her memory when she passed away in January of 1999.
I was born in the summer of 1983, not even alive for the last full quarter of my grandmother's life. I remember going to her and my grandpa's apartment in New Jersey, being fed a hefty Italian dinner and measuring myself next to Nana, excitedly waiting for the day I'd be taller than her. That day came a long time ago.
I remember when she moved with Grandpa to the apartment complex here in Baltimore, shortly after my 11th birthday I believe. Nana greeted my sister and me with a hug and a kiss and always had a jar full of pennies waiting for us. Well, not really a jar, a ceramic piece portraying a boy towing a wagon. The pennies went into his wagon and I viewed this as a sort of ceremony: Jana and I would empty his wagon into our plastic bags and in a few days, the boy's wagon would be filled back up again. I loved that piece.
And I remember, just last summer, when Nana and Grandpa moved to their nursing home. That was the only time I saw Nana upset and I steered clear. I felt some sympathy, and wanted to reach out to her, but I also knew how forgetful she was getting and how dangerous it was for her and my grandfather to be living alone. I was happy to see that a few weeks later, she was adjusting nicely, and that was my nana, easy going and adaptable.
Nana now offered us Hershey Kisses, chocolates and cookies since she could no longer cook. She liked to watch TV, take walks, talk with neighbors, and catch up with what was going on with us. And she'd grow more and more delighted every time we'd tell her the same piece of information.
When Grandpa died, I saw Nana the most upset I'd ever seen her. She would often talk about how she wished that G-d would take her, which I perceived as dealing with a newly formed tear in her life. Now that Nana's gone, I feel my own tear but also some hope. If there was one thing that I picked up about my grandmother, it was that she loved family reunions. She's watched her brothers and sisters bring new family into the world and her nieces and nephews reproduce again. But as these new people filed into the reunion, many of the first generation of family (her brothers and sisters,) have passed on. So when I view her in heaven, I see her sitting at a family reunion with her parents, siblings and husband. I also view some empty chairs at their gathering chairs that will one day accommodate all of us in this room. And when the days come that each of us joins her new reunion, I think she'll grow more and more delighted.
I was alive for a mere fraction of my grandmother's life, but she was alive for all of mine. My nana has made a deep impact on my life: her non-judgmental pride and acceptance of me will be sorely missed. She was without a doubt, the most optimistic and honorable person I have ever met, and she leaves a set of distinguished foot prints in my heart.
Nana and me in 1989.
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