My grandmother was one of the most important people in my life. When I was born, Grandma was 48, which seems so young to me now, but she was of the era when women started looking old by the time they hit 35. The mother of two sons, I was not only her first grandchild, I was a girl. Grandma treasured and adored me and I returned her love with every ounce of my being.
Her home in Sewickely, Pennsylvania was my idea of heaven. It was immaculate, perfectly organized and well-stocked with homemade nut or poppyseed roll, pizzelle cookies (which originated from the Abruzzo region of Italy, where my grandfather – her husband – was born), and all the fixings for elaborate ice cream sundaes. My divorced single mother of three was so busy working multiple jobs, returning to school to earn her Bachelor’s and then Master’s degrees, struggling to make ends meet, dating, and getting us through school that our home was chaotic, messy and usually absent almost any parental oversight. The order of my grandmother’s home made me feel safe and calm. Now that I am a middle-aged woman and homemaker in my own right, I try to emulate her.
As I age, I appreciate my grandmother in new ways.
Her parents were poor immigrants from somewhere in the Austria/Slovenia area, and her world was limited in more ways than I can imagine. She had to drop out of school at age 12 to work as an au pair for the children of wealthy families in the area. It was the only “career” or expression of her intelligence, creativity, ambition, or self worth that she ever had, other than housekeeping and working as a crossing guard. I took high school, college and a year studying abroad for granted, but despite her intelligence, determination, strength and myriad abilities, she saw them as unattainable privileges.
It is heartbreaking for me to think of how she must have felt — muffled, stifled and unable to fully blossom. When I see these photos of her as a young, beautiful girl, my heart melts and I want to take her under my wing and give her all the opportunities she never had.
Nearly all of us have grandmothers who were thwarted by the world in which they lived. Even if they had wonderful and happy lives, they were often denied education, inheritances of money and or property, and opportunities for personal, creative and professional expression. If my grandmother lived in the world I grew up in, I think she would’ve pursued a big career. As my Dad liked to say, she was “strong, like bull.”
I love thinking of her. She took great pleasure in beating her grandchildren at Chinese Checkers, Monopoly, or Gin Rummy, showing no lenience for our youth, lack of experience, or our tendency to whine. If she’d met my husband, she would’ve adored him, and he would’ve made her laugh, just like Gumdaddy did. She introduced me to the soap operas Days of Our Lives, and The Guiding Light, which she had followed since its days on the radio. If we were out shopping (an activity for which her endurance was legendary) and one of the soaps was airing, we’d head for the TV department and stand and watch, so as not to miss an episode. She loved sweets, and always had a box of something fancy on the highest shelf of her bedroom closet.
Despite a six-year battle with cancer that she waged alone after her husband died, she never failed to find the energy to make homemade nutroll for me when I visited. Grandma had a bench swing in the backyard and I’d lay my head on her lap as we sang “My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean” and other heartbreakers. Despite trying to teach me how to knit and crochet countless times, she often had to unravel and redo all my work because I never stayed focused enough to count my stitches.
Dining out was never enjoyable for my Grandma because she knew she could make everything better at home, and for less money. She loved to laugh. One night Gumdaddy came home and turned on the black and white TV to find it was in color. His wife – my grandmother – had saved up all her winnings from her weekly poker game with her girlfriends and purchased a color TV for her husband and had it delivered as a loving surprise.
Growing up, her family was unable to provide well-fitting shoes so Grandma had horrible, painful problems with her feet and had several surgeries on them over her life. Her hands were so strong from a lifetime of cooking and cleaning that when she held mine, she unwittingly nearly crushed them. We both had the same favorite cake: angel food with chocolate frosting.
Tell me about your grandmother – what do you miss the most about her?
A few links I hope you enjoy:
Did you see The Great Gatsby? I did and here’s the trailer. My grandmother lived in those times, and I wish I could talk with her about them.
NPR is offering the entire soundtrack for The Great Gatsby here. Wow. You won’t recognize Back to Black, and I loved Florence + the Machine’s “Over the Love.”
A great review of a book about the pioneering female journalist of the Victorian age, Nellie Bly.
A great reminder to claim what you love about yourself. For me? I love that I am always trying to learn something new.
I love coffee, and I love Jerry Seinfeld. Here, I can have both.
A sad, but incisive story about a beautiful home and failed marriage.
I will never stop missing my Grandma. XO