Monday, January 16, 2012

In memory of Nanny

Lilly sitting on Nanny's lap, 11/13/11
I have written it in my mind a million times.  I have tried to write it here several times.  I have heard and read what my relatives have written.  There are a lot of similarities among the speeches and writings of my relatives.  I think that is the beauty of Nanny.  Here are my thoughts.  Please excuse any seeming randomness as it was written over several days.

Nanny, Nana, Nan, and even Lilly's pet name, Nanny-nini....We had different names for our grandmother  and that makes sense to me now.  Nanny had a very special ability to have a special and unique relationship with all of her grandchildren.  During my Uncle Pat's eulogy for her, he spoke of how each one of us was her "favorite" grandchild.  I know that to be true.  She not only loved each one of us, she was proud of each one of us for whatever our talent or strength was, for just being who we were.  Nanny was our champion.  She may not have been vocal about it to others, but she would tell us that we could do it, even if was a whispered moment after dinner.

But I think that were certain things that Nanny did that we will always remember as "Nanny" moments.  Which of us has not played a hand of cards with Nanny? Whether it was Old Maid or War when we were little, Gin Rummy as we got older or a new game that she was willing to learn from Jeremiah, cards was a Nanny thing.  And the only time Nanny or I could beat Jeremiah at said game was when he was recovering from foot surgery on pain killers!

Being the eldest grandchild and also living so close to her I was blessed to have a unique relationship with Nanny.  I was in her house as a little girl on a daily or close to daily basis.  I remember clearly, Nanny letting me have a sip of the jello before it cooled, climbing into her bed with her and trying to open her eyes, "Are you awake Nanny?"  And this after she worked all night at the hospital.  I don't remember but Nanny would always remind me that I would ask for white macamonies, not red ones and ask why that cat wasn't getting milk on hims cereals.   My Aunt Nancy or maybe my Uncle Pat shared the memory of looking in Nanny's uniform pocket for a mint or a butterscotch.  I remember finding peppermint patties and was it Neccos? tucked in among the tissues.

When my parents had a late night event, Nanny was often our babysitter.  She would make us "hamburgs" with fresh meat from the butcher.  Better than McDonalds she would tell the ever picky Joey.  We would have cantaloupe and vanilla yogurt for dessert or maybe some fruit cocktail.  And if she slept over?  "She's still here" we would shout in the morning!

Fleming birthday parties....I am not sure I can write about them right now.  But I promise I will at some point.  They will never be the same without Nanny.

And will I ever forget the first time I drive Nanny home from one of the boy's ball games in my stick shift car and got stuck on a hill?  Just relax, take a breath.  I know you can do it.  Here's what you do...

When I was in college I commuted to Montclair State and would drive past Nanny's house on the way home maybe once a week.  If her porch light was on, she was up, and she almost always was.  I would go in for a chat and a piece of chicken that she cooked with some red sauce over some pasta.  Maybe a hamburg on toast if she had recently been to the butcher.  I thought you might stop by, so I got a little extra, she would say.  Here, stretch out on the sofa and rest your eyes while I get you a little food.  You must be tired.  


After her open-heart surgery, while I was still in college, I stayed with Nanny at night for a couple weeks when she came home so that she would not be alone.  It was probably the first time I saw her as vulnerable.  However as I drove her to an appointment around that same time, she challenged any thoughts of vulnerability as she leaned over me to honk my horn at a school bus that cut in front of me, shaking her fist out the window at the driver.

I moved to an apartment in Belleville, nearly the next town over from Nanny, when I was 24.  I asked Nanny if I could go to Mass with her one Sunday because I didn't like to go by myself.  She gladly accepted and we would meet at Sacred Heart and afterward we would go back and have some breakfast: some scrambled eggs and taylor ham, again, from the butcher.  When it became cold and icy, I started picking her up and driving her to Mass.  We would pick up her friend Philomena along the way and maybe another lady friend, too.  They would tease me, Driving Miss Nanny, as I drove along oh so carefully in the Cadillac.  It became a tradition, Mass and breakfast on Sunday morning.   I would leave in the early afternoon just in time for her to get ready for her lunch with Mrs. Welsh (Manhattans chilling) or Jerry & Ann.  I was always invited to stay, and sometimes I regret not saying yes, once or twice at least.

The mornings I got home at 2:30am after the bars closed at 2...those were rough!  But I would try hard not to let on.   Sometimes my friend and roommate Colleen joined us for Mass and breakfast.  And when I moved further away to Maplewood, I still went to Mass with her sometimes, but not nearly every week.  Another regret, not going every week, even after moving...

Fast forward....I am pregnant with Lilly.  I used to call Nanny and give her the updates on what was happening.  "The baby is the size of a lemon Nanny!  She or he has fingernails and fingerprints.  I can feel the baby moving!"  I asked her to come to an ultrasound with me.  She met me there since it was right up the block.  When I told the tech that she had been a baby nurse and had delivered babies herself she asked nanny if she had seen anything like this.  No, nothing like this! And the u/s tech showed Nanny all the details, even though I was only there for a quick check-up.  It made that very special time all the more so.

And watching Nanny rock my Lilly and sing to her, probably the same lullabies she sang to her children?  It brought me to tears, always.  Most of the pictures I have of Nanny in the past 3.5 years do not have me in them because I wanted to capture the moments with Lilly.  They had a very special relationship.  Lilly was her doll baby.  I made an album for Nanny with pictures of Lilly with her and I titled it: Nanny and Lilly, A Love Story because theirs truly was.  How telling it is that Lilly, though sad that she will miss Nanny, is not afraid that she is not here because she knows that she is with the angels.  I have a feeling Nanny herself let her know.

It was hard when Nanny moved.  She would call me and say Mel, I am so lonesome for you.  And for Lilly.  Can you come visit one day after work?  Maybe soon you can come for a visit.  And I would have to remind her that I could not go to PA after work.  That it was too far for a weeknight visit.  Remembering that makes me so sad, wishing I had visited more often.

I know that Nanny was not perfect.  She may have been the queen of the backhand compliment.  As she grabbed some fabric from the seat of my pants, "You look good now that you lost some of that weight!"  (Obviously not a recent comment!)  But I believe she never meant it unkindly, that she really did mean the compliment part of it. But I was reminded, again by Uncle Pat, about something by which Nanny lived.  I have found that in my own life I have struggled with this, and Nanny would occasionally gently remind me of her motto: Is it true? Is it necessary?  Is it kind?  Since the birth of Lilly in particular, I have really tried to live that, without even putting those words to it, just knowing that I wanted to become a better person in that regard.  I don't think I have heard Nanny say those words in many years.  But I now hear her voice saying them in my head every day.

And my mom reminded me of Nanny's love for the Infant Jesus.  Lilly and I say the prayer she has taught all of us about the Infant Jesus.  And Nanny believed in bringing your problems to Jesus.  Just say a little prayer Mel.  He'll tell you what to do.  Another word that was used to describe Nanny was forgiving.  I know she had a forgiving spirit.  She had a difficult life for a very long time and she did not let it get her down.  I don't think you can live, in spite of all the problems like she did, if you are not forgiving.

It is true that the secret to my meatballs was learned from Nanny, but, as delicious as they are, she taught more important lessons by the way in which she lived her life.  Only speak words that are true, necessary and kind; pray daily to the Infant Jesus and bring your problems to Him; forgive.  

You know what though?  I am so glad I learned how to make meatballs like Nanny.  I am especially grateful I learned by watching her oh so many times.  But Nan, how do you know you've added enough? You can feel it Mel.  Feel it with your fingers, like this.  Her fingers putting some meat in mine...touching my fingers with hers.

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