One of my earliest and fondest memories as a child was staying with my grandparents and waking up in their home on Sunday morning.  As soon as my eyes opened and I was awake it was the smell that caught my attention.  It was the aroma of fresh coffee percolating and spaghetti sauce, or gravy as Nana always called it, cooking on the stove.  I loved coming downstairs to the kitchen.  My Nana would be fixing breakfast for my Grandpa while simultaneously preparing Sunday dinner, which always included something with that amazing gravy.  Most of the time she had prepared the gravy the day before and was now re-heating it for later in the day.  She used to cook that gravy for hours!  Maybe that’s why mine never tastes quite as good as hers did.

A big treat for me was when she would pour me a small cup of coffee, an inch or so of it into the cup, and fill it the rest of the way with milk.  She let me add a teaspoon or two of sugar and I got to stir it myself.  It tasted like heaven in a cup.  I’m not sure if it was the smell, the taste, or  because it came from my Nana, but this is where my love affair with coffee began.  This was a ritual that went on for years, well into my teens and was a treat reserved for my time at Nana’s.  My mom would never let me drink coffee at home.  Every time Nana set the coffee cup in front of me she would say, “Don’t tell your mother I let you drink coffee!”  My grandfather would peer over his Boston Herald newspaper and wink at me and tell my Nana to give me another cup if I wanted it.   After the coffee and some cereal, another treat was being allowed to take a piece of fresh Italian bread and dip it into the gravy.  And, if she made them, I’d get to eat a meatball before anyone else.  I’ve never quite been able to replicate those meatballs either.

Sense memories.  I have so many that connect me to my Nana, like how she smelled of Lady Esther face cream every time I hugged her or how the inside of her purse always smelled like Juicy Fruit gum.  So much of my life and so many of my memories are connected to my grandmother.  She was my best friend growing up and it occurs to me that I can’t remember a time in my life when my grandmother wasn’t there.  I recall countless hours of her rocking me and stroking my hair, caring for me when I was sick, and taking me visiting or “calooping” as she called it in her beach wagon (translate, station wagon).  I even went to work with her in the summer when I wasn’t  in school.  I adored my grandmother.  I mean, what teenager forgoes a Friday or Saturday night out in order to hang out with their grandmother?  This one.

When I grew up, married and had my first child, we rented the apartment downstairs from my grandparents.  My grandmother and I developed another ritual.  My husband wasn’t home very much (that may be a topic for another blog post), and just about every evening  after I put my daughter to bed, Nana and I would have tea and toast.  I remember that it was always Salada tea.  Part of the ritual was that we would read the little bits of wisdom that were printed on the tags of the tea bags.  Nana was always bemused by what hers or mine would say.  She always viewed them like one would the message in a fortune cookie.  And then she would get the bread, always Italian, and put it in the toaster.  “Let’s see if I can burn this for you,” she would say.  I loved dark, crunchy toast.  We would sit there and talk for an hour or so about all kinds of things. It was around this time that my grandparents began going to Florida for the winter and I would count the days until she would get back so we could talk and have tea and toast in the evenings.

I moved away some years later but my grandmother and I stayed in very close contact.   We spoke on the phone at least once a week and wrote each other letters, back when people used to do that.  It was always such a joy to open the mailbox and see a little envelope from Nana.  Sometimes the letters were written on 5 and dime stationary, and sometimes they were written on lined notepaper.  Whatever they were written on didn’t matter.  They were from her and I would hold the letter up to my nose after I read it, because I could swear it smelled like her.  Every once in a while there would be a five dollar bill or a lottery ticket enclosed in the letter.  Nana always struggled financially as did I, and it was her dream to win the lottery so she could fix her home and help me out as well.

In later years when I moved to Florida and my grandfather had passed away, Nana would come and stay with us for a month or so.  We continued our old rituals, yet now she came to work with me.  I would always find some task she could do in the office and we would chat the day away and talk about what we would make for supper.  She still did most of the cooking with me assisting, fussed over my husband, and my children grew to love her as much as I did.

My Nana died in 2008.  She was 95 years old and up until the last year or so of her life was in relatively good health and sound in mind.  She was a bit superstitious and given to believe in old wives tales, not very well-educated, having only gone as far as the sixth grade in school, but she was wise.  So much of who she was and what she taught me throughout my life remain such a  huge part of who I am today.

So often these days when something significant happens in the world or in my life I imagine what my Nana might say in response.  She had many “Nanaisms.”  One in particular, which was in response to something beyond our control or beyond understanding was, “What are you gonna do?”  It was her version of “Whatever!”  I miss her every day, but especially in times of stress and worry, or when I have a really horrible, no good, very bad day.  At times like that I just remember hearing her voice and advice, particularly this:  “You have to stay strong, Robin.  Stay strong.”

My grandmother never had much in terms of material wealth, but what she gave to me, my siblings and my cousins in terms of total love and devotion are truly priceless.  My Nana thought I hung the moon and it always felt as though I could do no wrong in her eyes.  Her love was for me was unconditional.   Everyone in this world deserves to be loved like my grandmother loved all of us.  And I know it’s because of my Nana’s love for me, and being able to see myself through her heart and eyes, that I know the love of God.


6 thoughts on “Nana

  1. This brought me to tears. I have very similar memories of her too! I got tea, not coffee, and “just a little sugar”. I also remember her letting me do the dishes and making me fried dough and pastina. I think about how happy she would be to see that Liam loves “her” gravy and pastina. I too, think about her often and miss her terribly.

  2. Beautiful post, Robin. As someone who is fairly new to being a grandmother, I recognize in your recollections the kind of memories and relationship I want to build with my granddaughter. Keep writing!

  3. Thanks for reminding me of the memories… I too, like Linds got tears… great job with this one cousin! Nana was one of kind! xo

  4. Thanks for beautifully articulating such warm memories. It allowed me to remember my GG ( Great Grandma-as she-called herself in later years) who quietly, yet deeply rooted me within a foundation of care. I look forward to creating warm memories with my granddaughter.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s