Monday, December 2, 2013

A Century Plus Two

My aunt called Thanksgiving night to deliver the news that my grandmother -- Nana, to her seven grandchildren and howevermany great-grands -- had passed away.

She was 102.

It is sad but not overly so. She had declined significantly in the past handful of years. We made a large to-do over her 100th birthday, understandably, but since then, her awareness and clarity were on a steady decline.

I visited her, although not as often as I probably should have, which will now follow me around for a while as a cloud of guilt. I usually took Parker with me, just to brighten up her day. But he seemed to do more for the other more cognizant residents of her assisted living facility than for her.

Conversation was tough, especially the last time I saw her. She was bent over her lunch plate, hair in wisps over her face, slowly lifting food to her mouth to gum at it. Her watery blue eyes, usually so fiery with verve, were unfocused and gray.

I'm not even 100% sure she knew who I was. The past few times I went to see here, there was always a muddle about the distinction between her husband George and her son George, my dad. The stories of both their passing would cross over one another as she blended the details. 

Not that it mattered. Both events were hugely painful for her.

But the Nana I'll remember far longer and with greater affection than the Nana she became is the Nana that had spunk and vigor. The one who would break into song while washing the dishes after a huge birthday dinner party at her house

 "Peg o' my heart! I love you; Don't let us part; I love you..."

I'll remember the Nana who came absolutely laden with gifts at Christmas, both when we were kids and when my kids were kids.

I'll remember the Nana who hosted my brothers and me for overnights. The weekends were always full of fun. I remember trips to the Philadelphia Zoo and Dorney Park. Skating and merry-go-round rides in Fairmont Park. And rides on trolley cars, something three burby boys had never done.

I'll remember the Nana who used to have me for dinner one evening each December, when we'd haul out her tiny artificial tree, decorate it together and raise a glass to sweet memories.

I'll remember the Nana who was there for Easter eggs, pumpkin carvings, July Fourth fireworks, graduations, Christenings, engagements, weddings and cookouts. I'll remember the creamy cucumber salad she used to make. And the birthday cakes that were several stories high. The Christmas poppers. The "kids" table. The Sundays we would go for dinner and then gather around the TV set for The Wonderful World of Disney before heading home. Tupperwares of Pepperpot Soup for Dad, with never enough doughballs. The vacations at the shore, when steamy pre-airconditioned nights were wiled away playing Uno. Whiskey sours and Manhattans. Playing the foil for Pop-pop, who used to giggle with us kids by shorting out the doorbell with a screwdriver in the basement, making her think someone was at the front. Candy-glass taffies. Circus peanuts. Bags of Halloween candies. Chocolate-covered coconut Easter eggs with our names inscribed on them in scripted icing. The time she came to visit us in Limerick and got snowed in for almost a week, leading us all to get a touch of cabin fever.

At 102, there was so much life she had seen first-hand: She would tell stories of old Philadelphia, when snow in the streets would cause residents to haul out sleighs and commute via horsepower. And when a trip to the shore was an arduous adventure that began and ended with long waits for ferries to the Jersey side (no bridges). She saw two World Wars. And tough times during the Depression, when she and her husband and two young children experienced a household budget stretched almost to the breaking point, forcing the reliance on the generosity of the extended family to get by. Civil rights. Kennedy assassination. Space exploration. Construction and destruction of the Berlin Wall. 9/11. All witnessed first-hand.

She was a great-grandmother.

And a great grandmother.

Rest well, Nana. We love you.

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