We called her “Nanny.” (She hated the nickname, but once a little kid learns it, you’re stuck with it.) Today she would have turned 99 years old.
Only two of my kids remember her, though we do have a picture of her with all 3 of them. She passed away when Little Brother was about 7 months old.
Pictured here is Nanny’s house as it looks today (thanks, Google maps!) She lived on the second floor of the tall house in the center of the photo. When I was in middle school, I received my own key to her house. By that time she was recently retired from her job as a secretary in the courthouse in Paterson, NJ–and she was tired of going down the stairs to let us in when we’d show up to visit.
We were always welcome in her home, even unannounced. And she always knew we’d been there if we showed up and she wasn’t home. We started leaving her little notes on the kitchen table so she wouldn’t worry about someone breaking in.
I inherited my grandmother’s supersonic ears. She could always tell when we were raiding the glass bowl of M&Ms she kept on the dining-room table. (I inherited that table.)
I wish I’d inherited her crossword-puzzle skills. Every Sunday she bought the New York Times, removed the magazine so she could do the puzzle, and threw away the rest of the paper. She’d sit at the kitchen table and work on the puzzle while her Sunday chicken roasted and the potatoes boiled. If I rode my bike over there in time for dinner, I got the wings. And sometimes she’d let me take a crack at the puzzle after she’d gone through it.
Nanny’s house was four blocks from the Catholic school where my mom taught and where at least 3 generations of my family (including me, my brother and sister) were educated. Maybe 4. My great-grandfather might have gone there too. On sick days, Mom would drop us off at Nanny’s house, where we’d be set up on the couch with a crocheted daisy blanket and a book to read. (I inherited that blanket too.)
Nanny was a daily Mass-goer and Rosary pray-er. She always went all out in decorating for Christmas–INSIDE the house–right down to the fake snow on the mantelpieces in the dining room and living room. One year for my birthday she gave me a big box of art/office supplies: new crayons, scissors, pencils, stapler, art paper and more. I was thrilled.
Hands down, Nanny made the best roast chicken, mashed potatoes, turnips, and tuna-fish sandwiches (on Wonder bread, with butter. Don’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it.) I don’t ever remember her baking anything, but she knew where the good bakery was, and when she went there, she’d bring you back a lemon cupcake or blueberry tart. You could always find Coke in the fridge and Mallomars in the cabinet, and the Milky Ways were kept in the vegetable drawer.
I miss Nanny, and more than that, I wish that my kids had what I’d had: the chance to grow up with anytime-you-want access to your grandmother.