On Her Birthday

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.

approach to nannys houseNanny lived 2.5 miles away from our house. I know this because when I was in middle school (and high school) I used to ride my bike there, and my dad made sure we all had odometers for our bikes.

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.

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5 thoughts on “On Her Birthday

  1. I had two wonderful Nannys growing up and Grandmom who was actually our greatgrandmother. When our son was born there were 5 generations representing! Luigi and Michelina lived with us when we moved to Delran in 1961 and what a blessing that was! I have many memories of those strong women and men who helped form us.
    Happy birthday to your Nanny!

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    1. Noticing a family-name trend there! Cool! I have special memories of my Granma as well, but she lived farther away so I couldn’t drop in on her until I could drive!

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  2. This is such a wonderful post! My three little granddaughters live in CO and my husband and I are in NH–I would love more than anything if they could just drop in whenever!

    Barb, I want to thank you–so much!–for tweeting one of my recent blog posts about Finding Grace. I’m not on Twitter (maybe I should set up an account?), but I was told about your tweet by Christina of Filling My Prayer Closet.

    Seeing your picture, I realize I know you (what a small Catholic blogging world this is!). When Lisa Hendey kindly let me post an article about my book on CatholicMom.com back in November of 2012, you were the one person to leave a comment. Thanks for that, too!

    I have signed up to follow your blog via e-mail.

    God bless you!

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    1. Thank you, Laura! Yes, I am reading your book right now. Hands down, my favorite part so far is the section with Mrs. Perlmann’s story. I’m glad that I saw Cristina’s tweet about the book. (I have an ulterior motive as well–I volunteer at the Catholic-school library and am always keeping my eyes open for good Catholic fiction for elementary- and middle-schoolers.)
      My parents live 125 miles away–that’s a lot more than a bicycle trip. I know that my kids miss out.

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