#Worth Revisit: On Her Birthday

On what would have been her 101st birthday (and she’d be furious at me for divulging her age), a tribute to my grandmother, revisited from 2 years ago.

word by wordI wrote more about my grandmother in my chapter of Word by Word; her witness was a huge influence in my life.

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.

Nanny 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.

Nannys HousePictured here is Nanny’s house as it looks today. She lived on the second floor. 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.
worth revisit

I’m linking up with Reconciled to You and Theology is a Verb for #WorthRevisit Wednesday, a place where you can come and bring a past & treasured post to share, and link up with fellow bloggers!

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Book Review: Yes, God!

Yes God by Susie LloydI’ve long been a fan of Susie Lloyd’s work (how can you resist a book titled Please Don’t Drink the Holy Water?) Anyone who’s a parent can relate to the tales she tells of her kids’ shenanigans.

In her latest book, Susie uses her famous sense of humor and encouraging style for a different purpose:  to inspire vocations to the priesthood and religious life.

I think she’s on to something here. The point she makes in Yes, God is that regular, everyday families can raise children who grow up to do extraordinary things for the Church and the world.

Each chapter in this short book contains a vocation story, a family story, a prayer, and Susie’s own commentary on the stories told by 5 young priests and 5 more young Sisters. These are not old stories about senior citizens; they focus on recent vocation stories.

Susie celebrates parents who say “Yes” to duty, affection, strength, spiritual poverty, tradition, the greatest commandment, generosity, humility and patience–in the regular, everyday circumstances and events of their lives. Even as the stories are told, you see Susie’s trademark sense of humor shining through in the telling–and you’ll find it in her encouraging reflections as well. Here’s an excerpt from the chapter on Generosity to illustrate:

How could I relate to Father’s parents, who worked so hard that I get tired just reading about it? Don’t they seem a bit like those saints written about long ago, who were born fasting? I don’t know about you, but I automatically separate those saints out in my mind as more angelic than human. I can’t relate. Therefore, I can’t imitate. Please, Lord, hold me excused.

For the record, I’m not above leaving this book around where one or another of my kids might take a peek inside. It couldn’t hurt, right?

Say “Uncle”

Tomorrow I will head “up north” to attend the funeral of my dad’s oldest friend, my brother’s godfather, “Uncle John.” They’d been buddies since the first grade.

Uncle John was one of only two people whom we called “uncle” although they were not blood relatives. The other is my godfather. I can only guess that this is because my dad considered both of them to be as close as brothers to him.

When I think of Uncle John, I think of laughter. He found joy in the simple things–his family, his friends, a backyard picnic, a funny joke, a childhood memory that he’d spin into a story that would leave everyone in tears from laughing so hard.

kuvaszWhenever Uncle John told a story, you were never quite sure if he was serious. On a whim yesterday, I looked up a dog breed that he’d frequently referenced. I don’t know why he talked about this type of dog so much; maybe he just found it fun to say. But in the back of my mind, I always thought that he’d made it up. Turns out that the Kuvasz really does exist. That makes me smile.

Uncle John had the biggest heart of anyone I know. I’m sure that Aunt Mary, and his children and grandchildren have a huge treasure of happy memories of Uncle John. I’m sure that most of them involve lots of laughter. I pray that these happy memories will console them in their grief. Uncle John was one of a kind, and I am blessed that my dad knew him as a friend and an honorary brother.

Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and may perpetual light shine upon him. May his soul and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.

Read While You Eat

Little Brother on “Dress Like a Cow Day” 2010

My mom just called to tell me a story she heard from my great-uncle when she visited him earlier today.  During World War II, Uncle Leo was in the service (I guess the Army; the family just refers to it as “the service.”)  I knew he’d been stationed in Japan, because he used to sing us songs in Japanese that he’d learned during the war.

“Did you know,” she asked me, “that Leo was stationed in Atlanta during part of the war?  And when he was there, he worked with a man named Truett Cathy.  He even sent Leo one of the books he wrote.”

The name sounded familiar, but I couldn’t think of the titles of any of his books.

Mom told me that Uncle Leo and Mr. Cathy had stayed in occasional touch over the years, through phone calls or letters.  Then she mentioned the reason the name sounded familiar:  he’s the founder of Chick-Fil-A.

We’re big fans of Chick-Fil-A.  Good food, great service, unfailingly polite staff, impeccably clean restaurants, and a business that’s not afraid to close on Sunday–those things impress me.

When I got off the phone, I was telling my husband about how my uncle knew this man.  As soon as I said the name, Little Brother piped up from the other room, “The guy who invented Chick-Fil-A?”

TheDad turned around and stared at Little Brother.  “How did you know that?”

“They have a whole wall about him in Chick-Fil-A,” Little Brother responded.  And apparently he’s read the whole thing.