Wednesday, November 23, 2011
To the Original Grandma Slipper
To say I'm sentimental is putting it lightly. I love old things. I love to look back at my "collection" of stuff from my childhood and remember all the silly stories that coincide with each item. I get this pack rat mentality from my father, who by the way has more stuff than anyone I know, and my sentiment from my mother, who like me will tear up at anything emotional--be it a wedding, a Lifetime movie, or even a commercial for god's sake. Knowing my love for anything that holds sentimental value, my mom decided to give me something very special this past year--my grandma's ceramic Christmas tree from ages ago.
I didn't expect my body to react in the way that it did last Sunday, as my daughter and I were decorating the house for the holidays. I took the ceramic tree out of its protective box, got a couple of cloths, and began to clean its dusty surface. It had been in storage since 1996, the year my grandma passed away. I found myself gingerly wiping the tree, almost in a reverent way. It was as though I was taking care of my grandma and it needed to be done with tender hands. With each stroke, I began to remember.
I remembered being in her white Skylark as a little girl, and running around Cranston street getting last minute shopping accomplished. All four of us kids, seatbelt-free, hanging our heads out of the windows. I remembered one particular instance, when we were zooming out of the CVS and she almost sideswiped a yellow corvette. There was no apology that would leave her lips, instead her finger went flying out of the window and the Italian curse words flew rampant. The four of us just giggled and thought grandma was nuts.
I remembered walking to the Italian bakery on Federal Hill, getting pizza strips and tea biscuits. The way she would say "Cuck-coo" to us as kids making us laugh every time.
I remembered my sisters and I donning her with the nickname "Grandma Slipper" and laughing every time we called her that. I remembered her belly laugh that brought us all so much joy.
I remembered when I was in Jr. High and she came to live with us. How the moment she had to "remove her bowels" whoever was in the bathroom had to make a quick exit or else. I remembered her cutting all of my brother's jeans into shorts because the weather was warm--and I remembered how he wanted to kill her because he never wore a pair of shorts in his life. I remembered my mom pacifying the living situation between my little sister and my grandma, who never got along the way my older sister and I did with my grandma growing up.
I remembered my brother teaching me to hot-wire the Skylark, and taking it for a drive up and down our dirt driveway. I remembered grabbing the broom to sweep away the tire marked evidence before my parents got home from work.
I remembered playing with her doughy arms, the softness of her body whenever I moved in for a snuggle. The way my small frame fit into her large Italian one. The comfort she always brought.
I remembered my brother telling my mom he was driving down Cranston Street and a car was driving on the wrong side of the road--heading straight towards him! It was my grandma, who was getting too old to drive. I remember my mom having to take away her license, her independence. I remember seeing love between a mother and daughter that was displayed every time they were together. Even through arguments that only mothers and daughters share, there was always that love.
I remember grandma asking me to pick one of her diamond rings to keep, with me choosing the smallest one made only of diamond chips. I remember asking her to tell me the story behind the ring. I remember her telling me how she ran away with Anthony when she was only 16 years old, with the $5.00 grocery money his mother gave him to do the week's shopping with. I remember her telling me how they had no place to go, having to go back to her now mother-in-law's home with their tails between their legs. There was no mercy placed upon these two crazy kids, and an iron skillet was thrown at Anthony's head--scarring his face for life. The year was 1925.
I remember the way she was always cold--the temperature of her home always kept in the 80s. Or when she sat outside at Brandon's baptism party, in the sun, with three blankets piled high on her.
I remember going to her apartment on Cranston Street, with her cooking a pound of pasta for every guest and every meat imaginable could be found in the gravy. I remember having to finish every last bite, so she wouldn't be insulted.
I remember the time I went to visit her, and she flung open the door in absolute disgust. "What's wrong, Grandma?" I asked her. "That god damn Frank upstairs. Calling me to go and have a glass of wine with him. He's just looking for sex, that dirty old man." I remember laughing in absolute hysterics, me being a teenager, and the thought of my grandma getting it on was enough to put me over the edge.
And I remembered my grandma getting sick. And visiting her in the hospital. I remember her wanting to see her "boy" and holding up the picture of Brandon. I remember the feel of her hand on my stomach, which was housing Marissa for a couple more months. "No more after this," she said to me pointing her finger in the way she did at me. I remember her laughter, and the smile on her face as her child, her grandchildren, and her great-grandchildren gathered around.
And I remember having to say good-bye, with tears streaming down my face, my dad literally having to drag my sisters and I away. I remember knowing in my heart that I'd never see her again.
I remember knowing she had died before the phone even rang. I remember my mom being inconsolable. I remember having the most vivid dream I've ever had, and grandma telling me to tell my mom that she was okay.
With every stroke of my hand upon the ceramic Christmas tree, I remembered. I could see the tree up in her apartment, on the little side table with the glass candy bowl that was always filled. "Mom are you crying?" Marissa asked me and being so filled with emotion not one word could escape my lips. I made my way to the bathroom, blew my nose, and told myself to pull it together. My grandma passed away 21 days after Marissa was born, almost 15 1/2 years ago. And I miss her. I miss her stories of the Great Depression. I miss the way she stole all of the sugar packets and napkins at every restaurant we went to. I miss the way she drove us all nuts. I miss her wisdom, that no education provided to her. I miss her at every family celebration, at every holiday get-together.
As I made my way back to putting in the plastic decorations that go in the holes on the tree, Marissa found her way back to me. "Sorry, honey, this tree's making me a bit emotional," I told her. "Can I help finish?" she asked. And together, my daughter and I put up my grandma's ceramic tree. In silence. In memory of a very special lady.
I love you, Grandma Slipper.