Earlier today, somewhere along Interstate 95 in North Carolina, my mom called to tell me she was on her way with my dad to visit with her mom, my grandma, perhaps for the last time. The call did not surprise me. A couple of weeks ago I received a similar call when my grandma fell and broke her leg. Her recovery from surgery is not going well, and I believe she longs to pass from this earth to rejoin her beloved husband, my namesake, in the great beyond.
Born in 1917, my grandma lived a long, fruitful life. Marrying during the Great Depression, she and grandpa imparted the wisdom of her blue-collar roots to my mom, as well as her brother and sisters, preparing each of them, in turn, to embark on their life’s journey. As the beneficiary of that preparation, I want my grandma to know how much I love her; hence, the letter below which through the miracle of modern technology I emailed off to my parent’s smartphones so they can read it to my grandma when they arrive on Christmas Eve.
Even though I spent precious little time together with my maternal grandma and grandpa, the moments together with them anchor my heritage firmly as a son of the North, and thanks to my paternal grandparents, a son of the South. Perhaps that is why I am so proud to be an American, for no regional tie binds me, but the blood, sweat, and tears of generations of Northerners and Southerners, all blue-collar in origin, working their way through life in search of a better tomorrow.
Upon my unexpected conception, and at my maternal grandparents’ insistence, my dad married my mom four months before assassins bullets took the life of President Kennedy. Afterwards, taking the first step to break free from the poverty of the region, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy. With his decision to enlist, the sailor, who over the span of his naval career rose to the rank of chief warrant officer grade 4 (CWO-4), brought his family along with him from naval base to army post all around the eastern shore, from Rhode Island to Puerto Rico, all far away from the rural region of southwestern New York state where my maternal grandparents, and mom, were born and raised. Honed on that journey, my abilities to succeed in life led me to attend great institutions for college, and to pursue a successful career in high-tech, from which I now stand in service to those of lesser means hoping they may find their way to a greater future.
And now, to honor my grandma.
My first memories of you, Grandma, take me to your and Grandpa’s home in Busti. Washing lettuce we just picked from your garden then sprinkling it with sugar, you found a way for this child to like vegetables! It didn’t hurt that whatever you served, the plate upon which it came was decorated with cartoon characters, making a less known kitchen table considerably friendlier to a little one, or even a not so little one. And let’s not forget the molasses cookies in the cookie jar!
Grandma, you always seemed to be in the kitchen, whether preparing the next meal, or putting together Grandpa’s lunch box for when he left for work late in the day. Your love for all shined brightly through your wonderful bounties. And fortunately, the kitchen stood only feet away from the living room where, snuggled around the wood-burning stove, we basked in its heat as it warmed our noses and toes, especially on those cold wintry nights. When finished in the kitchen, you sat next to Grandpa in your recliner while you and he lamented the latest news on the radio or TV, providing this first-born with precious insight into critical thinking, the old-fashioned way.
Never a stranger to the road, you travelled to visit us in our different home bases, whether in Puerto Rico, South Carolina, or elsewhere. Your presence brought the joys of an extended family to our nuclear one, helping connect us to the families of old. Specific moments escape me, yet the mere act of making yourself available to us at such distance from your home speaks volumes about the goodness of your heart.
Allowing me into your life and home wherever you lived provided me with the opportunity to reconnect with you and Grandpa after living away for so long. Spending a week with you both in Texas after I graduated college made me appreciate time spent with loved ones. It allowed me to reconnect with uncle Frank, aunt Gladys, and cousins David, Bill, and Kim. Bringing my girlfriend, Nancy, who became my wife, along with my boys to visit with you and Grandpa in Ripley helped them experience your kindness and hospitality, as well as the smoked fish in Barcelona, near Lake Eerie.
I love you, Grandma, and am so glad I spent time with you over the years. Whether in person, excitedly opening Christmas presents you and Grandpa sent from afar, or speaking over the phone, connecting with you helped me live a fuller life. While we did not live in the same town, we will always live together in our memories, giggling about a joke we shared, or a moment recalled together. You enabled my children and me to receive the gift of life, Grandma. For that simple act alone, I will always be grateful.
God bless you, Grandma, and may you soon join Grandpa in heaven, where he is waiting patiently for you and your loving embrace.
With love, always,