This photo is of me, my mom, my nana, and my great nana, sometime in 1982 I’m guessing. It’s one of my favorite pictures of all time because it has all four generations on one couch. I still make that face sometimes.
I don’t remember much about my great nana. She passed away when I was 9 and spent many of the previous years in a nursing home with Alzheimer’s. I do know that she used to live downstairs from my mom and grandparents when my mom was growing up. She and her nana were the best of friends and used to hang out all the time. When my mom got older and moved out, they kept in touch with phone calls, letters, and visits. I could always tell by the way my mom spoke about my great nana that she was her favorite person in the whole world and that she looked up to her. I can’t imagine how hard it must have been for my mom when great nana finally passed away because she lost a grandmother and a best friend all in one shot.
When we moved to NJ, we moved into the upstairs apartment in my grandparents’ house – the same apartment that my mother grew up in. And now MY grandparents were the ones living downstairs. My nana and I had a spectacular relationship. We (and my grandpa) would spend every Friday night together watching TGIF – Full House, Family Matters, Step by Step, Just the Ten of Us. We would lay in their beds (they were old fashioned and had twin beds that were pushed together!) and talk and laugh and just have fun being with each other. I would tell them about my day at school and my friends while I braided the few strands of hair my grandpa still had left.
I used to wake up at the crack of dawn on the weekends and watch the clock until it was 10:00 so I could go downstairs and hang out with nana. I would spend all day down there with her, doing who knows what, but it was wonderful. My grandparents didn’t have cable, so we watched a lot of Bob Ross and often talked about wanting to take up painting ourselves (it never happened). We would play make believe and pretend to be rich ladies who lived in a mansion and passed the time by having our servants bring us things. She had diabetes, so they never really had snacks, but she used to cut up apples for me and put them in a bowl with a little water and some cinnamon. She would microwave them for a few seconds, just to get them warm, and it was like heaven in a bowl.
I was 11 when my nana died. I can still remember sitting in the living room upstairs with my mom and hearing my grandpa banging on the railing in the back hallway while yelling my mother’s name. We both ran and seemed to fly down the stairs. I peeked into their apartment from the stairs and saw my nana laying back on her bed as if she had been sitting on the edge and fell backwards. Her eyes were closed and it looked like she was sleeping. She went into cardiac arrest while getting ready to go out and died instantly. My mom shooed me out of there and back upstairs. We drove to the hospital later that night and when my mom went into the room to say goodbye to her mother, I asked if I could go too, but they wouldn’t let me. I was too young. It would be too scary for me to see my dead grandmother. I don’t think any of them realized that I had already seen her earlier that afternoon.
My nana was the kind of woman who always looked well put-together even if she was staying in. My mom valued comfort over style at all times. Both of them would speak their minds freely even if it meant being the odd one out (this was the source of many of their arguments, I imagine). Neither of them went to college, but they both valued education and always pushed me to do my best. They were both kind and loving, excellent mothers and wives. They were independent and stubborn and did the right thing even when it was hard.
I grew up with these strong women surrounding me, teaching me to be like them even if I didn’t realize it, even if THEY didn’t realize it. Sometimes I stop dead in my tracks when I hear my mother or my nana come out of my mouth. I wonder when it happened. When did I become like them without even realizing it? It’s a good thing. It makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside because I always looked up to them and wanted to be as kind and beautiful and smart and confident as them. I don’t think I’m even close, but I strive to achieve all of those things every single day. I hope more than anything that I am making all three of them proud.