I was four years old when my grandmother passed away 52 years ago this month. My grandmother, Maria, had 13 pregnancies, but only seven of her children survived. She doted on all of them and her grandchildren, especially me, because I was her favorite. She spoke Sicilian, as she was an immigrant from Italy, and because of that I was bilingual at 2 years old. She lived in the apartment below us, and we spent a lot of time together. If my mother got angry at me for some reason, my grandmother would always “protect” me.
My grandmother was elderly by the time I was born. She was already 73 years old and had health issues. I remember going into her apartment and seeing a low line of pill bottles across her kitchen sink. As she would open various bottles to take out her daily medications, I would pipe up in Italian, “Grandma you have to finish one bottle at a time.” Everyone got a kick out of my saying that.
In the summertime, we would sit on the front stoop, she in a chair and I between her legs, where she could keep an eye on me. As neighbors would pass by, she would have nicknames for all of them, in Italian. Some of those names still stick in my mind: Crazy, the one with the bad back, Baldy, the one who limps, and so on. No one was referred to by their real name. She even had names for a couple of my older cousins that for some reason she didn’t care for; one was called “horse head” and the other one “the bird.”
My grandmother was revered by all her children. The reason being that my grandfather was a alcoholic and would beat her in jealous rages when he would come home from playing cards and find her at the window. He would accuse her of looking for men, but she was just looking for him to come home. As a result of those beatings, she had a few miscarriages. Her children witnessed everything that went on because the 9 of them lived in a four room, railroad apartment. I often heard them say that she would pray that she lived ten years longer than her husband so she could have ten years of peace. She did end up dying almost tens years to the day he died.
My grandmother always took care of her family. She managed the money and purchased a six family house in Brooklyn. She raised her family there and then three of her children raised their families there. I grew up in that building myself. My grandmother also bought jewelry on time. A door to door salesman would come by once a week and she would buy each piece in installments, a few dollars at a time. She bought many pieces of jewelry over the years including, two gold men’s pocket watches, I woman’s gold pocket watch, a large cameo pin, and three or four diamond rings. All of these family heirlooms were left to my mother and passed on to me for my daughter’s, except for the men’s gold pocket watches.
My grandmother was a stay at home mom, but she also worked out of her home. Her children would pick up work from a nearby factory and bring to her. When the work was completed they would bring the items back to the factory. She had a rough life, but by the time I was born her troubles were all behind her. She gave my aunt money to throw her a big birthday party when she was 76 so she could have all her family together. I was only 3, but I remember that party. Everyone was there. A year later, she died.
My grandmother had the most beautiful green eyes. My mother had hazel eyes and my older daughter has hazel eyes. I see my mother and my grandmother in my daughter’s eyes. They have a sparkle and gleam to them when she smiles and a little devilish glint when she is up to no good.
Happy 52nd Anniversary in heaven Grandma. I know she is looking down on us and smiling, but I hope she hasn’t made up any nicknames for us!