I am fortunate that I still remember my maternal grandmother after all these years. She died when I was 4 years old. For the first four years of my life, I grew up around her because she lived in the apartment downstairs from us. My grandmother spoke Sicilian and never “learned” English, though her children say she understood plenty. I spent all my days with my mother and grandmother. My mother was born here and though she was fluent in Sicilian, only spoke to me in English. My grandmother only spoke to me in Sicilian, and so did my father, who only arrived in America about 14 months before I was born. So, I learned to speak both English and Sicilian simultaneously. It was always curious to me how I could never speak to my father and grandmother in English because my brain would switch over to Sicilian. And, I could never speak to my mother in Sicilian, only English.
My grandmother adored me. I am sure I was her favorite grandchild. When she went to sit outside on the stoop, she would have me on her lap. She often would come upstairs to our apartment, while my father was working. If my mother got mad at me for some reason, I would run to grandma and she would hold me and tell my mother, in Sicilian, not to touch me or scare me, I was her little doll. It was great having my own body guard.
Often times, I would go downstairs to my grandma’s apartment. One time, I invited her to have dinner with us. She told me I couldn’t invite her, only my parents could do that. I told her no, I was the boss of the house. That made her laugh. Another time I saw her taking some medication. She had a long row of pill bottles on the sink and she was taking a couple from different bottles. I piped up and said, Grandma you should finish one bottle before you start another. I was quite serious with my words and tone. My grandmother had a good laugh over that and I never forgot it.
I remember the day she died. My mother got a call from her brother, who was called to the hospital. He told my mother, when he got there, my grandmother had already passed away. My mother hung up the phone and started crying. She went into the bathroom and sat on the edge of the tub. I walked in and tried to console her. That’s a big job for a four year old. I’m not sure I understood what happened or what dying meant, but I understood the pain and sorrow that had suddenly overcome my mother. My grandmother had had a hard life, but she lived long enough, at 77, to see most of her grandchildren born. I know I brought her a lot of joy in her final years and she left me warm memories I will never forget.
When I had children of my own, I got to relive the joy my grandmother must have felt when I saw my own mother with my girls. She loved them more than anything or anyone. She could never get mad at them. Suddenly, a woman who did not have one ounce of patience, developed the patience of a saint. She could never get enough of her grandchildren and encouraged me to go back to work so she could watch them all day (which I did not do!) I could never hired a babysitter or she would be offended. She hugged them and kissed them all the time and never refused them anything. If I complained about something they did, she would make excuses for them. They could do no wrong…ever. My kids loved her and she made them laugh.
One day, when God blesses me with grandchildren, I am sure I will follow in the steps of my grandmother and mother. There is nothing on this earth sweeter than a grandma’s love.