Friday, February 14, 2014

90 years young

Today is a very special day for a very special person in my life. My paternal grandmother and sole surviving grandparent turns 90 today. This woman astounds me. She lives in the upstairs apartment of a 2 family house, alone, in Brooklyn. Up and down she goes, with her cart to the grocery store. She walks to church, however many blocks away. She cooks, cleans and hangs out all on her own. Recently she decided to bring in a cleaning lady, once a month to do the extra work stuff, but other than that, no help.

When I call her, I often get no response because she's out and about, doing whatever a 90 year old does. Sometimes it takes 3 days to get in touch with her. When she calls back, she tells me about all the places she was; some of which include going to Manhattan to window shop at Macy's 34th street, going to a movie or she was at "the beauty parlor."

We were terrified when we couldn't contact her on September 11th. She was already 78 back then. We were eventually relieved to hear she walked back to Brooklyn from Manhattan. Of course, I felt terrible about myself when I did the same thing hours later and felt as if I had just crossed the Mojave, while being 56 years her junior.

She carries a cell phone that she has no idea how to use, but calls me often to ask about this gizmo she heard about on TV. Jason "what's this app they talk about?" or "I see those things on the bottom of the commercial. That's the Facebook you talk about?" 90 years old and still want to know everything she sees. She may not know what she sees initially, but sure as hell understands it when it's explained.

I try to get to Brooklyn to go to lunch with her every so often and as we walk the neighborhood streets, person after person stop to talk say hello and talk to her. EVERYONE says "Oh hi Tess." And she introduces me to all of them the same way, "This is my grandson. He was in the service." HAHA. She says it with this WWII inflection. Of course, she wrote letters to her man while he was serving during the war.

Many years ago we were in Italy together for her 75th birthday. Il Duomo is a church in Florence. The major dome has lights positioned inside the inner rim, hidden from sight. At the drop of handful of Lira (pre Euro days) in a machine, the lights turn on. Being the terrible grandson I am, I tell her that legend states when a person of bountiful faith prays under the dome it will illuminate. She tells me to do it and I remind her that we're lucky the place didn't collapse upon my entry. So she tries, at which point the Lira goes into the machine, lights come on and my poor old Mema thinks she's part of a divine intervention in Italy. In the event you're unfamiliar with Italy, Jesus is really big there. While she thinks she's been touched by the hand of God, I'm in near hysterics and have to leave the church. Later that night, I filled her in on what had happened. She didn't get mad or disappointed. She gave me a whack and told me it's nice not nice to tease my grandmother, especially in church and kissed me because the most important thing to her was the relationship that allowed for that kind of fun.

The presence of hearing aids that she got as she aged have been used a joke that she now has a defense from wet willies from me. Yes, I would give my grandmother wet willies. Don't judge me. It's funny.

On her 65th birthday, the family got her a stripper, which was supposedly hysterical (I obviously wasn't there). When I threatened to get her one again she told me to go ahead; as long as it wasn't the same guy.

She's one of the most generous people I've ever met and wants nothing more than to see her grandkids get married and have kids of their own.

She's in the middle of the pack of 8 other brothers and sisters. She has over 30 nieces and nephews. She can tell you the names, ages, birthdays, wedding anniversaries of all of them; along with all other information, both pertinent and extraneous.

She's about 4 feet 10 inches tall and jokes about shrinking. She's possibly the most adorable person you could know. All of my friends that know her greet her like she's their own grandmother.

I know that 99% of you have stopped reading or just can't appreciate any of this, not knowing her. I know this is out of character for me. But she's 90, healthy, "with it," and so, so, so important to me that I had to let it out. I'm lucky to have her.

Summer of 2011. Not the most flattering picture of me. She hasn't changed a bit since then.


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