Saturday, October 13, 2012

Remembering Grandma


Below is a letter I wrote to my grandma, Vincenza D'Anieri, who passed away recently. It is comforting to know that in recent years, I told her many of the things I wrote here posthumously. To all my family- I'd love to hear your individual memories ... Here are mine.

Grandma,

You came from a long line of brave, strong, intelligent and faith-filled women. Today and always I am thankful to be your grand-daughter.

When I look back on your life I feel so proud, and the quiet strength you exhibited through the storms in your 88 year journey encourages me.

Vincenza D'Anieri
From the time I was a little girl, I watched you and I learned about what I should value most in this world. It’s because of you, in part, that my life is rich in love. Like your mother, Great-Grandma LaCapria, you are one of the people who taught me how to love others.

Mother Theresa said “Love begins at home and it is not how much we do, but how much love we put into that action.”

When I was small enough to play queen in your living room on your 1960’s Mediterranean furniture, I followed you around the house telling you cat jokes, and you’d laugh even though you had no idea what I was talking about. Meanwhile you were cleaning and cooking and doing laundry. The care you took in doing household chores was something that I noticed at a young age. Even in your 80’s, yours was the cleanest house I’ve ever seen, and I have always admired your work ethic.

I think I speak for all your children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and siblings when I say that you were the living definition of comfort, and you brought that sense of being home where ever you went. You may have been good at locking the doors-your house was as tight as a fortress-but the door on your heart was always open and there was plenty of food on your table for all of us. I remember hearing your daughters and grandpa tell you a thousand times to sit down, stop serving and eat. About half way through dinner, you finally would.

In fact, you brought us all together as a family through food and took command of the kitchen no matter where you were. We all have our favorite meals that we associate with you. There was something so satisfying and relaxing about sharing a meal with you that you had cooked for us. It could be as simple as French toast or scrambled eggs. When I was a baby it was Maypo boiled on the stove with butter. Even a tuna fish sandwich was something special if you made it. There was your zucchini pie and your cheese cake, the eggplant Parmesan, your Aglio E Olio and meatballs; I could go on and on. You always had an abundance of love for all of us. We were drawn to you and your cooking, so much so, that my children referred to you as Grandma Mmm, Mmm, Good. To this day that’s what they think your name is.

You made a point to have a unique connection with all of the grandchildren. Most of us recall sitting at your kitchen table and telling you the details of our school day. I remember crying at your kitchen table in Bay Shore the week before Kindergarten because I was afraid to start school. I told you that everyone thinks I can read, but I’m just faking and have no idea how I’d ever learn.

That’s just one of the many times that you put my mind at ease, assuring me that I would learn and telling me stories of when you went to school and walked home for lunch. When you started school in the 1920’s, you spoke mostly Italian.

Over the years we have talked about so much. As a child I thought of you as the next best thing to mom and as an adult, I’ve felt even closer to you. I liked that you felt comfortable enough with me to never hold back on your opinions. Even if I felt annoyed by something you said, or was frozen in an awkward pause, I couldn’t stay that way because you had this cute way of reprimanding yourself when you thought that you had crossed a line. You’d say “I shouldn’t have said that. I have some nerve!”

I appreciated your visible effort to treat me like a grown woman grandchild and I value the things you shared about your own life and feelings with me.

You have been a steady presence in my life. You never missed a Grandparent’s Day celebration when I was in elementary school. You’d bring Grandma LaCapria too, and I remember my third grade teacher looking at the three of us and remarking how beautiful it was to see three generations together on Grandparent’s Day. You came to Macy’s with me to see my wedding dress when it was being altered.

This was your area of expertise, actually. You could sew just about anything. You were a talented seamstress, and before you married, you made dresses for Macy’s. In your house in Bay Shore, I saw the sewing machine Grandma LaCapria gave you in the corner of the laundry room. I must have been about eight years old and I asked you to teach me how to use it. Eventually, you took a moment to show me how to sew a straight seam, a zipper, and attach a clasp or button. I picked out some material from your scrap pile and you set me up at the machine to work on my own. It took you about three minutes to make me something as an example, a makeup case I have still. Years later, when I made my first simple quilt, I was so excited to show you my work. When your children were young you sewed at night after they went to bed to unwind. You made your girls’ Sunday dresses and prom dresses and everything in between as they grew up. You could whip up custom made curtains that would be hundreds of dollars if store-bought.

You were not one to put your own personal goals first, so, although you were highly skilled, your primary focus was your family, and you preferred to put the needs of them above all else. When I had my oldest son, your first great-grandchild, it didn’t matter that you were 79 years old. You closed up your house and moved in with me for three months to help care for him so that I could finish my year as a school teacher after my maternity leave time had run out. As a new mother, the support you offered me really can’t be measured. It was a gift of intense love that I will forever cherish. J was a content and peaceful baby because of you and the time you sacrificed to help me.

Mother Theresa said “Intense love does not measure, it just gives.” Grandma, you loved that way and I try to emulate you, but it is hard.

Sometimes a person gets drained from giving, but you never did. You were stoic throughout grandpa’s illnesses, doting on him always. You were there for your daughters when they needed you, no matter how you felt, taking over the cooking and cleaning, the laundry or the childcare, whatever it was that had to be taken care of. You took in your mother and your father-in-law and cared for them in their old age. You stayed with my mother when she was sick last year offering support in your quiet, small ways even though you were 87 years old.

In recent years, we talked a lot about cooking and I recorded many of your recipes in the book you gave me as an engagement gift. Each one came with a story- stories that fed me as much as the actual food we cooked, giving me a sense of roots and heritage. You showed me how to make one meal last multiple days when we made Italian Wedding Soup. We’d talk about Grandma LaCapria and your life as a child, how much you loved your brother Rocky and sister Angie. You shared how excited you were when Angie was born- she was like your baby too. You’d talk about your feelings as a mother raising four girls in the 1950’s and 1960’s, admitting that you were far from perfect. “I was a very nervous mother,” you’d say, a feeling that I could relate too. “It was almost like two separate families,” you continued, “because Margie and Sandy were a little older and then we had two babies again, but we were so happy.”

Mother Theresa said “We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop.”

Grandma, the things we did together were small. Like watching the Turner Movie Classics or "Murder She Wrote" on television and then falling asleep on the couch. But if Judge Judy, Julia Child and Mary Poppins appeared before me and said, “Loren, you keep a nice house and you’re a good mother,” or “You’ve become a good cook,” those compliments would not hold as much weight as they did coming from you. Coming from you, those compliments where individually wrapped gifts I’ll hold in my heart forever. I adore you and I trust you. You were beautiful, timeless and good-inside and out.

Grandma, your life affected four generations. We know how to be strong and good people because you showed us how to love through your actions. Thank you.

Love Always,

Loren

Also below is the last recipe we shared this past August- Chocolate Mint Cake. It was actually the first time I've given her a recipe that was mine. Usually it's the other way around. I cut her a few chocolate mint leaves that I'm growing in my pop-up greenhouse. She took them home with the recipe, but I forgot to ask her how it turned out. I felt bad this morning when I was watering the plants in the greenhouse and realized I couldn't call her and ask her how her cake came out.


So, my daughter and I clipped some Chocolate Mint leaves and made the cake together. Here is the recipe below. The cake is very good.

Chocolate Mint Cake

Ingredients:

1 1/2 c. cake flour, sifted
1 c. sugar
1/4 c. cocoa
1/2 tsp. baking powder
2 tbsp. chopped chocolate mint leaves
2 eggs
1/3 c. butter, softened
1/2 c. water
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spray a 9x13 inch pan with non-stick spray and dust with flour. Combine ingredients in order listed. Bake for 30 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes. Sprinkle with powdered sugar and garnish with chocolate mint sprig.






4 comments:

Debbie said...

My mom was the best always kind and helpful to others. She was very independent even at 88. She loved her family and we knew it by her actions and the love she put into everything she did for us. You always knew you could talk to her about anything and she wouldn't tell a soul if you didn't want her to. She would say,"I won't even tell myself". She fed everyone who walked through her door. she took care of my dad's mom through lung cancer, my grandmother through stomach cancer and my dad through all his illnesses. She took in her nephew when he needed a place to stay. She was truly a loving giving person and the best mother anyone could ever ask for. I miss you mommy and I will love you with all my heart forever.

Loren Christie said...

love you Aunt Debbie and thanks for commenting here.

Putz said...

OH OH OH, HOW I LOVE ALL YOU WONDERFUL ITIALIANS>><<>EVEN THOSE THAT KISSED MY WIFE ON THE LIPS ON OUR WEDDING DAY<><>I THOUGHT I HAATED THEM FOR GETTING DEEP KISSES FROM MY WIFE BEFORE I DID, BUT I GUESS YOU DO KNOW ABOUT THOSE ITIALIANS DON'T YOPU LOREN????

Loren Christie said...

No I don't know any like that and I married an Irish guy.

Dear Internet Traveler,

Welcome to my writer's blog, started about six years ago for fun. Over time, the writing I have posted has ranged from personal reflection, to Long Island history research, to tall tales for my own amusement, to feature articles for local newspapers. As you can see from topics listed here, I travel in many mental directions in regard to interests. Click on the tabs and labels to explore my strange mind which senses that you may be having a criss-cross day. If so, perhaps this blog will distract you. However, please note that if you tell me my blog is beautiful just to get me to advertise rhinoplasty surgery and cheap drugs from Canada in your comment, I will ask the gods to give you a tail that cannot be concealed.

Fondly,

Loren Christie

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