Happy Mother's Day to all moms out there. Special wishes to my mom, my mother-in-law, and of course my babies' mommy. Hope all of you have a nice day this Sunday.
I've been meaning to write a little something special for my grandmother Grace Teravainen. She passed away at the end of March this year. The Mother's Day holiday was an appropriate moment to reflect about her.
Her hands. As much as she loved to brag about her legs, I'll always remember those hands. Soft and delicate veins protruded like tiny raised branches from the wrists to her fingers. I remember sitting next to her at mass and staring at the rosary bead entwined in her hand, while thinking I wasn't praying enough.
I loved holding Grandma's hand, especially if she was feeling cold - which was often - because she would rub my arm and marvel loudly about how warm I could possibly be. I liked when she would place her arm in the crook of my own. Sometimes when she stood next to me or another loved one, Grandma might just rub one of our backs gently as we observed the family card game or whatever other craziness we were witnessing together.
But don't let those tender images deceive you. Grandma Grace wasn't afraid to give you an unexpected arm grab or jabbing poke in the side with one of those bony fingers if she wanted your attention, along with a comment that sounded something like "hay-eee." I recall those grabs and pokes affectionately.
Grace Triano came from a large Italian-American family that included many siblings, which wasn't unusual back in that time. The photographs of her as a bride when she married my grandfather Allan prove that she was a stunning young woman on her wedding day. She was attractive through her senior years as well.
Grace and Allan tragically lost their first son when he was two years old, though they eventually brought four more boys - the third being my dad - into their world otherwise known as Brooklyn. Based on the many family stories I've heard over the years, I picture a home with four wild animals running around wreaking havoc on furniture and each other's body parts as my grandmother ran closely behind cleaning, tucking the boys' shirts back into their pants, and refereeing by force when necessary. No wonder those legs got so strong!
When finances at home got tight, my grandmother went to work at a bank where she remained for many years. So not only did she bring bacon home, but she cooked it too.
And cook she did. The moments waiting for dinner in her Ocean Avenue apartment were practically torture because it smelled so good and I wanted to eat so bad. As an Italian, of course her gravy was delicious. Manicotti was one of her specialties. But her sesame seed cookies, piled between layers of wax paper in a circular tin, will always be my favorite.
My grandfather passed away when my dad was still in college. After Grandma's boys became men and started families of their own, she remained in Brooklyn where she lived and worked without ever acquiring a driver's license.
After Grace survived a scary break-in of her home, her boys agreed it was best for her to move somewhere safer. She eventually moved to Rochester near my youngest uncle's family. She developed a close and special relationship with my aunt and cousins during her remaining years there, while maintaining close ties to all of her twelve grandchildren.
Grandma always sent a gift or a card on birthdays or special occasions, in which many of the printed words of love were underlined and followed by a thoughtfully sweet message. Despite the distance between our residences, she visited during holidays and other events every year. She came to Vermont for my college graduation and Boston for law school. In fact, I still have the card she gave me back then which is vintage Grandma.
"God has blessed me with wonderful sons and lovely grandchildren. And strong legs." Classic. She also surprised me with a generous gift that she somehow saved to give on special occasions for all of her grandkids.
I made a visit to Grace in Rochester one time and we caught up in her kitchen. She proposed that we have a drink and directed me to her spare bedroom closet where she stashed some hard stuff. She told me to make one of those cocktails I made for her at Rasputin's. "A sex-on-the-beach, Grandma?" I asked caught off guard. "Is that what it's called?" she replied chuckling. That moment makes me smile.
Grandma and my family members share many of the same interests, which is probably not a coincidence. She was an avid reader and an enthusiastic world traveler. She loved a game of cards. ("I could spit," she would say if dealt a bad hand.) She liked to chat and tell stories. But most of all, she just loved her family.
All of her descendants (even her oldest great-grandchild appropriately named Grace Teravainen) have many special memories and stories about our fabled matriarch. However, Grandma's most enduring legacy will be the bond that she fostered among her four surviving sons and their families. While it may be uncommon to some, our tribe of misfits by blood and marriage who live all over the country invent all sorts of excuses to get together as frequently as possible. When we are under the same roof (or large tent for that matter) for whatever the occasion, it's a chaotic, hilarious, and euphoric party full of love.
Grandma, thank you for your role in laying the foundation for this wonderful family in which I've been so fortunate to belong. As my father said after your passing, I hope that you are enjoying your seat at the celestial table where the best card game around is happening. We will miss you and love you always. A la familia.
For a little tidbit of the Triano side of my family, I blogged about our annual reunion in 2009 here: http://waitingforbabyt.blogspot.com/2009/07/reunited-and-it-feels-so-good.html.