I was closer to my maternal grandmother; no surprise where I come from. In my family, the women tended to stay closer to their mothers’ family than their fathers’. We lived with my mother’s parents for many years, in an upstairs/downstairs house in Paterson, NJ. Sunday dinners were a given. Even after we moved, we saw them weekly, at least. Gads, I love them so much. And I miss them everyday.
My dad’s parents were a little distant with us. Things were more polite in Nonnie and Grandaddy’s house. We visited for an hour or two, and then went home to run wild. My two girl cousins (daughters of their daughters) lived next door and a couple of blocks from these grandparents, and most likely had the same kind of relationship I had with my mother’s mother. At birthdays, they got specially selected gifts (probably orchestrated by their own mothers, I realize as an adult) and I got a card with cash in it. I’ll never forget the doll my cousin Susan got for her birthday one year.
I fell in love with this doll, and wanted one so badly. But my birthday had already passed, and it was too late. I wasn’t a sulker, but I was all of maybe seven and I’m pretty certain my tremendous grief over this doll was apparent all over my adorable face. That day, days, weeks later, I can’t remember anymore, my Nonnie slipped me a $20 and told me to buy the doll.
For all I know, my parents had given her the money and told her to say it was from her, but I don’t think so. Nonnie had no money of her own, so she had to have taken it from somewhere without my grandfather knowing (he’d never have given it to her–another story for another time, and not as bad as it sounds. Honest.) I’ll never forget that burst of light inside my little-girl heart the moment she gave me that $20 bill–she really did love me as much as she did my other female cousins.
I don’t remember spending many occasions alone with with my dad’s parents, there were probably more than I recall, but I do remember that Nonnie and I would always have tea together in special cups. “One day,” she always told me, “these will be yours.”
“One day” came shortly after my first husband, Brian, died in a motorcycle accident, a month before our second child was born. Nonnie had a bad heart, and things had been going downhill for her for some time. She was in the hospital when Brian died. When she got home, I went to visit her. She’d been told “Don’t make Terri cry!” And how hard she tried to hold it together when she saw me, my sweet Nonnie. She took my hand and squeezed it, tears welling but not falling. I hugged her and told her it was okay to cry, but she still didn’t. She’d promised.
Nonnie died shortly after my son was born. She never got to see him. I was trapped in such tremendous grief and fear for the future, the china was lost in that deep pit I unintentionally sacrificed a year of my life to. By the time I remembered the china, it was long gone. Packed up and sent to Florida for use in my grandfather’s condo there.
Somewhere along the years, my mom told me the significance of that china, and why Nonnie wanted me to have it over all the other cousins. When Dad was in college and Mom was home being the fiancee, she and Nonnie used to go to the movies. The china was a promotion–free piece with every ticket purchase. Nonnie and Mom collected that china together. Nonnie and I had tea in those very cups. And they were gone. Or so I thought.
After Nonnie’s death, my grandfather did what most men of his generation and heritage do–he found another woman. It wasn’t that he hadn’t loved my Nonnie, it was simply that he didn’t know how to be alone. Gertie was great. We all loved her right from the start, despite our loyalties. She was such a sweet person with a little-girl voice and an always sunny personality. When she heard the story about the china, she made it her mission to get it back for me. It took her a while, but while in Florida with my grandfather, she packed it all up and sent it to me. Every piece. See why we all loved her?
Years later, I felt kind of bad that I got all the china. There was so much of it! Mom and Nonnie must have gone to the movies a lot. I sent my cousin Susan the sugarbowl and creamer. It meant so much to her. I should probably send something to Kim, and my sister Karen, too.
This morning, I was feeling pretty sad. It happens, after a weekend spent with family. It reminds me of who’s missing, of who will always be missing, and…I have to get over that. Scrolling through FB this morning, I came across a friend’s post about the china his family used during his childhood, and how he’s collecting it again. It made me remember my own china, and the story that went with it. The story bloomed the love out of mind but ever in the heart. I really needed that today. So thank you, Nonnie. And thank you, Lou. Today will be better now.