It never fails that when you ride in a car with my grandparents, you’re privy to bickering that has endured for as long as I can possibly remember. Utterances of, “Backseat driver!” from my grandfather, and “Frank, slow down, the kids are in the car!” as my nana grabs the handlebar above her head can and should be expected. It is not nasty fighting. It is hilarious. It is anchored in affection. It is a part of the script that they have written together over more than fifty years of marriage.
My grandparents met at a dance social in the fifties. He is first generation Italian. She is Irish. My grandmother claims he spilled Coke on her, but he contests that particular memory. Personally, I’m in Nana’s camp because, really, how endearing is that? However they came together, they met and fell in love, although both of their parents weren’t enthusiastic about the Irish/Italian part of the whole thing. They married in 1957.
In 1958 my grandmother had my mother, the first of five children. Those five children married and had eight children of their own. On their fiftieth wedding anniversary, my grandfather stood at the party we threw for them, raised his glass and said, “Fifty years ago this morning, my mother came to me as I got ready and told me, ‘Frank, you don’t have to do this.’ Looking around at all of you, I’m very glad I didn’t listen to her.” I once asked my nana what it takes to make a marriage last successfully for so long and she said to me, “When you want to leave, don’t!” At the time, I thought it was funny, but in hindsight, like so much of her advice to me, it resonates.
I spent much of my childhood in my grandmother’s kitchen, stirring lovely smelling things and absorbing knowledge almost as fast as I inhaled her cookies. I could make marinara from scratch by age eight. Nana told me more than once that she wanted me to learn these things NOT so that I could cook for a husband, but for myself. She wanted me to learn to be independent and strong on my own—to be my own advocate. She’s opinionated and won’t hesitate to tell you her views on everything from Sex and the City(“Mr. Big really isn’t good looking outside of that character, you know. I saw him on Law and Order and he isn’t very attractive. I think it’s the mystery.”), to great literature and World War II.
My grandmother and I share a love of Scrabble. It’s our thing together–my grandfather isn’t big on it. My grandmother once joked, “If only he’d play Scrabble with me, this would be a perfect marriage.” Now that she is in Florida for the winter, we play “Words with Friends,” which often leads to hilarious and occasionally confusing troubleshooting text messages and phone calls.
She was right. I was also in a different game. HA!
The alerts that she’s played a word keep me feeling connected to her- she and my grandfather are my touchstones. They’ve been married fifty-five years on my 29th birthday and they are the glue that holds our family together.
I visited them when they came home over the holidays, and I sat at their kitchen table, as I have done so many thousands of times in my 29 years. I remembered the time that I sat watching them cook together and my grandfather told me, “When I met nana, she was 100 pounds soaking wet!” My grandmother playfully swatted him and declared indignantly, “I was not! I was 102!” He patted her affectionately on the butt and gave her a quick kiss. I remembered the times I snuck up behind the kitchen sink when one of them was doing dishes and squeezed the sprayer while the faucet was running. There have been countless games of gin with my grandfather, mancala with nana, art projects, dinners, celebrations… it’s all there. There are so many things that seemed so inconsequential at the time, but now seem poignant and important pieces of our family history and my own. And nana and I? We played Scrabble face-to-face.
I don’t believe in resolutions. I believe in constantly seeking self-awareness, enjoying the world around you, and waking up each day and deciding what sort of person you want to be, just as you make your to-do list of tasks to complete, and I believe in being grateful every single day. It’s entirely too easy to take things in our lives for granted. This year, I’m aiming to wake up each day and give thanks for the important things–even Words with Friends games.