My grandmother passed away last week after a long life that included a battle with dementia. She was my last grandparent, one of the last physical connections I have with that generation of my family – on either side. The family asked me to give the eulogy at her funeral Mass yesterday and of course, it was my honor. Please take a moment and get a glimpse of my Nana.
She went by many names: Anne, Mary, Auntie Mary, Mom. To my sisters, my cousins and I, she was always Nana. She was our grandmother, a role that I’m pretty sure she relished.
Nana had a long and full life that was lived out entirely in the greater Boston area. She was born in Everett and lived there for the first half of her life. She met her husband, Tony, and they married in 1944. Anne and Tony – or as we knew them, Nana and Grampy – built their dream house in Winchester. And it was a clean house! As I was reminded last night at dinner, you weren’t allowed to touch the walls, runners covered the carpets and plastic covered the furniture. It was only removed on special occasions! She also loved to keep a flower garden with pansies and poppies – and now I know where my mom gets her love of poppies from.
Even though we would see Nana and Grampy upset with each other every once in a while – “Anne, would you come on. Oh be quiet, Tony!” – she loved him dearly. She was devoted to him, which became clearer than ever as she took care of him in the last years of his life. They were married 56 years; a testament to their commitment to the vows they made to God and to each other.
Nana was a gifted seamstress and a hard worker. She spent her entire life working as a seamstress in East Boston. And when she wasn’t sewing at work, she was sewing at home. One of her proudest accomplishments was the Venetian scene needlepoint. It took two years to complete and hung over her mantle. It now resides at the house of her niece, Ann Marie.
Growing up, I just thought Nana did these types of things to keep herself busy. But it was more than that. Nana was someone who showed her love through acts of service. She was making baptismal gowns for the church, rosaries for the missions, or things for craft fairs. I didn’t know this until recently but apparently, Nana made all the costumes for my mom and Angela when they had their dance recitals. Didn’t surprise me. Nana could whip up something like that in no time. What I missed - and what was later made clear to me – is that Nana made the costumes for the entire class. Every year.
She knitted beautiful afghans, four of which were in our house growing up. We used to curl up in front of the TV in the winter with those afghans over us to keep us warm. I took one with me when I moved to Chicago where it definitely came in handy. I even have it with me in the Dominican Republic where it sees a little less use but still serves as a nice reminder of one of the ways Nana showed her love for us.
Nana was always there for us kids. I was reminded yesterday that she used to have 4th of July parades starring all of us. She dressed my sister as the Statue of Liberty, I think I might have been Uncle Sam. In all honesty I still don’t have a clear memory of this but I think the last one took place just a few minutes before we got the call that Austin had been born.
In 1977, my dad was in the Navy and was away until the night before my sister was born. Nana and Grampy flew out to San Diego to take care of me while my mom was giving birth to Michelle. Again, in 1980, my father was away on a 6-month deployment. His ship stopped in Hawaii on the way back, and before my dad came home to the demands and madness of a house with three children, my mother flew out to Hawaii to be with him for a few days. Nana and Grampy came to San Diego to take care of my sisters and me. During their stay, Nana saw, and fell in love with, these trees called twisted junipers. She went to a nursery and bought two small ones, and when they flew back to Boston, she made Grampy carry them on the plane. [INSERT DESCRIPTION HERE IF IT FITS] Then, when they got home, she had him plant them in the front yard. The problem was twisted junipers are warm weather trees. So, in the fall, she had Grampy dig them up and put them in planters in the basement. In the spring, she had Grampy trot them out and plant them back in the garden. The following Fall, she forgot to tell Grampy to dig them up. He knew they needed to come in, but, hey, if she wasn’t going to say anything, he wasn’t about to remind her. That was the end of the twisted junipers.
Personally, I learned a few things from Nana. First, only fools are sure of anything. “Always say, ‘Hopefully’ or ‘I hope’ or ‘God willing,” because you never know what God has planned.” She followed it up with, “You know, ‘The Red Sox will win the World Series some day, God willing.’” This was back in the late 80’s when it seemed the Red Sox needed a miracle. She was a huge Red Sox fan and always had the game on TV and she talked knowledgably about the Red Sox players - past and present. And if there was no game on, the TV was tuned into EWTN. As a shut-in, she attended the Mass on TV every day and participated in the rosary twice a day. That reinforced for me the importance and impact of faith in one’s life. I’m grateful for that.
That is Nana’s legacy. Work hard. Love your family to the end and then some. Be of service. Have faith. Root for the Red Sox.
There’s an old belief that when someone is taken from us, it’s because those who have already moved on to the next life miss them and are calling them home. I suppose Grampy was tired of missing her and has called her home. And now she’s reunited with him in a place where twisted junipers never die.