Throughout my life, from one decade to the next, I’ve always been so fortunate to have by my side either a grandparent or someone much older than me- a mentor, guide, confidante, and friend offering the perspective and wisdom that only comes with age.
There’s something so healing about being in the company of an elder–someone who has seen life and understands all its challenges and rewards, a subject I wrote about a few days ago in a Blog about my remarkable friend Bud.
And the one person who started it all for me is my maternal grandmother, Essie, known in our family as Nana.
There was nothing old-fashioned about this energetic dynamo–who was physically robust, articulate, and up to date on everything, including movies, music, and fashion. Charismatic and fun to be with, she tended to me and my two sisters with incredible devotion–taking care of us together with my Mom, picking us up at school, helping us with our homework, cooking and baking (her signature crumb cake with yellow raisens being one of my favorites), carting me to piano lessons, sunday school, you name it.
Her arrival at our house was always cause for great excitement. As I write in my upcoming book:
I became jubilant whenever I saw her car pulling up into our driveway, her yellow tortoise-shell purse catching the light.
Sometimes we’d sit at the kitchen table, laughing for hours as Nana quizzed me on American history, afterwards treating me to her fantastic crumb cake or signature Cream of Wheat.
She also played the piano—usually “The Skating Song,” a popular tune in the silent movie days. But mostly, she’d sit on the bench next to me, encouraging my efforts at the keyboard, (and years later, attending all my piano recitals.)
When I was hospitalized in my 20’s for a stomach ailment, there she was, nursing me back to health; a few years later, when my first book was published, she was next to me at Barnes & Noble, smartly dressed, as I signed copies.
And five years after that, we marketed Nana’s shortbread meringue cookies, dubbed “Essie’s Crumby Dessert Squares…The CrumbiestYou Ever Had.” Katharine Hepburn, Peter Jennings, Nancy Reagan, Calvin Klein, and Paul Newman all raved about them, giving her endorsements. They were sold at Bloomingdale’s and led to such newspaper headlines as: “Top Stars Clamoring for More Of Buffalo Grandma’s Cookies.” And: “Cookies Turning A Grandmother Into Rising Star.” There was Nana being interviewed on television and signing autographs! (Just click on the picture that says “Cookie Maker To The Stars” to see my grandmother’s famous fans!)
In short, Nana was remarkable in every way—and with me, every step of the way. Like any great grandparent–she was a protective guide, loving us unconditionally and
teaching us about what was right and what was wrong–how to behave, and what to be careful about.
I’m sure you’ve had a grandparent who you were especially close to, who influenced your life profoundly, and whom you miss.
Years after I’d left home and moved to New York, when my grandmother was in her final years and ailing, she was still no less interested or central in my life. And she would always send her fond regards to another great matriarch I’d met, my down-the-hall neighbor, Pearl, who became, in a sense, my co-grandmother. Pearl is the one of the key stars of my book, an octogenarian who we all nicknamed Granny.
In fact, when Family Circle magazine wrote about Pearl’s influence on all the main characters in the book–they titled it “Granny Down The Hall.” And like Nana, Pearl was always a source of practical advice, laughter, loving support and fun.
As I’m writing this, I can feel the tears beginning. Why? Because I would give anything–anything at all–to have both my grandmother and Pearl at my side in September at the Katie Up And Down The Hall launch party and booksigning. After all, it’s thanks to them that I have a story to tell, coloring it with all their heart and lessons learned.
I can’t believe it’s been 20 years since Nana died, and six since I lost Pearl, because it seems like just yesterday we were all laughing on the phone, playing with Katie, having dinner together, our little family circle complete.
In short, Nana and Pearl were the grandmothers of my dreams….and I miss them both more than I can say.
And so, on this day when I’m thinking about these two great women (and about my fantastic Uncle Jack who, at age 94, sadly passed away today, another incredibly wise and loving friend)–tell me about the grandmother, grandfather, or older mentor of your dreams. How did they enrich your life and what are your favorite memories? .