It’s funny how the simplest thing can often trigger a flood of memories.
While checking my Facebook page recently, I came across this post from a friend accompanied by a cute illustration:
"If you were blessed to know your Grandma,
"What is the one thing you remember about her?
"Share if you loved her."
It immediately got me thinking. And remembering. As it evidently did a lot of other people, judging by the over 3,000 comments the post generated.
NANA RAN THE SHOW
I did grow up blessed, having my grandmother, my mother’s mom, with me through all of my younger years, up into college.
I never got to know the man I should have called father. Back then, my family unit consisted of my grandmother, my mother and me — and my grandmother was definitely the head of that three-generation unit.
It was she who paid the bills, bought the groceries, cooked the meals and kept the five-room tenement (as they were called back then) we lived in, running.
Being not even 5 feet tall, and a bit on the hefty side, Nanna — Anna Louise "Annie" Farrell — was everything you’d imagine someone with her Irish heritage to be: hardworking and determined, with a quick sense of humor and a big heart that loved life and the people in it.
The thing I remember most about her? Her expansive lap and comforting arms.
Even when I was in high school, I would often want to sit in that lap and be embraced by those warm, wonderful hugging extensions. Whenever I did, I always came away with the feeling that all was right with the world.
I don't know much of her history. Nana was born in 1891 and lived to be 85 years old. She went only as far as the fifth grade in school, which I guess was common back in the early 1900s.
For that reason, it always amazed me, how she was able to create the most intricate patterns in the doilies and table scarves she loved to crochet. Those are the mementos of her I wanted to keep when she died, and still have.
Nana was married twice. The first time was in 1909, at the age of 18, to a man who too soon left her a widow with two young daughters.
She also had a son who died in childbirth. At 30 years of age, she married a second time, had another daughter and son, and was again widowed at the age of 34. Not a particularly easy life. But I’m sure it was what made her the strong person she was.
WALKED TO WORK
My nanna grew up, as did I, in Fall River, Mass., a city mostly known for accused ax-murderess Lizzie Borden.
I remember skipping rope as a youngster (something today’s younger generation no longer seems to do) to a tune all youngsters there grew up learning:
"Lizzie Borden took an ax, gave her mother 40 whacks;
"When she saw what she had done, she gave her father 41."
Lizzie was never convicted of that crime, which happened in 1892, the year after my grandmother was born.
Besides that sensational crime, back then Fall River was also known for its textile mills. That’s where my mother and grandmother were employed, on assembly lines.
We had no car, and they happily walked the couple of miles to work and back every day, in every kind of weather. Bringing home a paycheck, as meager as it was, was important to them.
So many wonderful memories of my grandmother will never leave me.
Of her sitting and rocking back and forth in her favorite rocking chair — whose worn cushions I later had reupholstered and now own.
Of the special Irish foods she would prepare, like beef-and-kidney pie (with thick, to-die-for piecrust.
Sunday mornings, she never missed walking to the Catholic church for its 7:30 a.m. Mass; then she'd come home and start preparing an early Sunday dinner for us, and often my aunt and her family.
It wasn’t until I was in college that I realized what hard work she was doing, and insisted on taking over her task of cleaning up all the dishes afterwards, so she could take a rest.
Although Nana made friends easily, I can remember some who were a real embarrassment to me as a teenager. Often I'd come home from school to find one of them, a destitute lady named Ruth, at our house.
Though we did not have much, my nanna would insist on giving her whatever food and other things she could, all the while listening to Ruth's sad stories.
Now that I think about it, she was probably giving that friend something else I found hard to recognize back then at my young age: hope.
My husband, Denny, also an Irishman, used to enjoy kidding Nanna. When we were newly married and living in Jackson Heights, in Queens, my mother and grandmother came to visit us.
We were taking a bus trip to Expo 67 in Montreal, and the night before we left, Denny told Nanna that he had seen a “wanted” poster at the post office for a woman accused of embezzlement who was the spitting image of her.
“You know you’ll be going into a foreign country and are going to be checked on that bus by Canadian officials.
"If I were you, I wouldn’t wear any jewelry, because it might make them suspect that you are that ‘wanted’ person.”
My grandmother’s Irish reply to him was one word: “OhGoOnWithYa.”
But the next day, on the bus, Nana seemed fidgety and uncomfortable, and I asked her what was wrong.
“Well, I just feel so naked — no earrings, no necklace or beads," she said, "not even a brooch on …”
That time, her sense of humor had failed to pick up on Denny's little joke. It still makes me chuckle today.
Nanna has been gone from this earth for 42 years now.
But she will be in my heart for always. If you have or had a special grandmother, too, I hope you will spend some time today lovingly remembering her.
— Marilyn Doyle, who lives in Cliff Haven, was a proofreader for the Press-Republican in the 1970s, when the newspaper was located on Clinton Street and reporters worked on manual typewriters.