When I moved into my most recent place, I put Nana in my kitchen. In a frame, on the counter above the sink. In the photo, Paula Celi is shoveling snow and smiling. She looks like she might even be enjoying herself. Nana always worked hard, that's what Nanas do.
Nana's up on the wall too - above my little kitchen table. Alongside her mother and her kids, Sal and Mary Lyn. She's beautiful. I look at Nana every day when I'm in the kitchen, making her tomato sauce or watering my Nana plant.
Mostly, Nana is inside my head and my heart. She's somehow still a part of me - even if just a little part - even after all this time.
When I was a teenage soon-to-be bald freak, Nana would get upset because I listened to heavy metal and watched slasher flicks. Nanas don't scold. They rarely yell. But they always get upset.
Nana could sew. She sewed all the Metallica patches onto my heavy-metal denim jacket/uniform. Surely, Nana didn't approve of "those devil worshipers." But she sewed the patches on anyway, because Nana loved me.
Nana liked music. Just not devil music. Like most proper fans, she was passionate - and a critic, too. She loved Julio Iglesias and Paul McCartney. She hated Willie Nelson and Billy Idol.
Nana was a world-champ worrywort. She was absent-minded and funny. I found all her infectious Nana quirks endearing.
And Nana doted. Oh, did she dote. Nana was our surrogate mother - and usually our greatest ally when our real mother cracked the whip. She doled out hugs in large amounts. She doled out dollar bills and introduced us to capitalism.
Nana's house was my second house. Two working class parents meant lots of after school time at my grandparents'. Nana's house was ten minutes away from ours. Inside, an ancient out-of-tune piano. Mandatory plastic-covered furniture. Lots of tchotchkes. Lots of yellow.
I had chicken pox at Nana's wake - a teenage monster, a mourning leper. Losing Nana was my first real test of strength.
For a close-knit Italian family from Brooklyn, losing Nana seemed like everyone's first everything. We've all had a lot of years to get over Nana's departure. But you never really get over it.
Nana wasn't there to see me graduate. She wasn't there when I got my first job or bought my first house. Wasn't there when I fell in and out of love. She never met any of my ladies, never heard any of my albums, never saw me perform on a stage.
I feel Nana there when I'm careening off life's slippery slope. That smile. That snow shovel. Working hard and not complaining. She reminds me to not take things for granted. She reminds me to water the plants and make more tomato sauce. That bad things can happen to good people, that they happen all the time, and that there is never a convenient time for those things to happen.
You just have to live.
These days, my Mom is Nana. She's a pro. Born for the role. She's got the title now, and she's gonna hold it for a long time. She reminds everyone in our family that we're all still blessed even tho we lost something precious.
The Nana I knew would be so proud of the Nana my mother has become.
Happy Birthday Nana.
Even tho you're gone, I'm glad you're still with me.