May 18, 2017

What Would Nana Do?

She's my moral compass.

Nana.  My grandmother.  Mom's Mom.  Born 1926.  Would have been 91 today.  Not impossible.  Not inconceivable.  Not even close, tho.

Nana died over a quarter century ago. I have thought about her every day since.  Even if for a fleeting moment, she is there.  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, and maybe she is.  Nana always worked hard, that's what Nanas do.

Nana's up on the wall, too - above my little kitchen table.  She's with her mother and her kids, Sal and Mary Lyn.  She's beautiful.  They all are.  Inside and out.  I look at Nana every day when I'm in that kitchen, making her tomato sauce or watering the plant named in her honor.  Nana is always there.

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.

I've done things over the past two decades that Nana would not have approved of.  Probably did a couple today, in fact.  We might not have always seen eye-to-eye, but Nana still keeps me in line.  Back in the day, Nana scolded me for listening to heavy metal and watching horror movies.  Nana was an expert sewer and attached a dozen or so Metallica patches onto my high school-era denim jacket, only to find out who Metallica actually was after the fact.  Nana was none too happy about unwittingly encouraging my admiration of "those devil worshipers."

Nana was into music, if not metal - she loved Julio Iglesias and Paul McCartney but she hated Willie Nelson and Billy Idol.  She was absentminded and opinionated, a tremendous worrywart and a bad driver.  She loved her family, she loved Christmas and sleazy prime time dramas, shit like Dynasty and Dallas.  Nana had an infectious, almost goofy, quality about her that one could only find endearing.

Nana did more doting than scolding, of course.  That's what Nanas do.  She spoiled my sister and I rotten, she looked after us during those early and difficult 'we-have-no-money' years.  Nana was our second mother, and usually our greatest ally when our first mother cracked the whip.  As the eldest grandchild on my Mom's side, I was blessed with more Nana Time than anyone from my generation, and for that I am grateful.

Playing Nana's Piano. Nice overalls, Dad.

Nana's death was the end of my innocence.  Nana was my first funeral, my first uncontrollable sob, my first 'There Is No God.'  The first songs I ever wrote were about Nana's untimely demise.  Heavy metal and horror movie consumption increased after Nana left me, bitter pills for my hardened heart.  Her departure was a horror flick in its own right, an unfathomable tragedy.  I had a terrible case of the chicken pox at Nana's wake - I was a teenage monster, a little leper.  It was my first surreal moment - my first internal "You have to get through this, you have no choice."

For my close-knit Brooklyn-bred Italian family, losing Nana seemed like everyone's first everything, and it began a downward spiral for us all that lasted for more than a few years.  It was the worst of times, it was the worst of times.  But, as my Dad constantly reminds me, time heals all wounds.  Dad loves cliches.  We've all had a lot of years to get over Nana's departure, but you never really get over it.  The more you love, the more you pay when it all goes away.

Today, Nana is my moral compass.  She wasn't there to see me graduate from college, 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, wasn't there when the house got bitch-slapped by Mother Nature.  She never met any of my ladies, never saw me sing on a stage.  But she's always there, through the good times and the bad, through the darkness and the light.  I haven't heard Nana speak in 25 years, but, especially during those darker days, I can still feel her up on my shoulder, guiding me towards the light.

More often than not, I feel Nana when I'm careening off life's slippery slope.  That smile.  That snow shovel.  Working hard and not complaining.  She reminds me that time is short, to not take things for granted.  She reminds me to water the plants and make more tomato sauce.  She reminds me 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.  You have to get through this, you have no choice.

But most of all, Nana reminds me to keep love in my heart, to be a good person.  The Nana I knew was a good woman, a lady who brought love and positive energy into every room she entered.  My Mom is Nana now, and she's a great one.  The Nana I knew would be so proud of the Nana my mother has become. 

Happy Birthday Nana.  Love you lots.  Even though you're gone, I'm glad you're still with me.

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