Thursday, July 21, 2011


Recently, on the blog The Slactiverse, mmy wrote about her mother, a woman whose life sounds extraordinary. Mmy concluded by saying, "Being a hero is not a zero-sum game. The fact that my mother was exceptional doesn't mean that your mother (or your father) was not. I welcome reading comments from readers about the heroes in their lives."

The problem is, my family is somewhat deficient in the way of heroic relatives. My family is somewhat deficient in the way of normal relatives. My family runs more to, well, a charitable way of putting it would be "characters". 

Take my Grandma D, for example. Grandma was a woman of enthusiasm. She loved Friday night wrestling. She loved Friday night wrestling so much she had two autographed pictures of her favorite wrestlers framed and hanging on her living room wall. I was in college before I knew they weren't relatives back in the old country.

She was also devoted to her favorite soap opera, All My Children. She carried on a running commentary on the action, in Italian, as she watched. Despite the fact that I never learned Italian, I usually had a pretty good idea of what she was saying. The gestures helped.

That little matter of bigamy, however, was not really her fault. She thought her first husband, the father of her oldest three children,  was dead when he disappeared during the first world war, so she married my Grandpa and had three kids with him. Then she ran into her first husband. Whoops. And yes, she should have divorced him, remarried Grandpa properly and done something about the kids, but you needed to know my little Italian Catholic grandma. Living in sin was one thing, but divorce? 

Then there's my other Grandma, Grandma F. Compared to Grandma D, she was rather tame and colorless. Like Grandma D, she was an immigrant to this country and spoke mostly Italian. Like Grandma D, she had a large family, seven children, although only one husband. Like Grandma D, she was an excellent cook, only where Grandma D made simple to eat dishes like homemade ravioli, Grandma F made challenging foods like artichokes, and crabs (in the shell) in a red sauce served over spaghetti. I loved her crab spaghetti, but I've never been brave enough to try cooking it myself.

Grandma F was more into fashion and household decor than Grandma D. During the depression, the family lost the house Grandpa had bought in Brooklyn to foreclosure. Grandma just went around the block and bought another house in her own name which they owned until she died. It was a three story Queen Anne with a wraparound porch and a bathroom with cobalt blue fixtures. She kept a large glass goldfish bowl filled with strawflowers on the dining room table, and a flock of pink plastic flamingos in the front yard, next to the three-tier aggregate fountain. Unlike the cotton dresses Grandma D wore, Grandma F favored crepe with beading around the neck for Sunday wear. I get my fashion sense (or lack thereof) from Grandma D but my decorating sense (or lack thereof) from Grandma F. 

In honor of Grandma, even though it's not pink 

Grandma F, however, strayed from the Catholic faith. When she developed Parkinson's disease, she and Grandpa became involved with faith healers and became Pentecostals. I don't know if they got into speaking in tongues, since they spoke Italian and how could I tell, but Grandpa did love to sing hymns. Loudly. All day long. Despite being tone deaf.

Grandpa also took my nearsightedness as a sign of lack of faith and kept telling me how if I only had enough faith, my eyes would be healed and I would not need glasses. I tried leaving them off when he was around and just squinting a lot. Grandpa D was a whole lot easier to be around. He kept chocolate bars in his pockets for his grandchildren and otherwise left us alone. I really wish I'd appreciated him better when he was around.

So that's my gene pool. I grew up and moved halfway across the country to a spot where pink flamingos are the mascot of the  Spanish Town Mardi Gras parade, people eat crabs in the shell, if not in spaghetti sauce, the welcome signs at the state line are in a foreign language, decorating your living room with not just pictures, but the color scheme of your favorite sports heroes is seen as a reasonable thing to do, where the Pentecostals hand out Jack Chick tracts to the Catholics on Mardi Gras, and people drive around with bumper stickers that say, "I'd rather be casting out demons".

I'm home.


  1. I love your descriptions! I have to say, I love my grandma, but she does have some interesting quirks. When I was in elementary school and had to write about my relatives, I wrote an essay called "The (Mis)Adventures of Nan." Among other things, it talked about how when she was a little girl, she stole ribbons off of graves to put in her hair and jumped off the roof of her house with an umbrella. Some people don't have to be heroic - sometimes it's enough to be likably colorful.

  2. I agree! After all, the "likably colorful" people in our lives give us implicit permission to be ourselves.