A day ago, my father called to inform me my Grandmother, his mother …Frances Willson …better known as NanaFran (like one word nanafran) had passed away at 98 years old. She was living in a home in Newburyport. Far away from her grandchildren’s busy lives. A far different place than when in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s, they were constantly entertaining all their Grandkids with a circular above ground pool in their back yard…and trips…adventures to search for giants down Revere Beach… or the castle of Mt. Hood…or racing to the birdhouse at the Stone Zoo. Now, far away from the grandchildren physically but so deeply embedded in their hearts it is hard for those who were not part of their existence to understand.
My Grandparents were the stuff of storybooks. I always knew how special they were…but it still is almost jarring when I speak to people whose Grandfather didn’t show up with his Buick to pick of several small children at every opportunity and drag them everywhere he could to infuse adventure and joy in their lives. Or whose Grandmothers did not lavish them with organ music and pineapple soda and love …despite her health often being unstable.
Yes they were unique. My Grandmother’s small home a block from my own parents was olive green on the outside and in. Her living room was green lion wall paper. She had lights and clothing and rugs straight out of a Mad Men or Doris Day film set. Crammed into this little bungalow of a home across from the local convenient store. She would play her organ as if it were her direct line to Judy Garland, Liberace, Count Basey, Nat King Cole and Benny Goodman. …to “class” as she would say to me. She meant “art”. To the members of the “dawning of MTV” generation you would think we wouldn’t get it…but it made all the difference. I literally remember going to my first foreign film and thinking “NanaFran would like being here” even though I am pretty sure she never watched a “foreign film” herself.
I often say the bravest and most crucial thing I did in my life was walking down those long hallways of Belmonte Jr. High (glasses, geeky and 4 foot nothin) to join chorus… …a chorus of almost all girls. I do not believe I would have known “why” or …what I was doing that FOR had it not been how my Grandmother had introduced us at such a young age to “art” and my Grandfather, Grampy Joe, encouraging me that in the face of all my cousins and siblings (to even they I was a little “odd” My nickname was “davodd” ) that I could “adventure” and run and explore as well as any.
I am lucky in another sense. I am a writer. I not only have these incredible prototypes, of the value, of Grandparents who loved their kids so much that they loved their kids’ kids like the way they wish they could have been all the time with their own.
…but even more I also get to infuse their memories in my own stories. I
I get to take the gifts they gave me; … adventure, music, joy, skill, listening… and share them in the same light they did with me. In essence infusing me…the part of me that is them. The memories and stories you will find in Legend of Heaven, A Pretty Good Year are clear representations of them… …but the number of stories of Giants living in churches, and ocean waves trying to drag playful teasing children back into the ocean or even “magic golf tees” are echoes of very special childhood experiences.
I am sure that somewhere in the universe there is a new star, a new bell ringing… my Grandmother is eyeing Garland and Liberace, Nat King Cole and her husband across heaven. Maybe even fighting with him for leaving first. In any case…no matter what money they made…or wrong they did in life that I am sure somewhere that exists… here on earth…my world is brighter, more musical, more adventurist and more full because they were here… ..and they loved us… like parents and grandparents always wish they could.