Thursday, July 24, 2008

This One's For Birdie

Last Friday was filled with mixed emotions — we excitedly received our wedding invitations, my mom's dress for our big day finally arrived.... and my wonderful Nana, the last of my grandparents, passed away.

My mom's parents died before I was born, so my dad's parents, whom we called Nana and Pop Pop, were the only grandparents I ever knew. Pop Pop passed away 10 years ago, and since then I feel like I really got to know Nana better (and although many pronounce it "Nah-nuh," my brother, cousins and I have always called her "Nah-Nah" — it's just our thing!). As a shy child I didn't always know how to handle her loud Italian demeanor, but over the years I came to adjust to and love her outspoken nature. She was truly one of a kind.

I have so many great/funny memories of Nana. When we were kids, Nana and Pop Pop would have us all over for dinner. Nana made the most amazing chicken that she called "Spitzat" — it had "a little bit of this, and a little bit of that." It was her specialty and it is what I remember always eating when we were there. If any of us kids ever left any food on our plates at one of our family dinners, Nana would say "eat birdie, eat!" As a picky eater, I heard this phrase from her a lot while growing up, and eventually Nana's nickname for us turned into a nickname that we affectionately called her — "Birdie."

Overall, Nana was just a great cook. She never saw the point of having a microwave, no matter how much we tried to convince her, and even if we stopped by on short notice she would still have lots of nibbles for us to munch on or a meal that she could just "whip up." She was also a spectacular baker. Nana was famous for making pizzelles and brownies like no other (and the trick to keeping them fresh was storing them in tins with wax paper). She always told me "if you can read, you can cook" and I plan to prove her right someday when I put her many cookbooks to use.

She also had the most amazing stories about her past — many of which we were skeptical about at first, but eventually realized she had really just lived an amazing life. She went to medical school at Temple University during a time when women simply did not become doctors. She never finished school because she got married and, at that time, a married woman's place was in the home, but she was so intelligent when it came to medicine and health and she would have made an amazing doctor. She told us stories about growing up in a mansion on Broad Street in Philadelphia, and how they had a "country home" in Chester County and a "summer home" in Ocean City, New Jersey. She traveled to more places than I'll probably ever have the opportunity to see, and she always kept up with the times and knew what was hip (you can read more about that fun side of her on my sister-in-law's blog).

Nana was an astounding 90 years old and only slowed down over the last year or so. She made the trek to NYC for Brother & SIL Cupcake's wedding last June, but was gradually becoming a little slower and a little more tired since then. She was able to celebrate her 90th birthday with friends and family just this past April. But Nana needed to be on oxygen now, and she started sleeping more and more. About two months ago, she finally came to realize that she could no longer live on her own in her cozy little treasure-filled apartment, and we helped to move her into a nursing & rehab facility nearby. Although visiting her in her new home wasn't the same as being surrounded by all of her photos, owl figurines and candy dishes (and oh, there were always a LOT of candy dishes!), Mr. Cupcake and I were able to fit in a lot of wonderful, meaningful visits with Nana. She always felt guilty that she couldn't offer us a cocktail or some cheese and crackers in her new home, but we didn't mind as long as we were able to spend more time with her.

Nana's death has been hard to deal with on its own, but losing her just two months before our wedding is extremely difficult. It has been comforting, though, knowing that Mr. Cupcake had the opportunity to get to know her and hear some of her amazing stories (she was still as sharp as a tack up until her last moments), and it is nice to know that Nana adored him. She gave us a shower gift and wedding gift in late May, and although it was upsetting, it also created a great opportunity to tell her more about our wedding plans. I'm so glad that I had the chance to show her a photo of me in my dress, a swatch of the bridesmaid's dresses, and fill her in on all of our little surprise details. Part of me still can't believe that she really won't be there when we get married, but I know that she'll most definitely be there in spirit, wearing her unforgettable dark glasses and toasting us with her trademark vodka and tonic.

Miss you, "Birdie."

Nana and Pop Pop on their wedding day, 1940

Nana at Brother and SIL Cupcake's wedding in NYC, June 2007
Photo by Brian Dorsey

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