Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Celebrating A Life

December 17th. Today would have been my Grandma Ventura's 88th birthday. My grandma passed away six years ago, though it feels at times like much longer. It feels like a lifetime since we used to greet her at the airport gate, her bags filled with her trademark zucchini bread and small gifts for us. In a way, it was a lifetime ago - these days, she'd have to make her way through Philadelphia International on her own and meet us at the baggage claim, and they'd probably search her zucchini bread to make sure it wasn't a cover for some sort of hazardous material.

To me, the best way to honor someone is not to mourn their loss, but to celebrate their life. And sometimes, it's the little things, the memories you almost forget until the smell of their favorite cookies permeates the air, the sweater you see in their favorite shade of mauve, or the funny anecdote that is so quintessentially "them". So I thought I'd share some moments that remind me of my grandma so well, as a way to celebrate her life on her birthday. Many of these are from childhood and adolescence, as we spent the majority of our holidays with her during those days, but some are more or less timeless.

  • Pulling up to grandma's house in the middle of the night and her waiting there with zucchini bread and Italian Wedding soup for us (no soup for me, it has meatballs, but it smelled great). I always wondered how someone that "old" could be up that late. In retrospect, she was probably in her 50s. Now that I'm 35 and rarely make it past 10:30 PM, I really wonder how someone in their 50s could be up that late. 
  • Walking with her from our house to the Town House restaurant when she came to visit. She loved taking me and my brother out to eat when we were younger. It was a small thing, but it was "our thing".
  • Her joke book. Grandma loved to tell jokes but wasn't great at them. She'd keep the jokes written in a book, categorized by topic, so that she could reference them when she wanted to use one. Sometimes she didn't get the jokes herself. There was a very inappropriate one about a sheep that she had categorized under "cute animal jokes" (I sincerely hope she never used this at a party). 
  • Her bringing my brother a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle flashlight that was shaped like a gun, and it getting confiscated at the airport as potentially dangerous. This was well before 9/11, which made it all that more ridiculous. 
  • The year she came down for Christmas and we didn't have the heart to tell her we'd stopped going to mass years ago. We drove around for a half hour trying to find the church in our own town, making up excuses as to why we couldn't find it. If she caught on, she never said a word.
  • Me and her singing a duet of "There is a chapel in the town" (not sure of the actual name of the song) for the family talent show on vacation. 
  • Her horrendously grumpy cat, Chuckie. The scary cat meme has nothing on him. How a nice, gentle woman like my grandma bonded with this cat, I'll never know. 
  • Being one of the first ones awake in the morning and going downstairs to her room to see if she was up (we were both morning people). Sometimes, it would be just the two of us up for a while. 
  • Sitting in the green and orange recliners in her living room, listening to Harry Belefante on the record player. 
  • Her bell collection. Especially the dinner bell. No matter where you were in the house, you came running to the table when she rang that bell. Being allowed to ring it for her was a treat.
  • Going to Washington, D.C. with her and attending mass at the National Cathedral. My brother and I got our portrait sketched by a street artist named Thomas Murdock. My parents still have the sketch in their house. 
  • Cuccidatis, guiguilenis, pupa ca lovas, and rock cookies (tiny portions of fruit cake passed off as cookies). I needn't say more, because if you don't have a Sicilian grandma, you have no idea what I'm talking about, and if you do, you know exactly what I'm talking about. Feel free to google them. They're delicious (well, maybe not the fruit cake cookies). 
There's plenty that I'm forgetting. I'd love for my family to add their own memories in the comments. 

Happy Birthday, Grandma. I know that what you would have wanted most of all was to have a happy, healthy family, whose generations carried on the love and closeness that you worked so hard to foster. Looking at your children, and their children, and their children's children, I can honestly say, you would be very happy, and very proud. 


  1. This is a wonderful tribute, Maya and one that would really have meant a lot your Grandma Ventura. The most important things to her were her family and friends. She'd love to know that she is still alive in our memories. I think you have captured many of the things that most of us remember. She really loved singing (like you and me) and I remember how she'd go "ooooo" whenever she thought anyone was doing anything dangerous. I also remember he always putting out the butter lamb for Easter (and what Uncle Mike did with it). Thanks for writing this.

    1. Ah how could I forget the butter lamb! That's another good one. It occurred to me that many of our memories involve food of some sort. I guess that lives up to the Italian stereotype, but when you think about it, so many times that's where everyone commences and shares... hence the saying "bringing everyone to the table", I suppose.

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