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2002:  The Plus Side of Being a Slob
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2004Faces of Heroes

2005:  Milwaukee Reflections

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5 October 2006

Though he wasn't really talking about this at all, an entry a few days ago in the journal of my friend Ellen's father got me thinking about the members of my extended family who are no longer with us.

I don't remember exactly how old I was when my grandparents died.  I don't really remember much about my mother's father's death, except going to his funeral and forever more thinking of him whenever I hear "Danny Boy" being played. So I was old enough to notice that sort of thing.  (I also took photos at the party after his death, which would have made me older than 10, at least, because I got my first camera when I was 10.)

My mother's mother died in about 1961.   Must have been because I had not yet entered college, but I remember my mother telling my grandmother, who was in a hospital by that time, that I was going to college.  I would be the first person in the family (on either side) to attend college.

I don't know when my father's father died, but there is a photo of him taken shortly before his death where he is holding newborn Paul, who was born in 1969.

Likewise, in the last photo I remember of my father's mother she is holding newborn David, who was born in 1972.  So, without checking with my mother (who would know all these dates off the top of her head), I can pretty much fix the date of most of those deaths, at least in the ballpark.

I loved my mother's mother.  She was little and round and soft with hair that fell to her waist and which she braded into a crown on top of her head.  She had 32 grandchildren and yet when she put her arms around you and whispered "precious child" in your ear, you had no doubt that you were her favorite.  She did that with all of us, but it doesn't change the fact that she just made us all feel so welcome and wanted and loved.

I was afraid of my mother's father.   Despite having raised 10 kids of his own, he didn't seem to relate much to his grandchildren.  He was toothless and hairless (except for his moustache) and gruff.   He always wore a hat and the only interaction with him that I remember was when I was quite young and he took me out to the hen house on their small farm to show me the newborn baby chicks.

My father's father didn't say much.  He couldn't get a word in edgewise, for one thing.  He didn't have much to do with Karen and me.  I don't think he knew what to do with us either.  But he was a kind man and I always felt sorry for him, as I listened to him being constantly belittled by my grandmother and watched him sink into himself whenever we were all together (which we were at least once a week throughout most of my childhood).

The Matriarch of the family was definitely my father's mother.  She wanted us to call her "Nannie" because she felt "Grandma" made her sound too old.  She was vain and self-centered, always perfectly dressed and coifed, and always felt that the world had cheated her by not making her rich.  She always had rich friends, while at the same time stifling any opportunity my grandfather had to advance (he worked his entire career parking cars in a downtown garage in San Francisco, though at one point he had the chance to become a partner in what ultimately was a very successful garage enterprise, but my grandmother didn't want to invest the money.)  If I recall correctly, she had been a manicurist at one time.  I know her nails were always done and whenever I visited her, she gave me a manicure.

Nannie worshipped me.  I was her princess.   She bought me fancy clothes and loved being with me.  When Karen came along, she really didn't have any more love to give, so Karen got short shrift from her (which always made me angry because I didn't enjoy being the favored child).

The funny thing about thinking back on these grandparents, and also on my great-uncle, who was also my godfather is that of the group of them, the person I was the closest to was Nannie, whether I wanted to be or not.   Yet, when I review the memories, I can still hear my mother's mother's voice in my ear, whispering "precious child."  I can still recall the smell of her.   I can remember what it felt like to be hugged by her.

I can hear my father's father standing in the living room and singing a couple of the songs he had sung in vaudeville (while my grandmother rolled her eyes at what she considered the old fool).  I can hear little snips of things he would say to me as he gave me 25 cents each time he saw me.  Oddly enough, I can hear how he said "yeah."

I can recall my godfather's voice as he told the same jokes each time we got together (while Nannie rolled her eyes some more).  I remember how he would say "a long time a-GO," with the accent on the "GO."  I remember the smell of his cigars.

But oddly enough, I cannot call up Nannie's voice.  It just doesn't come.  I can remember her mannerism, her eccentricities, the irritating things she would do, and even things she would say ("Hon, like a good girl, would you.....?") but I don't hear the sound of her voice any more, the way I do my other grandmother's, my grandfather's and my godfather's.

In life, Nannie never stopped talking.   But we got so tired of listening.  Now that her voice is stilled, it's really stilled.   More than 40 years later,  I can still hear the "precious child" of my mother's mother whispered in my ear, but I can't for the life of me remember the sound of that voice that drove us all so crazy for so long.



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