Monday, November 7, 2011

Same Face, Different Perspective

One of the things that cousin Val and I came across in this summer's cleaning out of my aunt Kat's apartment, were photos that she treasured and kept. This one of her parents, must have been a favorite because it was sandwiched under the glass of her dresser. A place that she was sure to see every day when she stopped to grab an under garment or dab some perfume behind her ears.

I was unfamiliar with this one. I don't know where it was taken, or what was the occasion. It must have been a special one, for Nanny is wearing her jewelry. I've seen other photos of Nanny, The World's Meanest Woman with her husband of fifty-plus years, but this one is new to me. And, I don't know if it's because it is now mine through the poignant process of losing my last aunt, or that I'm simply older now, but for whatever reason this photo has become quickly special.

I've shared bits and pieces of my life with Nanny and Grandpop in stories like Going Downtown and In English Please, but when I look at this photo, I know there are tons more stories that I have locked inside that I hope bubble up to the surface.

As an adult child when I look at this photo, I realize that as much as I might know about these two mainstays of my childhood, there's so much I don't know about them. Will never know about them.

I remember my Grandfather as pleasant, dapper, laughing and smiling easily, flirting with the ladies, welcoming to the patrons who came to our restaurant, who spoke English with his quaint broken accent. He hugged frequently and patted your back. I don't ever recall him in 'casual' clothes, he always wore a button down shirt and suit pants. He very often wore a carnation in his lapel when working the dinner service at The Town House. He liked his Old Grand Dad and water each night before dinner. He hated rigatoni, calling them "blankets," whenever Nanny made them for dinner. And, the picture confirms my memories of him.

What I find to be the most interesting, however, is the genuine smile on my Grandmother's face. That's not something I remember about her. I recall occasional smiles...occasional bouts of laughter when she was speaking with someone in the family about some experience or memory.

But mostly I remember her as quiet, stern, opinionated, cutting, organized, capable, determined, reserved around anyone not part of the family, cool. And, in a word- mean. I also remember her being an excellent cook, home maker, captain of the restaurant kitchen, the woman who kept us warm, clean, fed.

Her English, as I remember it, was not so smooth as Pop's. Her dialect came through much stronger. She had hair that was quite long and worn in a controlled bun at the back of her head, under a fine hair net that often had tiny beads of various colors throughout. Her hair was silver in the front and sides, but very dark at the crown and back of her head. An odd juxtaposition, just as many parts of her were juxtaposed.

When I look at this picture, I can see she is wearing the gold bracelet that she left to me. I wore it every day until the finish wore in places and the hinging mechanism broke beyond repair. I loved that bracelet, and now realize, that what I really loved is that she left it to me. It's long since gone...but my memories of Nanny are still very much here.

When I look at this picture, I see a smile that she obviously possessed but hid. It's almost startling to me. Where did she keep it? Why didn't she bring it out more? Did she use it only on certain people and in certain situations? And, if so, why don't I remember it as clearly as I can remember the color of her hair and that she used Pond's Cold Cream every night before bed?

It's not as though she saved them all for Pop. He used to aggravate her most days. She was constantly telling him what and when to do things. Just as she did all of us. They could be very sparky with each other. Mostly, Pop ignored things and just quietly went about his day. But, there were times when the Albaneze was quite voluble at 201 W. 27th Street.

When I see this picture, now as an adult, I see a woman who seems to know joy. Knows how to smile. Knows how to be in relationship with another Human Being. And, I'll always wonder why she didn't or couldn't share that with me. Or why that is not my recollection of her. Did she love me? her way. Of this I have no doubt. I just don't have the sweet memories of her like so many do of their Grandmothers.

And, I suppose that while I will always call her, Nanny The World's Meanest Woman, what this picture gives me is a new perspective of a familiar face and forces me to consider that most of us, no matter how well someone thinks they may know us, are so much more and complex. And often require us to open our minds and hearts to consider them further.

When I look at this picture, I am compelled to say, "Hello Nanny, it's so good to meet you."

Namaste' Till Next Time,
Holly aka Louisa Dituri's Grand Daughter


Just Stuff From a Boomer said...

What a beautiful story you wove for us. Her smile was the first thing I noticed and then hear she did not share it easily. It sounds like her responsiblities weighed heavy on her shoulders.

I wish I could ask my grandmothers the things I want to know now. I had both of them into my 20s and early 30s. I still did not have the wisdom then to appreciate all their knowledge.

Eva Gallant said...

My paternal grandmother died when I was 12. I didn't see her often, but I loved her, maybe because of her exclamatory, "my stars and little fishes" which she would utter when ever she was surprised or perplexed. Whenever I did see her, she always had books for me; The Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, The Bobsey Twins. I owe my love of reading to her. I never knew my maternal grandmother. She died before I was born.

Cygnus MacLlyr said...

We have a "Nanny" that also qualifies for the World's Meanest Woman...
Mayhap it's the name. :D

Slainte, Lady D.

Anonymous said...

Really, really like this post!

Joanna Jenkins said...

Now I'm wondering "where Nanny hid" too. Interesting how we see a photo and so many memories... and questions.... come flooding back.

This is such a wonderfully happy photo that I never would have guessed it was your Nanny. I've read about her and, well, this is not the image of her I'd have expected so I can see why it's now become a favorite of yours.

Funny how people are. I wonder what she thought when se saw this photo of herself.

Great storytelling, as always, Holly. Thank you. xoxoxo jj

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