My dad's parents died before I was born. I am named after his mother, although she used her middle name and I use a shorter version of what's on my birth certificate. They were always a bit of a mystery and I think if I was playing the game of who would you like to meet alive or dead, I'd probably pick them.
It's almost like I was that much closer to my maternal grandparents because of that. Nana and Papa were my favourite people to visit. They loved a good party. Nana could do no wrong in the kitchen, anything from dinners to appetizers to desserts. At her funeral, I spent time talking to ladies from her Stitch & Bitch group and they all said they liked it best when she hosted because of the food. Papa had a bar built in the basement. He may not have had the widest variety of alcohol, but he had 3 of everything he considered essential. One to be open, one as back up and a third in case a party broke out.
Papa was a story teller. A tall story teller. I can still hear him saying "Hey-hey!" in greeting at the door. He would occasionally ask for the password, it was usually sword fish. He would tell you about his brother, and how big his tomatoes would grow. They were SO big that he put a concrete slab under ground to support the plant. Without it, the ground could not support his tomatoes. Even as a 5 year old, I knew this was rediculous but he got my uncles mother in law going with it sometimes. Some stories were true. Like the time his brother won a live turkey at the company Christmas party. Apparently both the turkey and my great uncle were kicked off the street car on the way home, the turkey went one way, my uncle the other.
Nana was my idea of what a woman should be. She always looked pretty, she always had nail polish on. She wore pants at home, but always a dress for important gatherings. She had a beautiful laugh and the best hugs. My dad loved her grasshopper pie so it was a frequent dessert at Christmas. I never ate it. As much as I trusted Nana, you just never knew with Papa around if grasshopper pie was grasshopper free...
My grandparents were devoted to each other. They met working together in the 30's. They had to keep it a secret for a few years because there was a policy that you couldn't date coworkers. In the 30's, you didn't just find somewhere else to work. Papa apparently went to his manager to ask for a pay raise, he was getting married and he needed more money to support his wife. His manager said he couldn't, for Papa's position, he couldn't pay him more than what Nana was earning. Papa asked what if he married her, could he have her salary?
Nana had Alzheimer's. I noticed the first odd moments when I was 12 or so. By the time I was 16, phone calls were difficult. I almost picked my university to live close and support them. Papa learned so much because he had to. He learned to cook, to buy her clothing (although it was apparently a difficult conversation with my mom to hint that Nana needed new undergarments and he wasn't up to buying that), deal with personal care and household chores. When she went to a nursing home, he bloomed a bit. He could talk to the nurses, visit his wife, love her without the constant strain of her wandering. He died from a heart attack. I swear she knew. She didn't recognize anyone by that point, conversation was beyond her. We went to tell her he died and the nurses said she had been listless and slumped in her chair pretty much from when he died. It was heartbreaking, and yet so touching to see that connection. The home did monthly rememberance services for residents, they made the exception for Papa and included him. Nana perked up after that, it's like he said enough is enough, I'm still here with you. Nurses told us that if she was being difficult, they only had to say Papa's name and she would relax and cooperate. Nana died very peacefully in her sleep 14 months after Papa. I've never known two souls so intertwined, it was truly inspirational love.