When I walked passed J. Pace’s the other morning on my way to work, it smelled like fried meatballs. It was the same smell I was often greeted with on my way home from Mass on Sundays. It would hit you almost as soon as you rounded the corner of 58th Street. I usually broke into a run because that meant that Nana was cooking lunch.
You see, my Nana lived next door to me, something I never, ever took for granted. She was the quintessential Italian grandmother and more. She loved to cook. She loved to laugh. She eventually became surrogate grandma to all of mine and my sister's friends. Everyone just called her Nana. And if you didn't like to eat, she didn't trust you.
Almost every Sunday she’d have something going on the stove, whether it was meatballs or if I was a really lucky, veal cutlet. Sometimes I’d come in and see my uncle there and I'd pray he hadn’t eaten everything already. My uncle was a big gruff looking guy. He owned a garage, and in my memory was perpetually stubbled and grease stained. When we were little he used to make us walk upside down on the ceiling. (Much to my mother's dismay.) On those Sundays he came over to visit (and eat!) Nana would ask him how the ham and pickle salad was, or the meatballs, he would answer, "ugh, terrible!" as he shoved another forkful in his mouth with a mischievous twinkle in his eye.
My Nana was widowed young. My mother was not quite three years-old, my uncle a toddler. She went to work as a sales associate for Macy's. My own mother never even knew how her father died until she came across a newspaper clipping when she was a teenager, because no one spoke of such things. It was an elevator accident. I can't even imagine given the time it was, but she had the help of her sisters and neighbors. I remember stories about how my Nana would rearrange the furniture on a Saturday evening, thereby knowing what time her kids came home from dates and such by the sound of them tripping over something in the darkness. We have always been a matriarchal family, and if it began before her, I wouldn't know.
One thing she always said to me was to "live every day as if it were your last." I don’t think about that as often as I should. The other was to never go to bed angry. That's even harder; at least when you are twelve and don’t necessarily have to grasp or the power to work out a conflict at 11:00 at night.
The clock on my computer reads "11:11." Make a wish. I have a ring that Nana gave me that belonged to my Great Aunt Edith. I always called it my magic ring. All I know is that Aunt Eddie traveled a lot, and the ring was supposedly from Thailand. Nana called it a good luck ring. I never took it off. I'm wearing it now in place of the wedding rings that don’t fit.
I think I'll make a wish. I wish I'll always know the love I felt those years, and am able to keep it going forward.