When we played Balderdash, we always, always knew which answer was Grandma’s.
The word was “upeygan”, and to this day I cannot remember what it really meant. But I will never forget Grandma’s definition, scratched on the tiny paper in her neat Catholic-school-cursive: “Ever since upeygan school, ya think youah so smaht.” (My best attempt at writing in Italian-Brooklynese, a language Grandma spoke fluently.)
She knew how to play the game, and she knew that you didn’t have to use the word in a sentence to complete definition, but that was her answer.
That was her motto too, maybe. She didn’t care much for people who thought too highly of themselves.
Vivacious, hilarious, audacious, loquacious – that was Grandma. She always had a story that would make everyone laugh. She was always proud of her grandkids, especially their theatrical endeavors. “My little Woolhemina” is what she called me for years after my five minutes of fame in a 3rd grade musical in which I played a bookish sheep.
She lived on her own for so many years, strong, independent, unstoppable. She raised a family, kept a house, cooked delicious Italian meals, smiled often, loved much, laughed frequently, soaked up every minute, every second of life.
And we think of her every year since she left this earth in September 2003, celebrating our Italian-American heritage with an annual trek to the crowded streets and sweaty sidewalks of Little Italy for the Feast of San Gennaro, a tradition my four sisters and I have carried on for 6 years now. In fact, we’ll be there this week, ready to gorge ourselves with all the rice balls, pizza, manicotti, cannolis, gelatos, spicy sausages, and calamari we can possibly contain, and we’ll be thinking of Grandma as we mangia, mangia our way through the masses.
What are your favorite family traditions? Or favorite grandparent memories?