Wednesday, April 3, 2013

An Early Recap of the Big Dance on the Eve of the Final Four

Spring Break 2013 found me, my Jeff, my Vince and Nick, and my Stitch at the home of my father-in-law’s in Arizona.  Much to our shared delight, Jeff’s Uncles Chris and Tim had also flown in from Indiana for the visit with Vince and Nick’s Great Grandma in tow.  That’s right, one, two, three, FOUR generations of Pieri Madness had come together for March Madness. 

The odds didn’t seem to be stacked in our favor, with a female to male ratio of 1:4 (including large dogs), but Great Grandma and I managed to steal a few decidedly female moments during the visit.  Sitting together and talking while sipping merlot or in Great Grandma’s case, merlot cut with water (Holy Communion style) or merlot cut with Coca-Cola (Holy stomach-ache style), Great Grandma shared, in impressive detail, just a few pages from her 85-year story. 

“So, grandma, how are you?”  I asked her on the first night, only half-expecting her to mention the pain she felt in one or both of her knees or the work of keeping the two-story, five-bedroom family home she still lived in or the difficulty of the mid-western winter she had temporarily escaped for this trip west.

She paused a moment and leaned back in her chair.  “You know, Liz, I just feel bad about Liza.”

“What’s wrong with Liza?” I asked. 

Liza is Great Grandma’s youngest granddaughter.  She lives in the same town back in Indiana and I have only met her once, almost three years ago now.  A beautiful, healthy girl with dark hair and dark eyes.  A Pieri, through and through.

“Liza is great.  I just wish I was younger for her.”

Of course.  

While I first met Great Grandma only fifteen years ago, and see her only during special visits, my limited observations have led me to believe that Great Grandma was put on this planet exclusively to do for and nurture her family.  It seems to come to her as naturally as breathing.

As the oldest of seven children, she went on to marry and have seven children of her own who today range in age from 65 (Uncle Dave) to 45 (Uncle Scott).  Liza, now age five, is the youngest of Great Grandma’s 11 grandchildren.  At age 41, my Jeff is the oldest grandson; he has an Uncle that is four years older than him and a first cousin that is two years younger than his own sons. 

“Liza is fine, she’s doing great,” Great Grandma continued.  “I just wish I was younger so I could do more with her, know that I would be around longer.”

I looked at her across the table and offered a small, sympathetic smile.  I could only imagine where she was in her life and how she must feel. 

“You know I was 39 when I got pregnant with Scott?”  She sort of asked me.

I hadn’t actually done the math but knew Scott was a “surprise”, born several years after her sixth child, Uncle Tim.

“I will never forget that night,” she continued.  Her earlier question was the first in a series of rhetoricals she uses to pepper all of her stories.  Rhetorical questions and the occasional “ok?” are her two, primary story-telling devices.

“Naz and I were in a big fight and I wasn’t talking to him, and we had to go to this party, ok?”

Naz is Nazareth Pieri, Great Grandma’s late husband who passed away just five years ago.

“And Naz was drinking a lot that night.  You know Naz never drank?  Well, that night he just kept drinking because I wasn’t talking to him, ok?”  She giggled.  “He was smashed and he kept having to dance with these two older women that were sitting at our table.  It was so funny.”  She was leaning back in her chair laughing now.  “So that night we went back to our hotel and of course we made up.”

For those of you not paying attention, my simple question of “How are you, Grandma?” had just landed me in the sack with her and Grandpa.

I nodded again and smiled, perhaps a little wide-eyed now.  Fortunately, I didn’t need to say anything because if Great-Grandma’s first gift is her nurturing soul, her second gift is the gift of gab.

The details that followed included three months of wondering, a couple visits to a female doctor who practiced out of her basement in the small town in Pennsylvania they lived in at the time, and finally, a visit to an OB to confirm that yes, she was expecting her seventh child, 11 years after her sixth child, at the age of 39.

“I remember I was so scared to tell the kids.  Of course I told Naz first and then I called Dave who was off for his first year at Yale.  He had two roommates.  One of them was a Jewish kid.  Dave was so happy for me.  He said ‘I think that’s great, mom’ and his roommates thought it was great, too.”

I smiled, thinking of a young Uncle Dave away at school receiving this call from his mom.

“And then we had to tell the rest of the kids and they were all school age so I had gone back to work part time so we were all going in different directions, ok?  Some of the kids were in high school, some in junior high and some in elementary.  They had sports and other activities they were doing.”

I shuttered thinking about just how busy that household must have been… and here I think I’m exhausted at the end of the day after baseball practice and two sets of homework.      

“I remember Naz came home early one day and we sat all the kids down that afternoon after school to tell them.  One by one, they all came over and gave me a hug.  They were all happy about it.  And then I remember Tim, he was ten or eleven at the time.  He came over and gave me a hug just like the rest of them then he asked me, ‘Mom, are you sure you went to the right doctor?’  It was the cutest thing.” 

Great Grandma laughed and laughed as she remembered the moment.  I imagined how sweet it must have been.

The next night, we all made S’mores over my father-in-law’s backyard fire pit, under the stars.  Vince and Nick were the official marshmallow roasters.

“Great Grandma, do you like yours golden brown or burnt on the outside?”
“Oh, I suppose golden brown,” she told them, then looked up at the sky.

“You know Naz and I used to look up at the moon on clear nights and we’d ask each other what kind of face is the moon making tonight.  ‘Is it sad?’,  ‘Is it happy?’…”  She smiled as she gazed skyward.

“Boys, what kind of face do you think the moon is making tonight?”  I asked them.

Vince and Nick temporarily abandoned the magic of poking the dancing flames with their metal hangers-turned-marshmallow-skewers and we all looked up.  The moon was not quite full, sort of oblong in shape.    

“I don’t know.” Nick said.

“A silly face,” Vince offered.

“A silly face, huh?”  Great Grandma paused as if she were examining the moon’s face more closely.  “I think you’re right.  It is a silly face, Vince.”  And she laughed and laughed.

And so, above the din of two TV’s (indoor and outdoor) streaming bad call after missed spread after failed pick, I watched a different kind of Cinderella story unfold. 

And it was one for the record books.

A special note from Great Grandma at the end of our visit pinned to Nicky's bulletin board.
He was more excited about the 10-spot in the envelope...maybe one day he'll treasure this more.