After a much-needed reprieve, I’ve been trying to figure out how to return to my blog. So I’ll start with today. I may have to back track a bit the next few weeks, to piece things together before moving onto next year.
Today I want to write about my Grandma, Mary K. Franco, who died two weeks ago at age 97.
My Grandma embodied the word ‘home’ for me. Homemaker, homemade, homecoming . . . going home.
She rocked the house-dress.
We grew up 20 miles from the little town where she and my grandfather lived. Going home for the holidays has always meant going home to see Gram.
She was born Mary K. Monago in 1912, the oldest daughter of Cesidio and Annunciata Monago. Her mother died when she was a young girl. She grew up caring for her father and siblings.
My Gram was a woman of simple needs. She lived for her husband, Alley P. Franco, her brothers and sister, three children, nine grandchildren, thirteen great-grandchildren, her lord and good food. I’m from a large Italian-Catholic family, so there was always good food and lots of it.
As a kid, I quickly learned being sick meant an early morning ride over the hill to Grandma’s house where she’d rub Vic’s Vapor Rub on my chest, wrap me in blankets and take good care of me.
When I arrived, she’d have hot tea with honey & lemon waiting. I’d get back into my PJ’s and set up on the sofa. Soon, I’d hear her chopping vegetables and the smell of chicken stock would fill the house. We’d have soup with pastina and fresh Italian bread for lunch, then settle in for As the World Turns, Guiding Light and The Price is Right. She’d do laundry or mending—but was always nearby, just in case. Before long, I’d hear the La-Z-Boy click and her soft snoring.
Grandma’s life centered on her family, her church and the community of Lewis Run, a tight pocket of Italian immigrants in Northwestern Pennsylvania. My grandfather helped build the church where they worshiped while Gram made meatball and spaghetti dinners to raise money. Grandpa’s Super8 film collection captures three decades of Franco & Monago weddings, christenings and anniversaries held at Our Mother of Perpetual Help. The first I remember was their 50th wedding anniversary when I was a teen.
After she died I asked my uncle if they ever found love letters she and Grandpa had written to each other. No, he said, they were rarely apart.
My Gram had the one thing so many of us crave: time. She was rich with it and lived 97 years of good, quality uncomplicated time.
During her time on this planet, she taught those of us who knew her the meaning of faith, devotion, love, respect and fun. Bocci ball tournaments, horseshoe pitch and Easter egg hunts were always held in her backyard. What sparked her competitive fire most was a good game of Scrabble, at which she was unstoppable.
From her, the girls in my family learned to crochet, knit, sew, cook and be good mothers and aunts. She drilled into us the importance of keeping a neat and tidy home, (some took to it better than others). The guys, she taught how to recognize a good woman.
She never learned to drive or flew in an airplane, but somehow made it to all the important games, reunions, christenings and graduations. Her frig was always stocked. There was a period where she worked at JC Penney in the mid- to late-70’s. But I never knew of her as anything other than Gram.
She grew roses and made food that left people asking for recipes, but never cooked with them.
She had a faith so strong that she seemed, at times, ethereal.
At the end of her life, Gram was filled with grace—for her family and the life she shared with us. She literally glowed. I got to spend time alone with her at Thanksgiving. I had a workout to do, but something told me I should be with her instead. She was winding down. I read her birthday cards and sang to her. I wiped her eyes for her and got her to drink water. We prayed. We flipped through the photo album my sister made of her ever-expanding family to help Gram recognize us and remember our names.
We are her life’s work.
She thanked me over and over again. I thanked her too, for everything, and held her hand.
She was a star to me. One of my favorite subjects. I took her to get her hair done for Easter Sunday in 1999, I think it was. I remember it being a great day. She giggled. She was embarrassed to be the center of attention with Kathy, her hairdresser, looking on. That’s when I started to call her Precious.
Here are some photos I’ve taken over the years. I’m so lucky to have had her in my life.