Sunday, February 21, 2010

My Great-Aunt and the Titanic

As a postscript to yesterday's piece about my grandmother...

The odd thing about Nan was that her sister, Auntie Clemmie, was exactly her opposite. Where Nan was small and brittle, Clemmie was round and ample. Where Nan was disapproving, Clemmie was the center of the party. Nan never touched alcohol. Clemmie, in tune with our Basque roots, never went a day without pouring a glass from a jug of what she called "Dago Red." She was noted for saying that when she got down to half a case she knew she needed to go shopping.

Clemmie as fun and boisterous; with an innocently naughty sense of humor and a big personality. Nan gave every event attended the air of sanctity. Clemmie was known for cooking meals for dozens of people, specializing in Basque sweetbreads, which personality terrified me. Nan made crepes once. They were delicious. She never made them, or anything else, ever again. Nor would she ever teach me, in spite of my repeated requests.

Clemmie would spice her conversation with bits of French, often a bit risque. Nan rarely spoke French, and then only to criticize. (Her favorite expression was basically a French version of "shut up.")

Clemmie would dance to rock and roll at family parties, moving shaking her ample bosom and having a grand old time -- not caring if she looked a fool (which she didn't). I recall Nan dancing only once, with my father, a slow, sedate, and entirely proper dance at a family wedding.

One of my loyal readers (Duke, author of the fabulous blog It's a Noir World) commented that grandparents used to have more personality. I completely agree. Generations ago grandparents were either stereotypically wonderful people who spoiled you at Christmas and baked amazing pies, or they were curmudgeonly characters with eccentric personalities. Today grandparents drive BMWs and play tennis. Hardly the same.

I did, finally, get the wonderful grandmother I'd always wanted though. When I married Husband. His wonderful Mom-Mom was a total character. Strong, brave, totally outrageous and maker of the world's strongest Egg Nog (the recipe of which included an entire bottle of Four Roses). Sadly, Mom-Mom died a few years ago. But we have memories of her all around the house and she will always live in my memory.

I recall be terrified to meet her. Husband and I were already in love and living together when we went to Philadelphia for my first meeting with his mom, stepdad, and grandmother. Husband was the only grandchild and Mom-Mom was, quite naturally, very protective. She knew I was "the one" and if I didn't pass muster, Husband told me that she would make no secret of the fact. I had no nerves meeting his mom, but the prospect of living up to his grandmother's standards filled me with dread. And I don't scare easily.

But honestly within fifteen minutes it seems like she'd sized me up and approved. She wanted the best for her boy and while I still don't think I deserve him, she saw that I loved him and would take care of him. That's all she needed to know.

She was an incredible woman and earning her approval remains one of the proudest achievements of my life.

No comments: