Some notes on a fantastic, fabulous, fucking awesome grandmother

Anna S. Albanese

Anna S. Albanese
October 28, 1920 – May 4, 2007

My grandmother passed away died this afternoon. I hate “passed away”. It’s so… passive. Nana was not a passive person. She was incredibly, astoundingly active. She’d been pretty limited for the last few years, but that’s not really how I’ll remember her. When I was in elementary school I used to be very proud that she was the president of the local Italian-American Association. She could crochet like a mother#$@*; she was an amazing cook; she was in all sorts of women’s clubs; she had a full-time job for a long, long time after she should have been… I don’t know. She just didn’t “pass away”.

I don’t know why I’m writing this. But I hate the thought of seeing the obituary in the paper when I get to Florida. I remember when my grandfather died I hated the obituary. Hated it. My uncle (or someone) had a bunch of them laminated and made into bookmarks and I just hated the idea that a life could be summarized in two or three column inches like that. So here goes…

  • My mom just told me that Nana really loved me. Kinda silly; of course I know that. She said, “You were her first grandchild!” Of course I know that, too. I am everyone’s first grandchild in my family. And first nephew. And oldest brother. Etc.
  • Nana used to like to play canasta, an Italian card game that I could never figure out.
  • She made it very clear that when she died she wanted to be cremated and have her ashes thrown into the ocean off Daytona Beach, in the same spot where we put Papa’s.
  • For Christmas Nana used to make “rum balls”. They were really good and everyone loved them. One year she used a cup of rum instead of a tablespoon (or something like that) and our Church pastor got mildly inebriated when he came to visit on Christmas Eve. The next day, during Christmas Mass sermon, he said that he was hungover because of it and gave her a dirty look. We were sitting in the front row and she laughed and laughed and that story gets told pretty much every year at the holidays.
  • Nana’s mom, my great-grandmother, was a cold-hearted bitch named Concetta. She was a lot like a cross between a witch and Emperor Palpatine. When Nana was very young, Papa Tony — my great-grandfather — gave her a fur coat. Nana Connie got very jealous (of her own daughter?!) and there was some sort of horrible story about it, the details of which escape me right now.
  • She was a teenager during the Great Depression, but it didn’t affect her much. Papa Tony ran a very profitable funeral parlor in Rhode Island and they were the first (and only) people on their block with a car and a telephone.
  • I never liked it, but my mom and uncle used to go batshit over Nana’s fried eggplant and calamari, both of which were apparently really good. I just liked the meatballs.
  • Like all good Italian grandmothers, she cooked dinner for twenty, even though there were usually only three or four of us eating.
  • When I was in elementary school, for a while I took some sort of cross-stitch/needlepoint classes with her. My friends thought it was pretty effeminate, but she made me feel so proud of those stupid pot-holders and things that I made with her that I didn’t care.
  • She loved to travel and made several trips to Italy.
  • When I was a senior in high school she helped me write an essay about being Italian and I won a $250 scholarship from the Italian-American Association. In retrospect the fact that she was the president probably played a factor in that. Funny: I didn’t made that connection until just now.
  • When I was in high school, I dated a girl named Carmen (or maybe it was Kim). Either way, they both cheated on me so the story is the same. My best friend at the time came to the house to pick me up and the girl’s car was in the front yard. I don’t remember the exact details; she was visiting my uncle or had left her car there or something. Anyway. My friend started yelling, “Come out of the house, you whore slut!” My grandmother came out of the house and made him feel like a jerk, as if he was calling Nana a whore slut. Everyone thought that was hysterical, and it’s another one of the stories that gets told at every family gathering (even though I never really thought it was all that funny).
  • She thought “the C word” was the most horrible thing anyone could ever say and would just about pass out if she heard it.
  • When I was in 8th or 9th grade she gave me a gold necklace that she got for me in Italy. I wear it to this day and almost never take it off. This necklace has been around the world with me.
  • She used to make kick-ass pizzelles, an Italian cookie-type thing that I loved.
  • She had been in the hospital a lot lately. About a week and a half ago, though, she started to really do better and we were all pretty relieved. She moved back into her “assisted living facility” — Indigo Manor — and the doctors said that we’d probably have her for a good three or four more years. But then she asked one of the attendants to help her get out of bed and take a walk. The attendant didn’t know any better — because there was nothing posted anywhere saying that she was not 100% there, y’know? — and proceeded to drop her to the floor. She broke her femur, which required surgery. The surgery went well, we thought, but then she had a heart attack Thursday, which probably gave her an embolism. The doctors told my mom that there “wasn’t much time left” so they moved her to a hospice, where she died peacefully.
  • I just talked to my mom again. She said that when Nana had the heart attack yesterday, the doctors went into overdrive to save her, yelling, “Stat!” and all that stuff. She’s had a “do not resuscitate” signed for a long time and has been saying that she doesn’t want anyone to go to extraordinary measures. So the guy with the paddles was going to shock her and he asked her if that was okay. She flipped him the bird.
    My uncle was there and he said, “I think that’s a no.”
  • The Red Sox won tonight. She would have liked that. She didn’t care about sports all that much, but she was always a Gator fan and a Red Sox fan for us.
My mom died on August 12, 2012, my uncle died on November 28, 2019, and my paternal grandmother died on December 3, 2023.
2024-02-17: Broken links in this post have been removed and/or updated.

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