7-11-21. Some lucky numbers, right? Also that would be Nana's birthday. She turned 90, although whenever we'd tell her that her birthday was coming up she'd ask us what year it was and then try and do the math and figure out how old she was going to be. She was so shocked one of the times I reminded her that she said, "I guess I can no longer deny being an old lady." Nana is not a fan of being thought of as an old lady. When she was in her early 80's she had cataract surgery that left her with perfectly clear vision for the first time in years. One she got her first good look in the mirror, she immediately went out and bought wrinkle cream. I'm sure those things work great as a preventative, but I'm not sure they can turn back time thirty years.
My Nana is the greatest grandmother ever. Don't even try to compare. She never knitted or sewed us anything, she really doesn't cook anymore, (although she did make the best mashed potatoes in the history of the world, as well as the best potato salad) and she doesn't shower us with money or gifts. Much better than that, she's just a great person to be around. She almost always can be found sitting at the head of the table at the breakfast room in her kitchen, overlooking that peaceful, serene intersection of Wallace Road and Route 101. I suppose when they moved into that house in 1957 it was peaceful and serene, though now it is anything but.
My grandmother grew up in South Boston near the beach, although she will tell you that she doesn't know how to swim. I think I've heard the story dozens of times about the mean woman who used to throw her in the water, and this must've happened in the 20's.
I could tell a ton of stories I've heard over the years, but I'll try and give you the condensed version even though we all know that's not my strong suit. My grandparents were married in November of (I'm fairly certain) 1944. Katherine Pucci was now Mrs. Leo McLaughlin and I sincerely doubt that they had any idea of the legacy they were going to create. My mother was only the beginning. They lived in a house on Sunset Hill Road in West Roxbury until my grandfather bought an old farmhouse in Bedford, New Hampshire without Nana even getting a look at it.
Nana goes in cycles of stories she tells me. Sometimes she tells me a bunch of times about the mean woman who threw her in the water, sometimes she tells me about her brief attempt at smoking cigarettes at the insistence of her friends that left her so horribly sick she decided that maybe it wasn't the best idea. But recently she's started telling me about when they moved up to Bedford. A big, white house with enough room for all of the kids, a huge field in the back and twenty acres of land all for $28,000 in 1957. She likes to tell me how she thought she was moving to the edge of the world because there was hardly anything around. There's a lot more there now, but that was where she raised her ten kids.
I have no idea how she managed to raise such a household with her five daughters, five sons, dogs that came and went, and other kids surely coming and going. I'm not sure I even want to imagine what that must've been like. By the time she had her tenth kid she wasn't even forty. I'm sure it helped that the back yard was a vast field with woods beyond, so everyone could just go outside. The field got a backstop and a mound and turned into a baseball field, and eventually they put in an in-ground pool, which at the time was something not a whole lot of people had.
She raised those kids and eventually those kids had some kids, and some of those kids have kids. All in all, if my math is right there are currently thirty-four people whose lives she is directly responsible for. And literally in days that number is going to reach thirty-five. That's a heck of a lot of people. We are down one because my aunt Rosie died in 1994, on Nana's 73rd birthday. I can't imagine what it must be like to look around and see all of these people that wouldn't be here without you. I'll let others be the judge as to whether or not our family's existence is a good thing or a bad thing...
I've spent every Christmas at her house and most of my Thanksgivings. Most of my childhood summers were spent meeting up with my cousins at her pool. You see, of all of Nana's kids, most of them didn't go very far. In fact, several of them built houses right on that land that they bought in the fifties. We refer to it as the compound, which I thought was a new name until I recently discovered an old family newsletter my grandfather had written that included that title, and in it was mention of how my mother was going to have another baby - my twenty-nine-year old brother.
So many of my memories are from her kitchen, whether they be holidays or just a random Saturday for lunch or a Sunday night dinner. My parents had their wedding reception in that back yard, and so did a few of my other aunts and uncles. My sister had hers there and next summer my cousin is going to have his.
She almost always has a smile on her face and has no shortage of visitors. But she's also really good at reading people and she can tell if someone probably shouldn't be bothered with. She may not be able to tell you what day of the week it is most of the time but she's still one of my favorite people to just sit down and talk to.
Here's a picture of her at her 90th birthday with her "little" sister, Peggy. (who is 88)
So happy birthday, Nana. We all love you!