A One of a Kind Lady: A Tribute to My Grandmother Lucy

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     My Grandma Lucy (Dec. 13, 1923 [Feast of St. Lucy] – Jan. 21, 2013 [Feast of St. Agnes])was a one of a kind lady. There will never be another human being quite like her. She had real “personality”; indeed, she won an award for the best personality in High School. That was back when she was part of “The Dizzy Seniors”, her school clique that was commemorated in her year book by a photograph of them brandishing fencing swords. “See my pinky, see my thumb, see my fist…you’d better run!” Yes, that was Grandma. Sweetness and spiciness wrapped up in a classy exterior. She was always meticulous about her appearance, as long as her mental faculties remained intact. From blouses and skirts in her younger years, to turtlenecks and slacks, a pocketbook slung over her shoulder as she reached “the golden years”, she was fashionable and well-kept.     

     I remember vividly the times I spent with her on family trips to New Jersey over the years, and I fondly reminisce on all the adventures we had together. There was the time the lights went out, and she and I descended into her musty cellar to see what had gone amiss. There, in the infamous “cement closet”, the terror of youths for generations, I dutifully held aloft a flashlight for her to see as she rummaged about to figure out what had gone wrong. It was eventually discovered that the power failure was not just at the house, nor just along the street, but across part of the eastern seaboard! As a result, Fort Lee residents one and all emerged from their homes to eat dinner on their porches by candlelight. As darkness fell, everyone continued to loiter outside, enjoying the familiar sense of community and good conversation.    

    I remember traveling to Aunt Kay’s in New York State with my parents and Grandma, annoying her to death with trivia and eating too many sticks of bubble gum; I remember visiting her friend Rose and all the adjacent NJ towns; I remember how we would take her to church on Sunday and then come home to a lunch of cold-cuts and noodle salad; I remember sitting alongside her on her living room couch in the evening, watching “Antiques Road Show” or “Sanford and Son”, eating Dixie ice cream cups. I also remember the “pick-up” dinners from Boston Chicken and Hiram’s Hotdogs, the instant sweetened oatmeal for breakfast, the buttered muffins, the glasses of NJ tap water, and the way she would call up the stairs at 7 A.M.: “Are you people ever getting up???” She always was punctual, and a painfully early riser!      

      I remember the visits from relatives, the way Grandma and Mom would clean up the house, and Dad and I would go out to the local stores, A&P and others, to buy packages of pastries and tea. I remember how I would help her hang her laundry on the clothes line stretching across her flower garden and how I would build “fairy houses” out by her yard gnomes and blue glass ball on a pedestal. I would take pictures on everything in sight with my little pink camera, paste them in a notebook, and surround them with stickers. I would also draw pictures galore with my handy-dandy art kit. Grandma always commented on how artistic I was. I remember how we would “spy” on her neighbors together through her front curtains, how she would read the newspaper, watch the news, and keep track of things going on in the world around her. I remember showing her the contents of my backpack, all of my treasures, and her marvelous laugh and sparkling blue eyes.     

     There’s so much to remember. So many things that hurt to think back on. Going to Fort Lee, NJ, for Grandma’s funeral left a burning ache in my heart. She’s gone from this world, and Fort Lee, for me at least, seems to have lost its soul. Almost everything I saw reminded me of her, but she was nowhere to be found. And even years before she died, her “memory bank had broke”, as she so aptly put it. She suffered from advanced Dementia, stopped being able to take care of her appearance by herself, and became paranoid to be alone. She had a hard time remembering people, even those who were closest to her, and would sometimes lash out at those trying to care for her or those who she perceived as invading her privacy. But she could still clearly remember old time songs as well as ever, and we got her to sing with us over the phone when we made our weekly calls. She’d ask me repeatedly, “How old are you now?” “Where do you live?”, and then would teasingly inquire, “Got any boyfriends?” That was before she caught Pneumonia. Complications ensued. She drifted off into her own world for the last several weeks. And then…    

     Gazing at the skyline of New York City, the colossal buildings, trucks and traffic, and castle-like smoke-spewing factories with red lights made me feel like I had entered the fantasy world of J. R. R. Tolkien. I thought of my farmland home in Maryland and thought of the hobbits leaving the Shire, facing the darkness pervading the outside world. I felt it bear down on me heavily, as I tasted the distinct taste of tap-water and thought of Grandma, when we explored a great empty pink house on the bluffs about the be demolished and gazed on the great city from across the G. W. Bridge together. Oh, Grandma, where are you? May God bring us together again, someday, in a place where nothing can separate us…let me hear your laugh and your wonderful singing voice, let me see your smile and your beautiful blue eyes…let the darkness of the night give way to the dawn…

“Home is behind, the world ahead,

And there are many paths to tread,

Through shadow, to the edge of night,

Until the stars are all alight,

Mist and shadow, cloud and shade,

All shall fade, all shall fade…”

 

“Eternal rest grant unto her, O Lord,

And let your perpetual light shine upon her,

May the soul of Lucy Balestri

Through the mercy of God Rest in Peace,

Amen.”

By Avellina Balestri

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