Wednesday, March 24, 2021

In My Footsteps: For My Nina

    Sometimes if you stand on the beach and watch the tide go out it can feel as if it takes an eternity, until it is out and you wonder where the time went. My grandparents were married for 73 years. When my Grampa passed nearly 2 years ago my Nina's tide began to go out. She spent the better part of the last 22 months in a nursing home and virtually isolated from family due to Covid-19. It was sad and unfair for that to be her final chapter. I could only apologize to her when seeing her one of the last times and say that this was not the way we all expected it to go. Her last words she spoke to me were 'I love you too' and for me it was a perfect bow on our 43 year relationship as grandmother and grandson. As I sit here trying to unload a lot of emotion I keep coming back to a few feelings: gratitude, sadness, and joy. I'd rather remember my Nina in those ways and that is what will follow.

    My Grampa was very much a larger than life human. World War II vet, Olympic caliber swimmer and sprinter, friends with icons like Rocky Marciano, jazz singer, and successful business owner. The thing is that all of those achievements and accolades paled in comparison to my Nina as far as he was concerned. She was his everything, and she was indeed the glue that held together the patchwork quilt that became our huge family.

Jo-Anna Drive 1983

    Grampa worked, and worked hard, so it was Nina that became the face of the family as I knew it. She was style and class before I knew what those words meant. I laugh now because I never told her, but growing up in the 1980's she reminded me of Tina Turner. Strong legs, high heels, big hair, and most of all a toughness that earned respect. She raised five children to be loving, kind, and caring adults with those traits being passed along to her grandchildren. She was at the forefront of the women's fitness boom of the late 1960's in Brockton, Massachusetts and again in the early 1970's when moving to Cape Cod. She taught classes and knew how to command a room by being one-part hard and one-part caring. This was evident to the very end like when she gave my Aunt Kelly double middle-fingers during one of our final Zoom calls and then following it up by sweetly saying what a lovely visit it was.

    You see I'll miss my Nina terribly, she represents the end of a chapter as my last grandparent has now passed. However she is always around me because I see her in all of the women in my family over several generations. They have all taken bits of who she was, whether they even realize it or not, and made it part of their own life's quilt. That is the gratitude I have, is that she has scattered pieces of herself all across this family like so many Tiger Lily seeds, and they are in full bloom.

Christmas 1977

    Nina was the one that brought me out for lunch and toy shopping growing up because Grampa was working. I can close my eyes and hear the jazz music playing in her Oldsmobile Tornado and the clicking of her long fingernails on the faux wood that lined the steering wheel and dashboard. Nina was the one that had certain movies and shows on VHS on a little bookshelf behind the front door because she knew I liked them. Godzilla and the Three Stooges? No way she watched those ever. Nina was the one with the anisette toast by Stella-Doro that remind me so much of being a kid. She encouraged me to sit and play with the water games on her deck because at least I was outside. She was the one that demanded I eat something every time I visited her, even in the last few years, that was the Italian in her. I always remember that the leather interior to her cars made me carsick, nearly every time, but I dealt with it anyway because I loved being with her. It was a small price to pay for memories that are so important to me now.

The deck at Jo-Anna Drive 1978

    Selfishly I am sad that Nina is gone. It speaks to me and my own life. The longer I was blessed to have grandparents in my life the more chances I had to make them proud of me. I love my entire family, but nobody in my life was ever a bigger fan of me than Nina, Grampa, and my Nana. Still when it comes to Nina I am beyond happy that she has been reunited with Grampa. She met him when she was an age when most people are just starting high school and they remained together until they were both in their 90's. She was never whole once he left. I am grateful that she remained as long as she did but she needed to go be with him again.

Together again, where they belong.

    It's hard to sum up a life so long and full which had an impact felt by so many. She was the glue that held things together allowing my Grampa the chance to run those businesses. Her legacy lives on in all of us that were raised by her or raised by her teachings. We all are her legacy. We will all do our best to take care of that legacy she left behind. We will hear her in things we say. We will see her in things we do. We are all the Tiger Lily seeds she spread throughout her 9 decades on this earth. I am filled with gratitude, sadness, and joy. Even forever goodbye's are not forever though. I love you Nina and I will see you again in a place far better than this.


Unknown said...

Such a beautiful tribute filled with love and adoration. She will always be with you.

Christopher Setterlund said...

Thank you very much.