Monday, November 22, 2010

Firecrackers and Blue Jeans

Sorry for the delay in getting this blog up. I was kind of lost in the whirlwind of the funeral last week. But I promised you all tales of my gram, the firecracker.

She was a firecracker, which really is just a polite or more colorful way to say she had a temper, right? For instance, this one time, we were driving down the road when I was in high school, and she got angry at me. She slammed down her turn signal and broke the entire steering column.

Thus, her "firecracking" was sometimes directed towards me or inanimate objects. But other times it was directed to people who had done her family wrong.

When I was in elementary school playing basketball, she came down from the stands to scream at the referees and the coaches because when I was wrestling with another girl for the basketball, the girl punched me and knocked the wind out of me.

Gram was fired up that day, but her hardheadedness started long before I was born, long before my mom was born even.

When gram was a high school student in the mid-1950s, she walked into a girls' bathroom to see a couple white girls beating up a black girl in her class. She stepped in the middle and started swinging at the white girls. That was the end of her friendship with them, but she didn't care.

Right was right, and wrong was wrong.

Then again, even she blurred those lines from time to time. During those same high school years, she wanted nothing more than a new pair of Levi blue jeans. She asked her father for them again and again, but he said they were too expensive.

So, she chose not to eat lunch and instead saved her money until she could afford the jeans herself. She paid for the jeans, removed the tags, and wore them home from the store. Her father saw the red "Levi" tag sticking out from the seam and yelled at her, but she smugly knew she could not return them since they'd already been worn.

Eventually, though, she felt guilty for wearing expensive jeans when she saw other things in the family that needed replacing, her father's shoes that were worn thin for instance.

Still, when I was in high school 45 years later, she grabbed the little red tag on my jeans (I feel the need to point out that Levi's are now very affordable) every time I walked by her, and she told me that story.

She told me lots of stories I will treasure and always be thankful for. I'm thankful to you all for reading as well. Thanks for your comments and good wishes.

Have a great week, everyone, and Happy Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Bragging Grandparents

As I was growing up, I remember my grandmother bragging about me - a lot. She even submitted to a local newspaper column called "Bragging Grandparents." She would tell anyone who would listen - grocery store workers, high school friends she bumped into at Denny's, the servers at Denny's (and you get the point) - about my sports, my grades, and my travels.

It kind of embarrassed me then, but now it's a sweet memory and unequivocal proof she was proud of me. I wish I could be humble or nonchalant about it, but as a girl who has lost four "parents" before her 30th birthday, knowing I've made them proud matters.

Yes, my grandmother loved to brag, but now it's my turn to brag about her.

When I was in kindergarten, I had the coolest job in the world. After my morning classes, I would come to the cafeteria for lunch while all the other kids went home. I would eat with the big kids, and then when lunch was over, I was a special helper to the janitor.

He gave me a rag, and I wiped every table and chair in the place. I took my job seriously, making sure every crumb disappeared. My reward was a handful of candy from his office. I got this job because of my grandmother. She was in the kitchen volunteering - cooking and cleaning.

After we both finished our duties, I climbed into her car and drove away with her. When I had to stay in school for the afternoon in pesky first grade, I remember missing those times with my gram.

But we had other times.

She drove me to Girl Scouts and basketball practice. She came to school events like Grandparents Day, and she was there when I won the Geography Bee in third grade.

Each Christmas, she planned a massive holiday party for the whole family - her three children, seven step-children, their spouses, and 23 grandchildren. She even arranged it so Santa could visit. There are pictures from those parties somewhere, pictures of the 23 grandchildren piling on top of each other to squeeze into photographs in front of the Christmas tree.

She planned summer picnics, too. She let me climb the cherry tree in her backyard. She watched me score baskets and spike volleyballs. She watched me walk across the stage before Prom and give my speech at graduation.

When my mother passed away my freshman year of high school, Gram didn't give taking us in a second thought. She immediately sought a lawyer and made sure the adoption was finalized pronto. She struggled immensely in losing my mom, her baby girl. But she was still there for us - her kids and her grandkids.

She was also a firecracker. But more on that tomorrow...

Thanks for letting me share.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Saying Goodbye is Not Final

In my book, THESE WALLS CAN TALK, which was originally titled THE DINER ON THIRD, my protagonist Leia Angeletti is very close with her grandmother. She visits Grandma Jack often at the nursing home and does her best to reach her grandmother through the fog of Alzheimer's.

The character Grandma Jack was based on my grandmother, Anne Goerman Farneth. Yesterday, she passed away at the age of 73.

With my grandparents Anne and Clarence Farneth on the day I graduated from Valley High School in New Kensington. They adopted me and two of my siblings when our mother died in 1997.

My family and I spent the afternoon at the funeral home discussing arrangements, including the obituary. We toiled over how it would be worded. Would we list that she adopted three of her grandchildren, me included, when she lost her youngest daughter (their mother) to illness? In what order would we list the many relatives who preceded her in death? Should the grandchildren be listed by name?

The questions seemed silly. Did it really matter, I wondered? But I realized in a way, it did. The funeral director said, "This will be the last thing written about Anne." It would be the final record of her life.

Final record.

I don't mean this as a joke, but that sounds so final. And it shouldn't be.

Anne Goerman McSherry Farneth lived 73 years in a town called New Kensington. She had three children, seven step-children, 23 grandchildren, and several great-grandchildren. She worked as a bookkeeper, grocery story cashier, and volunteered in the cafeteria of her grandchildren's school. She was infinitely proud of her family's heritage of starting the first local newspaper and the first local fire company in the 1800s. She was beautiful, loving, and flawed. In her 73 years, she touched the lives' of thousands of people, and her life boils down to a one-column obituary?

She deserves more, and even if this humble blog is my only platform to deliver that, I will gladly do it. So all this week, I'll be sharing stories of my gram. And all my life, I'll be missing her.

Thanks for allowing me to share her with you.