By Sheilah Zimpel
I can't talk about my own Mom who just passed right now, but here's an old bit I'd written about Nana.
“I just had to smoke a cigarette and wear a hat,” the song says. It happened that way for me. When I was still a kid with delusions of grandeur, I wanted to be Katherine Hepburn or Lauren Bacall. I admired their style, grace, and especially their witty banter with the guys. Much later I realized my grandmother, Nana Buckley, was more my style. She was a farmer, not a stay-at-home mother, a businesswoman. She had her own business desk, which impressed me a lot more than a trunk full of old wedding dresses did. I didn’t want to play dress up--I wanted to write checks. She had a big notebook-sized checkbook with “Buckley Farms, Inc.” embossed in bold letters on the front. She had “help,” not cleaning women or yard boys, but farmhands. In her desk drawer was a pack of True 100s. I never saw her smoke, and I probably smoked more of them than she did. She drank Manhattans, another thing I never saw, when she played bridge with the girls. She was a devout Catholic.
She fed us generous helpings of red meat from a chest freezer on the back porch, from a cow that had been slaughtered and packaged by hand around the dinner table. Homemade donuts dipped in the sugar bowl, rolls, cookies, rhubarb, and berries. Milk from the barn that left a ring around the glass. Born in 1905, she did not disintegrate into old age. She had too much to do. Her husband died young, and she had six children to raise and a dairy farm to run. She outlived her husband, five brothers, sister, and two sons. Two of her boys went to Cornell (veterinarian and engineer), and one to Vietnam; the girls became what they could then: a teacher, a nurse (my Mom), and a dental hygienist. Nana sold a cow to send Mom to nursing school.
At her death at 87, many years ago, my Mom said Nana raised her eyes to heaven and smiled. That’s the way true ladies die in the movies, so it was fitting she did so too. When I read Corinthians 1:13 at her funeral mass in 1992, I think I finally realized what about Nana was bigger than life—I’d thought it was her faith, wisdom, altruism—but without all those things she wouldn’t have been the powerful presence she was. It was her love. I had misplaced my affections on movie icons who were eloquent, sassy, and confident, but Corinthians said everything ceases without love. I vowed to put away childish things.
Some of those tall tales our parents told us are true. They did everything with nothing, but love.
“If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.”