Most kids wouldn't trade their grandmothers, I sure wouldn't.  Here's my most unforgettable character.

My Italian grandmother, Louisa Castelli, or Nana, always thought highly of me.  When I was born, my mother, upon first seeing me, said, "He looks like Jiminy Cricket (the Walt Disney character)".  

Nana first looked at me and said, "He look like Jesu Cristie."  Well, I couldn't walk on water, and I couldn't make loaves and fishes, but that didn't stop Nana's worship of me.

She had six children over the span of twenty years, my mother being the youngest, having her around age 43.  Most of my cousins were considerably older. However, my mother told me that didn't matter, as she heavily favored me over all the others, like I was the one grandchild she was waiting for.  After all, I had to be the ONE, based on who she thought I looked like.  She was always a bit offbeat, and somewhat defiant, if the situation warranted.  My mother remembers being in church with her when she was a little girl back in the depression years of the 1930's.  The priest called for a 'silent collection', which meant only paper money.  On cue, Nana reached into her purse to retrieve a handful of pennies and nickels.  When the collection basket came her way, she threw the handful with as much force and noise as possible, then stared at the priest.

"Good morning, Mrs. Castelli." he said among chuckles from the other parishioners.

Nana would do things on my behalf that would bring my mother to tears of frustration.  Lie for me.  Teach me how to light her cigarette (at about age five).  

"He's going to end up in Sing Sing!!" (an upstate New York prison at the time), my mother would scream at her.

"Stop treating him like you're a black widow."  That was Nana's term for a nun, who dressed in black habits at the time.  Especially back then, the nuns were known for no fun, no nonsense, whereas Nana was all about fun.
"Let him learn to breathe on his own, and stop being a witch."

My mother later told me she cried and cried worrying how I was going to turn out.  What she didn't know, and what I figured out later, was that Nana was actually teaching me things.  About the cigarette lighter, Nana said, " Johnny, I'm too old to stop smoking, but I wish somebody told me at your age not to start."

As far as covering my little ass for me, here's an example how a weekend with Nana would go.  She would call my parents home around mid afternoon on Friday, and ask what my parents were going to do for the weekend.  If they didn't have a specific plan to go away, about one hour later, Nana would arrive at the house by taxi (she didn't drive).  To get there that quickly, she had to have a bag packed before she made the phone call.  She never felt she needed an invite.  If my mother had a frown upon Nana's arrival, she said, "Go do whatever you want to do, I'm not here to see you anyway," as she went over to give me a big hug.

My parents would take this opportunity to go grab a bite to eat in town, then go to a movie.  My mother would instruct Nana to have me in bed by eight.

Ha. Ha.  Well after eight o' clock I'd be bouncing off the walls, my sugar booster rocket not nearly empty. Around ten, Nana would say,"Johnny, I hear the garage door, they're back home!"  She didn't hear anything, but I knew at that point, she meant business, so I went from room to room, turning all the lights out, then slid into my bed, having already changed into my pajamas around nine.

When my parents came through the door, my mother asked what time I was tucked into bed.

Nana said, and what a poker face she had, "Eight o' clock."

My mother years later told me that they used to park the car about a block from the house a little before 10 o' clock, to watch and laugh as the lights went out from room to room.  It was their private joke for a few years back then.

My Nana had terrible arthritis, but I never saw her pain when I was younger, and my earliest memories of her were when she was in her seventies.   She always found a way  to laugh around me.  I did see her pain as I got older, but she always made light of it.  Her doctor told her she could have a glass of red wine before bedtime, to help her relax and sleep better.  She replied, "Doctor, if it's all the same to you, can I have a shot of scotch instead?"

He knew his answer didn't matter.  "Mrs. Castelli, scotch it is," he said with resignation.

Throughout these last painful years, she would say of me, "I just want to see him make his first  communion."  Check.  Then it was," ...his Confirmation."  Check.  "... graduate high school."  Check.  "...graduate college."  Check.  "...get married."  Check.  "...his first child..."

Sorry, Nana.  She passed away at age 90,  before George was born.

Well, I don't have a criminal record, a couple of speeding tickets is the best I can do.

My mother's revenge was to do the same kinds of things with our son, George, as my Nana did with me, but to make a distinction, he called her Nani, instead.

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