For the past few years, I have seen myself as almost apprenticing my Nana and her traditions. I help her decorate the graves of numerous family and friends, bake Christmas fruitcakes, prepare the Seven Fish Dinner with selections from her area of Italy, pick out advent calendars, and even learn other family dishes so that I can make them myself. I am speaking of the Thanksgiving and Christmas events because I feel an amplified sense of urgency during the holidays.
Recently, I have realized (and tried to come to terms with) the fact that Nana will not always be with me. I feel that I am the closest to her out of her four kids and eight grandchildren because I have always made time for her the way she has unconditionally done the same for me. Since I was a child, I would always tell her that I would someday take care of he the way she has always watched over me from the time I was a newborn.
My parents are doctors, and were still in training when I was born. Nana drove about an hour every single day to take care of me at my parents’ house; through rain, sleet and snow; over a very old bridge that terrified her; whether she was healthy or sick. She has even recounted to me that she would keep a life ring in her car because she was so afraid the ancient bridge would collapse—She cannot swim.
When I got to be a little older, about school-aged, she went to one of my aunt’s houses every day because she had younger children. My brother and I would be dropped off there, though, and still taken care of as well. Up through the time I was in the sixth grade, I would see her almost every day. When I transferred schools for junior high, she would drive from my aunt’s house, about a half hour, to pick me up whenever my parents could not.
All through high school I would often stay over her house and go out of my way to meet up with her. In college, I could no longer live with my parents and ended up moving in with her, right up until I got a house with my fiancé about a year ago (a year out of college). During these times, I helped her with household chores, cooking, odd jobs, shopping, and other things that did not cost me money. I was working twelve-plus hour days that included an hour’s commute, while earning only a stipend, despite all the time away from home. She never asked me for rent or expenses once, and had dinner on the table every night when I arrived home, usually around seven or seven-thirty—Late for her usual schedule of dinner at five. She rose with me every morning at five-am or a little before, waking me the mornings that she did not see me taking my dog outside to potty (she let him live there, too, and usually fed him for me because of my haggard schedule).
I suffered from a longstanding depression that made it hard for me to get going. On the weekends, she woke me up at ten-am so I did not oversleep, a habit that feeds such mood disorders, and so that I would not waste the day. Often, she would pick up pills for me; a trip that would take no less than an hour because we lived on a small island, with my pharmacy a ways off and on the coast parallel to our house. I did not have much free time to shop for myself or make pill runs during the week.
I came out as a transman during my junior year of college, but our relationship has never changed. She will lecture me every once in a while, but could never love me any less. The shopping for myself I spoke of? I would sometimes need new boxers or other articles of mens’ clothing, which she always picked up for me. I know it bothered her, but we would even shop in the mens’ sections together if I had time to pick out a new shirt or needed a pair of pants.
My Nana kept my diet strict while I lazed around during my brief break between college and the start of work. Only healthy foods were allowed, but they were foods I enjoyed. We found creative ways for me to still eat things I liked, while cutting out the fattier and higher-carb foods. One time, we even tried an expensive spaghetti substitute. That one was a bad choice, but Nana tried to get me to eat it and kept saying how good it was before I finally told her I was going to be sick.
Even now that I live with my fiancé and have my own car, Nana still picks me up for some of my doctor’s appointments so I don’t have to go alone, and we spend every Tuesday eating lunch together. I stay over her house once a week and complete chores and other labor-intensive tasks that need doing. She treats my dog as though he is the best little doggy in the whole world (and even tries to be friendly to our newer, aggressive Corgi-furbaby).
So, now that you know a little about our relationship, you should know how much she means to me. She is my grandmother, godparent, and pseudo-parent. She has always been there, and I hold dear the things that are important to her. Thus, I help out often. Ergo, I have become integral to these yearly deeds. Other people help out sometimes, too. Usually my mom will make time for my Nana when I cannot be there.
I feel that she participates, however, more out of a sense of duty, as the oldest: because she knows my Nana needs help; these rituals make Nana happy. And yes, I feel some of those urgings, too, but for me these yearly routines also bring a lot of pleasure. As a creature of habit, I love having something to cling to and something that makes me feel as though there are constants in this life.
All of this culminates in a realization. As I have been getting together a notebook to write out recipes, dates, places, and other important information to someday continue my Nana’s legacy, I came to see myself as someone who will someday become the one who holds her place. I am frightened to think she may ever leave me, but with myself doing her work, she will always be there. I will never be alone or lonely because I will just keep retracing her steps. I will have her customs to maintain and they will keep me company. Similarly to what I once heard from the character Angela, on the television show The Office, I will be my own grandmother. I will carry her with me, always, as we share the blessings and burdens of family traditions.