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The Many Faces of Nana

In a previous post I mentioned that my grandmother was quite a character. She had what people refer to as street smarts. She knew how to get what she wanted. She knew when to fight and also when to play the victim.

The summers and holidays I spent in western Pennsylvania were always a blast. Being around one’s people, but only doing so for brief periods at a time, is the best. My aunt’s and uncles showered me with affection. My cousins and I played and made memories. I also got to spend time with my Nana. Sometimes she was sweet, and other times she was swinging a wooden spoon at my culo.

I wasn’t above trying to curry Nana’s favor when I could. When we fawned over her, or did nice things for her, there was always the chance that she would slip us a $5 bill. All we had to do was get her a blanket when she looked cold. Hand her her crocheting or the television remote when either was out of her reach.

Some of this good behavior was to make up for the times we persecuted her. I am ashamed to admit this, but we were all sometimes cruel to her. Pranks and insolence mostly.

For example. Nana had a pacemaker put in at some point in her 70s. When she would nag us to do something we would threaten to turn the microwave on. I am not sure if pacemakers have challenges being around microwaves now; however, in the late 1970s when they were new and started popping up in American kitchens, patients with pacemakers were advised to avoid being in the room with them. We’d stand by the unit and turn the dial until she’d protest in grunts and Italian profanity and leave the room.

Remember this is a woman who played cards with her grandchildren who were all under the age of ten … and cheated. She tried to beat us with a wooden spoon, and got mad when we laughed at her because she wasn’t strong enough for it to hurt. We’d howl with laughter and she’d try even harder to hit our bottoms while we covered our bums with our hands and laughed like maniacs.

I recall one time how I inadvertently got her good.

She loved to gamble. Mostly the lottery, and she had a system. A mysterious system, but one she claimed worked despite lack of evidence in the form of actual winnings.

She always carried a little piece of paper tucked into her pocket. Numbers in columns and rows. Marks that resembled carrying a number when doing math. My grandmother didn’t understand math. She had no formal education, and couldn’t read or write. She couldn’t doing simple arithmetic.

Occasionally she would ask one of us for our thoughts on her numeros. She wanted us to tell her the result of the lottery. At first I would be amused to be included. Since Nana lived with my cousins they had no patience for her requests. The queries usually came while we were watching television and that annoyed them.

One day Nana asked me what I thought the number would be, and I gave a reply.

“6-2-7” I stated.

She scrunched up her face as she consulted her notes.

“No, no, no, Ricky” she said in her thick stereotypical Italian accent.

She pointed at her paper as if it was plain as day that my choice was impossible. She didn’t actually attempt to explain why. It just was as far as she was concerned.

I shrugged and moved on. She gave her money and a list of numbers to my uncle to play for her when he ran errands that day.

That evening the entirely family was sitting in front of the television together when the local station broke to show the live drawing.

“6-2-7” was called and flashed on the screen.

My grandmother’s jaw nearly dropped and she turned and stared at me mouth agape.

“Told you,” I said.

She looked at the TV, her scrap of paper, and me. Her mouth still open, she shook her head.

The next morning she asked me if I had dreamed of any numbers. She dreamed of numbers, and now that I had called the correct number exactly once she was convinced I had The Gift. She tried to get me to tell her the numbers for the next night, and got angry when I told her I didn’t feel like it. I was winding her up, and it was working. She begged me and tried to bribe me, but I never gave her another number.

If I recall correctly for her next birthday the entire family gifted her a Pennsylvania Lottery subscription, and she cried with joy when she opened it.