this week my grandmother's ashes were spread among the blue waters of the atlantic. she passed away after being sick for a long time. the news didn't come as a surprise, but death is always a shock.
the last time i saw "nana", piper was about a year old. my hair was brown and she would have said, "you've lost weight!" as she always did, whether you had or not. i remember thinking she looked different. she still had her bleached blonde hair, large presence and nasal-y boston accent; but her eyes seemed older. i don't remember what made her come visit iowa at that time. i can't even remember anything we did while she was here. but i remember taking the last picture i have with her; four generations of women: my grandmother, my mother and my daughter.
for my entire life, nana lived in florida. when we were kids, she always lived in a house with a pool. i clearly remember one pool had comedy and tragedy masks painted on the bottom that always scared me to swim over. i remember catching newts in her yard (which was mostly taken up by the pool). when we visited, we usually went to disney world because my uncle worked there. i remember going to restaurants, which was a big deal because our family hardly ever ate out. (stops at mcdonalds for our family would include one plain hamburger each, a shared order of french fries, and cups of water.) but with nana, we often did. i'm certain my love of seafood derives from those trips to florida to visit nana.
nana spoiled us. i remember one trip when she took my older sister and i to get new bathing suits. we were able to pick anything we wanted. i chose a neon pink and green number with black & white checked suspenders. my sister chose metallic leopard print. up until then, most of my suits were solid-colored, basic tank suits that were practical for swim lessons at the ymca. on another trip, she bought us high-top sneakers. they were l.a. gear. they had little bows on the back, diamond studs and came with three different types of laces. they were as hideous as they sound. but i loved them. i'm sure our mom was horrified, coming from the south where we wore white keds or saddle oxfords year-round, but she didn't say a word, allowing us to enjoy the special treatment we received on those rare visits with nana. i remember making the long drive to florida for christmases from wherever we were living at the time (georgia or canada or illinois). as a kid, it seemed like we would wake up on christmas morning to a room so filled with presents, you couldn't walk through it.
when i was thirteen, the rest of my family went on a mission trip to arizona, but i wasn't old enough to go. a difficult, hormonal junior higher; i just wanted to stay home with my friends. but, my parents sent me to stay with nana for the week and a half. eventually i got excited about the trip. i felt mature getting to fly by myself and i can still picture what i wore on the plane ride (olive green pants, a paul frank t-shirt, doc marten sandals). when i arrived nana and papa were waiting for me at the gate. we found my bag (which was terribly over packed) and i remember feeling guilty as i watched papa struggle to retrieve it from the steel conveyor. it was late when i arrived. maybe 9 or 10. i remember being tired. we made our way to the parking garage but neither nana or papa could remember where they parked the car. we walked around and around until finally papa remembered he had written down the section. 1L. or was I1? or L1? we couldn't decipher the combination of letter and number. we searched all over for their car until finally we gave up and asked an employee for help. he drove us around in his van until we finally found their car. it was comical. over the next several days, i learned a lot about my nana. i remember every time we went somewhere (the beach, a restaurant or a theme park, etc.) it took us forever to get there. she never looked up directions until we were completely lost. it's a lot funnier in memory than it was at the time. i'm so glad i had that time with her. i cherish those memories now.
that trip was the last time i went to visit her in florida. we met her in georgia once for thanksgiving and she made a few trips to iowa, including our wedding in 2005. when quinn was born, i knew i wanted to honor nana by using her name. margaret (margie) ruggiero, never got to meet her namesake, quinn margaret. although my girls never knew her, i will tell them of her loud laugh, her bold personality and her great sense of humor. and i hope to raise them with the same generosity and spontaneous spirit that she lived her life with.
over the past week or so since her death, i've noticed that loss brings out such a wide range of feelings, regret being one of them. i regret not spending more time with her in recent years. i regret not writing more letters and sending more pictures. i regret not making sure her great-grandchildren knew her. and i really regret not being there as she was memorialized on tuesday among a small group of family and friends.
i cried several times as i wrote this post and it took me a couple of days to even find the time and quiet to put these words down. but since i couldn't be at her funeral, i think writing about my grandmother was important for me. a way to have my own memorial. my own time to remember, to grieve and, hopefully, find closure.