Grandma made biscotti regularly. But only for special occasions was it decorated. At Easter and Christmas. The confetti party on her cookies always signaled a celebration. They tasted no different but different was in the air.
She took a sponge bath from a white pedestal sink, brushed her teeth with a mixture of tooth powder, salt, and baking soda, gave herself a light dusting of talc, and then rolled her long gray hair into a horizontal coil at the back of her head. “What color was your hair when you were a girl, Gramma?"
“Chestnut,” she would say and I wondered exactly what color that was.
“Not as dark as yours, Tatina.”
My cousins’ names all bore her distinctive Italian accent, as did my brothers’, when she called out for them, but she used an Italian nickname for me. I don’t remember her saying my birth name. Don’t know what Pamela would have sounded like. For I was Tatina. Or Dolly, which I think was accented darling, I’m not sure.
As I wiped flour from my countertops I smelled baking anise and almonds wafting through my kitchen, an aroma from my grandmother’s oven, the scent of long ago. It was that fragrance I remember while playing at my spot on the area rug in the front of French doors in the dining room. The late morning and afternoon sun streamed through the windows to land on Barbie and me.
It occurred to me that I was lost in the memories of a 12-year-old girl. I last saw Fanny, my grandmother, in 1964, when I was 12. I had to wonder how reliable those recollections might be so many years later. Perceptions of a child translated by an adult, influenced by time. But when I craned attempting to peer through the fog of years, that which I grasped was clear.
She was the first and perhaps only person I have known about whom I believed I need do nothing to be worthy of her devotion, attention, and uninterrupted flood of love. To be with her was to bathe in the feeling created when a child knows with certainty nothing can happen which will dam that flow. Having been born was enough for her. I’d already done all that was required.
As I placed my colorful biscotti in tins as gifts for family and friends I realized nearly 50 years have passed since her death. I said to my sweetie, I bet if we gathered my family together we couldn’t speak of her for longer than ten minutes without someone beginning to cry. That’s how much she's still missed.
I mentioned that comment to my brother this morning over coffee. He countered with his story of the first time, at age 7 or 8, he understood the depth of her love and its unconditional nature. About 90 seconds passed when his voice tightened and his eyes began to redden. The Fanny Effect.
I don’t have huge aspirations or expectations of life. Not because I expect little but because life as been rich and good to me, with grand surprises and abundance. I know how lucky I am. But if I can finagle it, there’s something significant I would like to do before I take my leave. I would like to provide what was provided to me.
I want to be an unqualified, unmitigated and complete source of support and affection for a child as Fanny was for me. I want to send a little one into the world believing as I did that he/she is 100% lovable and that breathing is the only compulsory while in my presence.
I would like to tender that and maybe know that I have done so. I’d like to believe that someone’s memory may be tickled from time to time by the shuffle of slippers on the floor, or the smell of baking cookies with colored candy sprinkles. And that 50 years after my exit they’re able to reach through a dusty accumulation of years and hear me calling their name with delight in my voice. Just because they were born.