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It’s a few days early for Thanksgiving, but I always post on Mondays, so I’m posting today about what I’m thankful for. God has been good to me. I’m truly blessed. I have a loving husband and a wonderful son and daughter. I have two adorable dogs that bring us joy every day. We have a beautiful home and, given all the areas of the world that have been hit with disasters in recent years, it would be wrong of me to complain that it’s too far from my extended family… but that’s really the only thing that bothers me about my house. It just isn’t in my hometown.

Mary NaccaratoAnd that brings me to the topic of this post. I could write about so many different things this year, but what (or I guess I should say who) this blog post is focusing on is in my hometown. I’m going to tell you about one of my favorite people in the world: my grandmother, Mary Naccarato. I know almost everyone thinks they have the best grandma, but I have to tell you, this lady is one in seven billion.

Gramma, or Nana (as the great-grandkids call her), is a ninety-four year old dynamo. Because of her bright white hair and her unlimited supply of energy, she’s earned the nickname “The White Tornado.” This is a woman who still climbs ladders to polish the crystal on her chandelier, sweeps and scrubs her porches, and adheres to the same weekly housework schedule she created when she first got married… probably the same one she learned from her mother, because it’s the one my mother uses and it’s the one I (kind of) follow.

Her parents came from Italy when she had just one sibling. She was born in Colorado and spent her early childhood there, where she developed a love for horses and the wilderness. At a young age her family (which eventually became seven children) moved to New Kensington, Pennsylvania, where she eventually met my grandfather. She had other suitors, but it was my grandfather who won her heart. He used to walk the fifteen to twenty miles from Vandergrift to her house just to see her. When they married, she knew he had to take care of his mother and younger siblings (his father had died at a young age and he was the man of the family since he was fourteen), so she acquiesced her position as woman of the house, letting my grandfather continue to support his family.

His siblings were eventually able to care for themselves, and my grandmother got her own home. She lost her only son in a difficult stillbirth, but she went on to have two wonderful daughters: my mother and my aunt. The way I hear it, their house was the town hangout. She would make cookies or pizza roll or any number or wonderful treats and the kids would congregate there. There were times my dad and his friends dropped my when my mom and aunt weren’t there, just to visit and grab a snack. Why wouldn’t they? She’s the world’s best cook and she tells the best stories. She’s a great listener, too.

Things didn’t change when Gramma’s children were out of the house and her grandchildren were roaming the town. My friends and I used to drop in all the time for a snack and a visit. So did my brother, my sister, and my cousins. Sometimes our friends would drop by without us. It turns out, no one can go past my grandmother’s house without saying hello. And hello leads to a visit. And a visit leads to food, so…

When I got my license, I had a built-in shopping buddy. She was my good luck charm. If I needed something, really needed something, I’d take her with me. I always found what I was looking for if she was with me. Even if it took a while. Once I told her I needed to take a quick run to Staples for some things for my writing portfolio. We were there for two hours. To this day when she sees a Staples commercial she thinks of me. But I did manage to get everything I needed. She’s my good luck charm.

The week before my wedding, when my husband had his bachelor party, all of my bridesmaids had something else going on. One was underage, two were out of town, one was at the hospital with her fiancé, and two were moms with young kids at home… I wasn’t having a bachelorette party. I could have gone out with other friends or hung out with my parents for the last time. But I chose to spend the time with my grandmother. We went to my new apartment, papered my kitchen shelves, reminisced about my grandfather and other family moments, and then we went out. We had a blast. We talk about it to this day. It was one of the best nights of my life. I wouldn’t trade that memory for anything in the world.

Once all the grandkids were married, the great-grandkids came. We have traditions to carry on. Sure, we are learning them from our mothers, but Gramma is still there helping us, reminding us what is truly important. She came to my house and helped make homemade ravioli for the last Easter I hosted before I moved out of state. She still shares recipes and tells stories. She shows us pictures and gives us heirlooms. She is a living tradition.

I don’t get home very often. I miss seeing her, hugging her, baking with her, sharing these things with her. But then I remember, when her family left Italy, that was it. They never went back. They never even called home—the cost was too much. Because of technological advances, I can talk to her whenever I want. I have the luxury of hearing her voice. No, it’s not the same. I can’t sit at her kitchen table with a cup of coffee and a few pizzelles, but I haven’t lost touch with her.

And as long as I have her, I will give thanks for that.

I hope this Thanksgiving you all have someone in your lives for whom you can be as grateful as I am for my grandmother.

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