My grandma would have been 88 on St. Patrick’s Day. She passed the summer before last, just before I moved to Portland. I’d said goodbye to her while she was still in the hospital, waiting to go home where my mom and hospice nurses her would tend to her for her final month. The last time I saw her, she asked about my spring wedding the month before, told me she wished she could have been there. “I know,” I said. “I wish you could have, too.”
I was her namesake, my Grandma Patricia. She loved to remind me of it. “Pa-trish-e-ah,” she’d spell out, making it sound exotic and important. She went by Pat to those who knew her, and I prefer to be called Trish, but our shared first name is, by definition, “noble.” I don’t know how well I live up to the meaning, but my grandmother surely did.
A former beauty queen and beautician of Hegewisch, Illinois, she was a mother of four, a woman whose love of her life died before I was born, and she never considered trying to replace him. I used to think she’d find someone else. She was statuesque and lovely by anyone’s standards, elegant and well-dressed, the opposite of what you’re likely to conjure as the image of a grandma. Grandma Pat took pride in how she looked, but not out of vanity. She enjoyed beautiful things. Even when she was bed-ridden with internal pain, she shopped QVC and had a closet full of blouses, a vanity topped with broches and other gems of jewelry she’d only wear when she left the house for a doctors appointment, of which there were many.
When my mother and sister or I went shopping, she’d hear us come through the door and sit at the dining room table and wait for us to present her with our purchases. She admired our tastes, asking “How much did you pay for that? You’re kidding! Do they have it in other colors? Let me try that one on.” She never said she disliked something, and often my mom would go back to the store we’d just returned from and buy my grandma a duplicate item.
Grandma thought my mom was the most gorgeous and talented daughter, and that my sister and I were the most gorgeous and talented granddaughters that ever lived. She insisted on hanging an 8 x 10 Glamour shot of me in the hallway of our home, praising my fifth grade chipmunk cheeks bruised by blush and my neck and head framed by a red sequin cap and matching jacket. “It’s terrible,” I said. “Please take it down!” I knew I was wasting my breath. “You look like a star,” she’d say. In our youth, my sister and I were compared to Shirley Temple. When I was older, Grandma told me I could be a model for QVC. “They hire bigger girls,” she said, straight-faced and well-intended.
Once during a garage sale, Grandma played a tape of my mom singing Patsy Cline’s “Crazy” on a loop and told every one who stopped in, “That’s my daughter.” She beamed from her spot in a lawn chair by the jambox. My mom sang it at her funeral, the line “Crazy for thinking that my love could hold you” taking on a new meaning as it rang in our ears.
My grandma died after years of internal pain. She’d been to doctors and clinics and specialists and through shifting diagnoses and treatments that could never cure her. Most family members would say it was because of what she held inside; the guilt of having a mentally challenged son in the 1950s and not being able to care for him how she thought she should; for marrying a man whose mental toughness would sometimes turn physical on her other children; for his leaving her too early to have to work through it all alone; and for being noble and graceful in a world that didn’t always lend itself so well to those attributes.
My mom is still having a hard time going through Grandma’s things. The jewelry and clothes and robes she wrapped around her as she glided around the house, helping to clean the kitchen when she was still able to move without falling or becoming to weak to stand – it’s all still in my parents house, taking up space my grandma should be utilizing because she is still there. She lived with her three other children and their families after my grandpa died, never living alone nor without one of us there to take in her unwavering love.
My grandma was born on St. Patrick’s Day, three days before the Spring equinox. We used to say St. Patrick’s Day was our day, that it was for the Patricias. There actually was a St. Patricia, and according to Catholic legend, she was “was of a noble and perhaps royal family in Constantinople who fled to Italy to escape marriage and became a virgin consecrated to God in Rome. She returned to Constantinople, distributed her wealth to the poor, and then went back to Italy;, where she died soon after, at Naples. She is a patron of Naples, and like St. Januarius there, a vial believed to be filled with her blood reportedly liquefies thirteen hundred years after her death.”
We’re not Catholic, but if I were to truly believe in saints, then I’d say my grandma was one. I don’t think of her and how she died in early in August, but how she was born in the very humble and noble beginnings of spring time.