Sunday, June 26, 2016

Remembering my Grandmother Eleanor

From September 2015...

Coffee nips, spaghetti on Styrofoam plates, Planters peanuts, Hi-C, Micro Magic French Fries and Dixie cups in the freezer - These are some of the fond childhood memories my cousins and I have of visiting my grandmother on Upland Street.

Grandmom would always greet us with a big smile on her face. She had a record player in the living room and would play songs like: “Putting on the Ritz, Grandma got run over by a reindeer, and YMCA.” She loved to sing and dance with us. Her house was a children’s paradise. The typewriter and building blocks in the basement, the train tracks running through the backyard, someone feeding us juice and I even think I took a sip of beer once – what a loving place for a child to explore.
Grandmom would hand us money just about anytime we saw her and hide eggs at Easter filled with dollar bills and candy. She was once quoted in the newspaper saying – “my grandchildren keep me young.” She loved our company and we loved hers.

When I was five, I asked my mother, “Is Grandmom El our great grandmother?”
My mom asked, “Why do you say that?”
I replied, “Because she's so great to us.”

While we kids were exploring the backyard and basement, our family and friends would gather around the living room table, enjoying conversation and a Meister Brau with Grandmom. She loved her beer. In an article from the Philadelphia Inquirer, celebrating her 80th birthday (in 2003), the author of the article wrote, “When the rest of the world ran out to buy water and duct tape to gird for a terrorist attack, Eleanor bolted to the liquor store and bought two more cases of beer.”
Years later, she would move to Lansdowne Ave. That was when things began to change. She was still Grandmom, but she wasn't drinking anymore. I remember being surprised at how well she took that. She was still taking SEPTA to get around though. She loved taking SEPTA wherever she had to go – the 13 trolley to work or taking my mother as a child on the bus so she could see the smashed up cars at the junkyard.

Earlier this week, I found out the before the 1970s, Grandmom actually wasn’t a grandmother. Hard to believe, right? Before that time, she was a dedicated wife and a loving mother, working at Sunray Drugs and Penn Mutual to help support her family. She was Aunt Winnie. In her downtime, she enjoyed playing the lottery, watching game shows, and listening to Dean Martin. She enjoyed smoking cigarettes. “I wasted matches,” she said. “No sooner was I lighting one then lighting another one.”

And, before 1946, she wasn’t Grandmom or Mom. She was Eleanor, working at the family restaurant at 2nd and Chestnut, and dating my grandfather. “Whenever I wanted to talk with him, I’d call his house and ask ‘Did you call me?’ ‘No.’ ‘Oh, well, someone called me, but they didn’t leave a name so I thought it was you.’” She was a witty, young girl, the daughter of Helen and Charles, enjoying life on 57th Street.

And by the good grace of God, she spent her final years a few blocks from where she grew up and where she was married – here, at Little Sisters of the Poor. Just last month, I stopped to see her a few times. Over ice cream, we would discuss her past – her father’s police beat in West Philly, her mother from Mahanoy City. We talked about the shore – she would help her sister at B&B cold cuts. During down time, Pop-pop and the girls liked the beach, but she loved the boardwalk, “Those were the good ole days,” she said.

I will miss her terribly. I already do. I hope she is gathered around the living room of heaven with Pop-pop, Aunt Lucille, Uncle Paul, GG and everyone else she loved. I hope her son Thomas is sitting on her lap. Everyone gathered around – sharing laughs, telling stories, and singing songs. If I close my eyes I can picture it. I hope you can too.

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