We’re taking a drive in the country—my mom, my dad, my two sisters, Grandma Ellie, and myself (this is back when there were middle seats in the front and you could fit 6 in a typical sedan). My grandma is studying the world outside her window as she always does, with rapt attention and curiosity, commenting freely on everything that comes into sight. We pass by a large tree with a wooden structure built into it and she asks what it is. My dad tells her, “That’s a deer stand. It’s used for hunting deer.” Several minutes pass in silence, a rarity with my grandma in the car. She is thinking, thinking hard. And then she breaks the silence: “How do the deer get up there?”
On another car ride, upon seeing a construction project (a bank) going up in the parking lot of a Wegmans grocery store, she shakes her head in disgust: “Now, who on earth would want to build their house there?”
These types of “Grandma Ellie stories” glitter my childhood, but before you make the mistake of assuming grandma is “losing it,” you should know that she was all there, and more. She just had a beautifully unique way of conceptualizing things, of reasoning herself into a world that was, in some ways, much more interesting than the logical and ordered world we usually see—a world where deer might climb a tree to help out a few hunters and where people build houses in grocery store parking lots.
Until her last breath this past January, she remained the kind of woman who would never go a day without a fashionable hat to match her outfit (or hospital gown), someone who could strike up a boisterous and silly song even in her most physically weak moments and who, no matter how bad her eyes got, could always point out the intricacies of your outfit, and let you know with a raised eyebrow if it was “a bit long in the back” or “a little revealing.” Mother to 9, grandmother to 53 (including great and great-great grand children), sister to 6, her heart only swelled as her family grew. She raised 4 of her children as a single mother, working hard every day to not only clothe and feed them, but also to make life whimsical for them.
The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper. – W.B. Yeats
I can recall many visits and sleepovers at Grandma’s house, the Fig Newtons, orange sherbet, and ginger ale always on offer, the Scrabble games, and the endless conversations.
She had difficulty remembering names, but she did better than that— she remembered every other detail about a person. She would try to recall a friend of mine from grade school, telling me her hair color, what sports she played, who she dated (or “went with”) and, of course, how she dressed. Each little detail added to the stories in my grandma’s mind, which she built upon on by asking questions that showed genuine interest.
When I was young, Grandma spent many holidays with my family, and she filled them with magic. On Christmas morning, we’d all line up on the stairs in order of height (being the baby of the family, I always got to be in the front of the line), and we’d sing: dee-dly dee, dee-dly dum, dee dee dee dee dee, as we approached the Christmas tree to see what Santa left for us. And now my little family of three still does this, in our tiny apartment without any stairs, and we think of Grandma. On New Years’, we always banged pots and pans at midnight, and I still do— even if my husband and his family think I am crazy.
Elinore Madden Lucca was a witty, competent, and strong woman. She knew what she wanted in life until her last day. She managed to always make others feel special, and yet to also maintain her title as “Queen” in the magical world of Ellie—only she, for example, could mistake a porta-potty urinal for a “purse holder.” She left the world in peace. It was her time. But I miss her and the magic she brought to my life. May her memory be eternal. Happy Birthday Grandma (on May 2nd)! You still are our sunshine.
You are my sunshine, my only sunshine
you make me happy when skies are gray
you’ll never know dear, how much I love you
please don’t take my sunshine away.
You Are My Sunshine, Jimmie Davis and Charles Mitchell