My Grandpa's name was Harold Calvin Panter. I didn't find out the Calvin part until last year and I squealed. I think that's such an adorable and yet very masculine name. He joined the Navy at an early age (don't know exactly when) and served as a Boatswain's Mate---the same rate of my husband!!--during World War II. Afterward, he married my Nonna. And everyone I talk to who knows him says the same thing immediately:
He would have loved you. He would've been so protective of you. He would've thought the world of you.
They tell me about how he was so sweet. Never a more sweet man existed; he spoiled his family and happily did so. He loved kids and spent a lot of time laughing at the antics of his grandchildren (my older cousins.) He especially loved and cherished my mother, giving her everything he could. It's strange to think that any man in MY family had the capacity to be so gentle and kind. Not to mention suave: as one of many presents to his wife, he skinned a deer he'd hunted, and had the skin made into a beautiful jacket for her. He bought her jewelry and purses and according to everyone in my family his taste was impeccable.
And he carried a picture of the ship he served on, the USS Holland, everywhere with him after his service.
See that handsome man in the middle of the photo? That's him, Harold Calvin!
Then there was my Nonna. I don't know her middle name, but her first name was Leslie. The one word that comes up around her, regardless of what aspect, is 'beautiful.' She was beautiful. She made her home beautiful. She acted beautiful, she dressed and spoke and cared for her children, beautifully. She was such a lady. I've learned a lot about her in the past year and it's only made me love her more. She was drop dead gorgeous, charming, and intelligent; she was graceful and womanly and had a heart of gold. The love shared between her and my grandfather is something else that is talked about.
Nonna was also THE domestic goddess. She could do it all. All of those things which I can do none of. She could garden. She canned food. She cooked DELICIOUS meals. She sewed the absolute most beautiful clothes. She had an almost innocent humor about her, but at the same time she saw a lot of the world. In other words, she never became jaded, even at the end. Unlike my parents, I don't see my grandparents shunning my curiosity for life outside the hillbilly holler. Had my Nonna and Grandpa lived, I'd like to think they would encourage my moving around. Traveling. Exploring. Making things better for myself. I like to think they wanted to see me as happy as they were--another thing I always hear about them is how much they enjoyed life and each other. And how they made others' lives better in the process.
The Nonna I remember still had those amazing skills and that huge, huge heart. I never once heard her speak ill of anyone, not even my father. She was always welcoming to him (though I've heard my grandpa wouldn't have been) and she always loved to crack jokes with him. I'd like to think I inherited my artistic talent from her as well, because she always painted, drew, designed. She could also sculpt! She could really do just about anything. Once she tried to teach me how to sew. It ended horribly, but she always encouraged and loved my drawings, even framing several of them.
Nonna sensed that I was deprived of a decent household and so she made up for that in every way she knew how. I went to visit her every summer and it was without any doubt the best part of my childhood. I had a huge room all to myself, a backyard where I picked blackberries every morning to put in our cereal, and a Nonna and Alex only porch swing where she was fearless and always pushed me as high as the swing could go. Due to my extreme shyness and introversion as a kid, she never reprimanded me for anything; she always told me how sweet I was, instead. And how smart. She made me outfits, bought me the shoes with the sparkly laces. Painted my nails. She loved me, in other words.
And she loved me right up until the end. This woman defended my safety to my father and got a shotgun pointed at her face for doing so. And while my aunt begged her to back down, she refused. Doris had to physically pull her away. She was fighting for me, and I didn't even know it. She died without ever seeing me again, and I've heard several times that she carried a wallet picture of my sister and I while she was sick and showed it to visitors to brag about us.
One of the driving forces behind my success is the fact that I want to make her proud. I want to make what she did--standing up for me---justifiable. I love my Nonna and I really do think of her every day, sometimes with sadness, and sometimes, on the good days, with nothing but memories of us on that porch swing, shelling green beans and giggling and talking about life.