The Grandparent Project: Part Fifteen

This online family photo history series has covered twenty years of cross-country grandparenting. My mother, siblings, nieces and nephew in California and my children in the Midwest were fortunate to have shared many visits and forged lifetime bonds and memories. In the years following 2005, life threw some more challenges our way.

Grandpa George was showing more signs of dementia. Jim had numerous health issues and complications associated with his diabetes and coronary artery disease. The kids were bigger, and their challenges were bigger, too. School and extra-curricular activities, social issues, and mental health demanded constant attention and problem-solving. The stress in our teenagers’ lives was real and complex.

With all that on the landscape, we didn’t do a lot of traveling together. I did get out to California some time around Christmas in 2006. 

Some time during this visit, I got the opportunity to tag along with my mom while she did a performance with her living history group, Portraits of the Past. I loved seeing her involved in an activity that incorporated so many of her interests and talents. 

My mom is a great example to me of blending responsibility, entertainment, learning, and joy. The most difficult challenges in life are opportunities to grow, and Mom is a model of continual personal growth. 

The Grandparent Project: Part Seven

I’m creating an online family history with this project, connecting my family of origin in California with my four grown children in the Midwest. So far, I’ve chronicled the story of six grandchildren enlarging our family circle. Now it’s time to introduce Grandbaby #7 – Cristina, the only child of my sister Sarah, born on May 6, 1993. I met Cristina in July when we went out to Los Gatos for my father’s 60th birthday. We managed to have a Cousins Day to get all the grandkiddies together…but it’s not very easy to get everyone looking in the same direction at once for a picture, especially when the camera is on self-timer! (And I seem to have run into the picture and obscured Cristina altogether with my big head. Sorry!)Ah, well. Here’s Amrit looking at me. We had great fun that day, and did some craft projects together to give to Grandpa at dinner. Before we sat down, I took some more photos. 

The old dining room table is stretched to its limit here, and still there are those “missing out”.  I have to admit that I am one of those people who fantasize about a gathering at table with all of the people I most love. It’s a sweet dream.

After dinner, we presented gifts to the patriarch. I had written up “60 Memories of My Dad” – kind of a grade school exercise, with a construction paper cover, but my father enjoyed it. 

We all put our handprints on his birthday banner. I got the idea from the plaster cast of my dad’s 5-year-old handprint that hangs on the wall at the family cottage in Michigan. And we colored a great, big birthday card, too. No matter how old your kids are, you always hang their artwork on a wall somewhere if they give it to you. And a present you make is always the best. I was hoping my dad still believed that.

Now, if I remember correctly, the next day was the day my father fell off a ladder while trying to retrieve a Frisbee that one of my kids had flung onto the roof of the garage. He ended up in the hospital with a couple of crushed vertebrae. However, he became the model patient, did exactly what the doctor ordered, lay in a brace for a couple of months, and recovered. Soon, he was back out hiking without any sign of damage.

Cristina’s baptism was some time that fall, I think. Seven grandchildren on the scene – that’s all of them. As the years rolled on, their differences and characteristics emerged. Today, the youngest is the tallest granddaughter and the oldest is the shortest…by about a foot. Here’s how five of the seven looked twenty years after that Cousins Day. This is Susan’s wedding day, July 28, 2013:


photo credit: Josh

“Mama always said life is like a box of chocolates…you never know what you’re gonna get.” Well, not my mama. Forrest Gump’s. My mama always said, “I’ll take any given thing!”

Me, too. (Especially if it’s chocolate!)

The Grandparent Project: Part Five

As a gift to my mother, I am chronicling our family history in these stories and photos of her seven grandchildren. This online slide show helps link my family of origin – mother, brother and two sisters – in California to my grown children in Illinois and Wisconsin.

When the kids were young, we used to compile a VHS tape of their activities and performances throughout the year and mail it to the grandparents at Christmas. Times have changed. Technology has changed. My longing to connect hasn’t changed much, and there are still a lot of miles between us. This Grandparent Project is one way I hope to make that distance seem smaller.

Two months after we moved into our new home, my parents and brother flew out for a visit. It was October, and the colors were spectacular. I realized how much I had missed the turning of seasons during my 15 years in California.  

My parents were especially glad to see that Emily had recovered fully from her battle with spinal meningitis and was growing strong and healthy.  

They also got the opportunity to reconnect with Midwest friends that they hadn’t seen for years. The fall turned to winter, and my California husband learned how to shovel snow. He seemed to have an especially difficult time, experiencing pain in his chest that radiated down his left arm. Eventually, he was diagnosed with diabetes and two major blockages in his coronary arteries. At the age of 31, he had an atherectomy and, later, a double bypass graft. The first procedure was in January of 1992, and again, I called on my mother for help. She and my brother came back out to Illinois to care for the kids while Jim and I dealt with this medical crisis. See that nice young man in his stonewashed jeans, High School sweatshirt and mullet haircut? That’s my little brother. He was born when I was 11 years old. When he was 11 years old, my oldest was born. He is a fabulous Uncle because he is like a big brother to my kids.

He was a bit awkward with them at first. 

But it didn’t take long for him to really enjoy their company, and they have always enjoyed his.

In fact, he asked my oldest to stand up as the leader of his Groom Squad when he got married two years ago. My son was on the squad, too, and my youngest was the officiant. 

Keeping connected over miles and years is not easy. Of course it takes effort. Of course we are all busy with other things close at hand. Of course days and weeks, months and even years slip by. And of course, we would drop everything if a family member calls to say, “I need you.”

I think my mom set that example long ago. We’re just following in her footsteps. 

photo by Josh

The Grandparent Project: Part Four

The Grandparent Project is a creative way for me to piece together memories and photos and share them with my mother and siblings in California and my children in the Midwest. It’s also a Cousins project, and here’s a photo that my sister just sent of the cousins in 1989.

The last post ended with a picture of me in January of 1991, very pregnant with Grandbaby #5 and my fourth child. I just found another couple of photos taken at the end of 1990 that I want to include because GranneLouise and Godfather Michael celebrated their New Year’s Eve birthdays at our house. 

Also, I remember we went to the LA Children’s museum together then, and I can’t find the photos of it. In my mind’s eye, I can see the shot I liked the best: it was an African exhibit with animal skins, and Grandpa George is sitting on the floor banging on a drum set with Susan and Josh and Rebecca. Somehow in the last two moves, I’ve forgotten where I put it. Museum visits with the Grandfamily were always so much fun. (Uncle David was, of course, a big part of that fun!) 

So that brings us to 1991, a very important and eventful year in our family. On February 27, we welcomed Emily Clare into the world. GranneLouise again came down from the Bay Area to Pomona to care for the three older kids while I was in the hospital and recovering at home.

I cannot tell you how immensely grateful I am to have a mom who has always been cheerful, helpful, comforting, capable, willing, and available when I have called her for help. And this was a year that I really needed her, as you will see.

By this time, our family of six had outgrown our little house of 1,050 square feet, and were looking for a place where we could afford to live in greater comfort and send our children to decent schools. Jim requested a job transfer, and he was offered one to either Huston, TX or Schaumburg, IL. Having spent my childhood in another suburb of Chicago, I voted to return to the Midwest. It was a hard decision to live so far away from the rest of my family. I was eager to spend as much time with them as we could before the big move. 

The next visit was from Aunt Sarah, who brought Emily a beautiful crocheted sweater and booties that she had made. The booties eventually became Emily’s first Christmas ornament, and she still has them. 

The Grandfamily also came down in April to celebrate Rebecca & Joshua’s birthdays (which are only 8 days apart). 

In early May, we spent a weekend house-hunting in the northwest suburbs of Chicago, taking baby Emily with us. (* who was babysitting the others?) We found our new home and signed the papers. Also that month, we celebrated Emily’s baptism. I think it was some time around my late sister Alice’s birthday, May 19. 

We visited Los Gatos for Grandpa’s birthday July 10 and did a sort of farewell tour of the area, including another Cousins’ Day in San Francisco.  

And naturally, we paid a special visit to the St. Luke’s Episcopal Church Columbarium where my sister Alice is buried. Now, my husband and Grandpa George are buried there as well.

We were all set for closing on the house and moving day, when Emily fell ill with spinal meningitis on July 25. I called my parents in a state of complete panic and sorrow. Her condition was dire. “I’ll send you the best help I can,” said Dad. “I’ll send GranneLouise.” Emily spent ten days in the hospital, fighting the Hemophilus Influenza type B bacteria against which she had already had two of three vaccinations.  I spent the first couple of days with her overnight, praying mightily and pumping breast milk to store for her recovery while she lay in the metal crib, connected to IV tubes. Jim would come the next few days after work and stay the night while I went home to the others. During the day, he was frantically rearranging our move. Eventually, Emily became herself again and charmed the nurses with her beautiful smiles and huge eyes.  Our entire community was relieved when she was pronounced cured, with no residual brain damage or hearing loss. Her “homecoming” was a very happy occasion, celebrated with our priest and his family and my mom, who took this picture: And we flew off to Schaumburg, spending a week in an Embassy Suites hotel until we took possession of our new home on August 14.

This is one of those episodes that is now almost “a merciful blur” (as my mother would say) in my mind.  I’m hoping that other members of the family will share their version of the story to help me fill in the gaps or correct the errors. 

The Grandparent Project – Part One

What is The Grandparent Project? 


I hate to disappoint anyone, but it’s not a new federally funded program to help grandparents with anything as useful as medical care or as life-enhancing as access to the Arts. However, it is a personal blog project to help connect my children in the Midwest to their one surviving grandparent, my mother, in California. It serves as a family history forum so that we share memories and details with each other. (Hopefully, aunts, uncles and cousins will join in as well!) It’s also a project to motivate me to convert my photographs from prints to digital images. 


So let us begin with the First Grandchild: Susan.  She was born in Montclair, CA on January 24, 1985, less than a month after my mom turned 50. Roughly two weeks after she was born, Grandpa George drove down from Los Gatos with GranneLouise and Uncle David to meet her…and take pictures. (first photo of Grandpa in The Hat…this will be a recurring theme)In April, the family got together for her baptism. It was a grand affair on a Saturday evening; afterwards, we had a private party at La Piccoletta. Great Grandma Marion came along for that, as well as Godmother/Aunt Sarah and Uncle David (all of 11 years old) and a host of extended family on Jim’s side. (Grandpa Mo, Wendy, GranMarni, Great Aunt Millie, Great Uncle Jim, Great Cousin Joan, Aunt Maggie and Uncle Dave) There was a professional photo shoot for that event, with Susan wearing the baptismal dress that I wore as a baby, too. That photo is in a frame and too large for me to scan, so here’s one taken under the tree at St. Ambrose Church the next morning.  There are four generations of brown-eyed girls here. Needless to say, Grandbaby #1 was A Big Deal for both sides of the family. 
The next big event in the family was Sarah’s wedding, and Susan traveled north to Los Gatos and then up to Coos Bay, OR (via the Benbow Inn) for that. She was 9 months old and walking, but very petite.  (click on the pictures to see them in a full frame)

A month later, the Gran Family came down to Pomona to visit again. In the spring, I had a miscarriage, but that summer, we went up to Los Gatos. This one was taken at Big Basin Redwoods State Park, I think. 

By the end of the summer, I was pregnant with Grandbaby #2: Joshua. He was born April 5, 1987. He first met his grandparents when they came down at Easter; his baptism party was in August. Michael Goggins is holding him in this picture, but he had to wait until Grandbaby #4 to become an official Godfather. Let’s just say that he did such a great job at the dress rehearsal that he stole the role for the rest of the show. There was another trip north to LG in June. 

In October of that year, GranneLouise did us a special favor and came with us to the Far Western District Barbershop competition in Reno to stay with Josh in the hotel room while I watched my husband compete and celebrated his victory afterwards. For that effort, she won the Choice Nanny award from the quartet, Musician’s Choice.The next visit was in Pomona after Christmas for GranneLouise’s birthday on New Year’s Eve. That party involved the animal noses and the wind-up toys, and you can see that Josh was getting into the spirit of it as a full-fledged member of the family!

Although, he seemed a bit more shy the next day.

This brings us to the year 1988 and the end of Part One. More to come!

Happy Mothers’ Day to….Me!

For many years, Mothers’ Day was a day of conflicting emotions for me. I had a powerful longing for recognition and appreciation that often was unfulfilled in some way, and I also had the accompanying guilt that maybe I didn’t deserve the rewards I hoped for in the first place. There were nagging doubts about whether I was doing a good job. There was also the burden of identity involved. I became a mom at 22, right out of college, and still had a lot of unresolved questions about who I wanted to be in the world. I relied on my husband to bolster my neurotic ego and assure me that I was exceeding expectations doing a job that was valuable and appreciated. He did a great job at that for many years, and for that, I will always be grateful.

I still long for appreciation around Mothers’ Day, even though my kids have all flown the nest years ago. I spent 12 years at home concentrating on doing my best at that one job and the next 12 years trying to do my best at that job plus another one outside the home. Now, I know that I did just fine. My kids tell me that, and I believe them. But my co-parent, my late husband, is not around to remind me in loving detail of the specifics….and I miss that. So this year, I decided to give myself the gift of cherishing myself as a Mother.

My chosen medium for cherishing, looking long and lovingly at something, has always been photography. I have taken countless photos of my kids and my husband — intimate, spontaneous, ordinary as well as posed. I wish someone had recorded my image with that kind of generous eye.

Well, it turns out someone did. Not exactly someONE, several someones. Whether with their own camera or with mine and my instruction (I used an AE-1 manual for 30 years), I have managed to gain a collection. I went through my albums and digitally scanned 48 images this morning.  Now, should my memory fail me in the coming years, I have photographic reminders that I did snuggle, feed, play with, teach, comfort, listen to, attend to, and applaud my four children year after year after year.

I have had a happy motherhood. I don’t need my husband to tell me that. I don’t even need my children to tell me that, although I’m really glad they do. I am owning my happy motherhood myself this year. I think it’s a great gift!

Here is a gallery from my collection as proof:

Expressions of Love

Last night I attended an Engagement Party in honor of my son and his fiancee, hosted by her beautifully kind and generous mother. It was the first opportunity for our two families to meet together as a group and learn about each other. The setting was a restaurant in Chicago owned by a friend of the host. The owner addressed us after each course to give us information about the wines he had selected to accompany the food. There was such a delightful atmosphere of appreciation and curiosity and exuberance flowing around that dynamic place!

After dessert, the hostess requested a song from the Galasso clan. We managed to respond with a 3-part round of “Dona Nobis Pacem” – give us peace. After that, the bride’s grandfather’s travelling companion, a retired singer from Haiti, sang a beautiful song in Spanish. I don’t speak Spanish myself, but easily recognized the phrase “Te quiero” returning longingly throughout. It reminded me of the first letter my late husband Jim wrote to me when I was a sophomore in High School. He was taking Spanish classes then; I was taking Italian. He wrote “Te quiero” at the bottom of that letter. I didn’t know what it meant. It wasn’t “Te amo” or “Ti amo”, but something different.  I had to look it up.

Te quiero. A new love, casual, close, lively. Not as intense and romantic as “Te amo”, it translates more literally to “I want you”.

I want Love. I want Peace. I want a future full of happiness…for everyone, really.

And now, I want to share a gallery of expressions from family and friends, expressions of love (especially for my mother and siblings in California!).