Last night we saw a play titled 'Over the River and Through the Woods.' It’s about Nicholas, a 29 year old man from New Jersey who struggles with the choice to leave home for Seattle due to a promotion he can’t pass up. What makes the choice difficult is his family, depicted here by his four Italian grandparents with whom he has always been close. I was worried they’d get it all wrong. I was worried they would have “Joisey” accents. They didn’t. The Italian loudness was accurate, as was the need for Italians to constantly feed you, the inability to understand what their grandchildren do for a living, and the “passionate” way of expressing themselves. And the actors were all terrific. The plot involves Nick’s grandparents attempting to set him up with a young nurse so that he might fall in love and stay with his family. For a moment it seems as if might work. It seems as if all honesty would be sidestepped and everyone would live happily ever after, and sentimentality would win out. Then it doesn’t. In a final soliloquy accompanied by wonderful and touching staging, Nicholas talks about his new life on the other side of the country, and how over the next few years, one by one, his grandparents pass away. The final notes of the play, however, aren’t bittersweet. Yes, they are sad, but more so they are honest and reflective. It’s just how life is.
Some time last week my own grandmother -- the grandparent who I have always been closest to -- was taken off all medication and put on hospice. Her Cancer had come back as Leukemia and over the last year dementia had slowly taken over her mind. All precautions were taken to make her “comfortable.” We were just waiting. Early this morning she passed away.
In the past year she knew me only as “the one out in Denver.” I’m told she’s said, “Who’s the one out in Denver? I’m proud of that one.” Five years ago when I left New Jersey, she was still sharp. The two times I went back for the holidays she was pretty much there -- she was still my “Gram-Gram” (an affectionate term borrowed from Steve Martin in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, a movie we watched together a few times). Part of me is glad that I saw her when she was still cognizant, before things started getting bad. Another part feels selfish for being so far away. The rest of me knows it’s just how life is.
There’s a bunch of things I want to say about my grandmother. We were really close when I was growing up. I stayed there in the summers. I had dinner there at least once every week or so. We would make milkshakes and watch Jeopardy and play Gin Rummy. But, she didn’t like being talked about too much. She was private in that regard, and in fact, I may have said too much just now. She wouldn’t have liked me telling these things. While part of her story is mine I should stop now because I can feel the look she’d give me. I will miss her.
Rest in Peace, Gram.
As a small way of remembrance, I’ve decided to use my grandmother’s maiden name as a pseudonym when I’m editing a movie (a credit I typically leave off all together so as not to saturate the credits with my own name). Now my stupid little films will include: “Edited by Rita Smith.” Not only does the sound of her name harken back to the names of the great female film editors of the 60s and 70s, but I like the idea of her name always being there with mine. Also, it’s fun to imagine winning an award for editing and accepting it on her behalf and no one knowing the better. She might think that’s pretty cool.