I haven’t posted in a while due to being caught up in the craziness of the holiday season. Even as I write this I have a pie in the oven and one more present to finish and wrap, with just an hour or so until Christmas Day. However, I wanted to take this moment to remember someone special, my great-grandmother, Althea Cesarini.
Nanny, as I called her, passed away this past Wednesday morning at the age of 103. She has been a fixture on my mother’s side of the family. I only have a handful of memories of her at Christmas in particular, including trying eggnog at her house when I was three or four. I was unusually blessed to have my great-grandmother in my life into adulthood. My daughter is named Althea, after Nanny. Nanny was the oldest of eight siblings. She outlived two husbands, all of her siblings, both of her sons and one grandson. Until two years ago she still lived on her own, in the same apartment building she had lived in since her children were young. She had bought the building many years ago and then the building had been deeded over to her sons and then passed to her daughters-in-law, but she still served as landlord, picking her own tenants and charging outrageously low rent rates. When she turned 100 she was featured in a book about Boston and received letters from the President George W. Bush and the mayor of Boston.
When someone has been around as long as Nanny you start to forget about mortality. I think we were starting to believe that she might vie for the title of Oldest Woman in the World. While her body had begun to fail in the last two years when she entered a nursing home, her mind was still clear and she remembered details from years past and still recalled recent family happenings. She was a frugal saver her whole life, yet took great joy in giving generously to her family. My mother remembers yearly trips into Boston for special restaurant lunches and my own childhood is filled with memories of riding the Swan Boats in Boston Public Garden. Christmas and birthdays did not pass without Nanny sending money or presents. This was not something we took for granted, but rather a wonderful testament to her giving spirit. The last time I saw her was August of 2009 when we took our 3 month old daughter to meet her. I will be forever grateful that we did and forever grateful for her. She has always been a symbol to me of the long lived spirit of the women in my family: hard working, tenacious and generous. Those are the things I will remember her for.