Friday, February 12, 2010


I was blessed with two very different Grandmothers. While Nana Laura was witty and outspoken with a unique but oddball wisdom, Nana Anna was a complete opposite.
At 16 Anna left Sweden for America to find "something better to do" than herd goats. She spoke no English and her first experience on these shores was a rude awakening. When she left Ellis Island and set foot in New York City she saw a fruit and vegetable vendor hawking his wares. Anna had never seen a tomato and, mistaking it for an apple, took a hearty bite. The result was her shocking introduction to America.
Anna was very tall and had powerful Nordic features that echoed her Viking heritage. She got a job as a nurse in a madhouse where she had to subdue the raving patients. That experience would later help when she raised three daughters. She married another Swede who owned a successful butcher shop in Brooklyn.
Their home was in the middle-class section a few blocks away from the mansion where Nana Laura lived. And that is how my parents happened to attend the same school and fall in love as teens.
Nana Anna went to church. Nana Laura did not. They both drank brandy -- Laura did it openly but Anna kept a ladylike flask in her purse "for her heart" and to get her through the boring Sunday sermons.
Laura was intentionally funny, but Anna was often accidentally amusing. For example, Anna had very poor vision and claimed to be blind. But she actually had eyes like a hawk. One Sunday morning, when I was seventeen, we were all at breakfast when Anna peered across the table at me and announced "Teddy has a love bite on his neck."
But it was Anna who stood up for me when I wanted to go to California that summer. My parents did not think I was old enough to travel across the country by myself.
Nana Anna scoffed and said, "I came to America at 16 and didn't speak English." Then she bought me a round-trip ticket to California.