Over the River by Lisa Duggan

Pittston Coal Miners
Pittston Coal Miners.

Every holiday is about Grandma.

Today my friend David is driving his family two and a half hours to Scranton, Pennsylvania, with a cold, to see his 99 year old Grandmother for Thanksgiving because, “You can’t cancel on Grandma!” His trip reminds me of the many years and many drives I made to Pittson, PA, a small town located roughly between Scranton and Wilkes Barre.

My ex-husband’s family on his mother’s side was from Pittston. Tough and determined Italian immigrants, many of his relatives worked as coal miners, the town’s principle industry in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. His grandfather Angelo would eventually die from Black Lung, from years of inhaling coal dust. I never met Grandpa Angelo. But in the ten years I was a part of their family, I certainly knew and loved his grandmother, Carrie.

There were hundreds of trips over the Outerbridge and through the Pocono Mountains to see Grandma Carrie, her eight brothers and sisters and the many cousins

Me, in Grandma's glasses & Grandma Betty.
Grandma Betty and me, in her glasses.

they produced. Lots of long trips made in summer, to sleep in the hot, dusty attic of a house that began as a cold water, two-room shack. So many trips made in winter, for Thanksgiving or Christmas, to sleep in the guest room with the giant crucifix perched menacingly over my head. Vinny or his father would always drive, both too fast, barely slowing down in the snow, hugging the tight curves of Route 80 in the minivan — me, his mother and his little brother John, white knuckling it in the back seat.

All to get to Grandma’s house.

And though I shut my eyes on each curve and silently cursed my good fortune, to marry a man whose tight-knit Italian family meant everything (and still does), I understood. I went, willingly. My own grandmother was a short car ride away, over the Verrazano Bridge in Brooklyn. But we would have driven thousands of miles to see her.

There was no holiday without my grandmother, or my Aunts and Uncles or cousins, for that matter. How could there be? Catholics, my parents rarely took us to church after I turned seven and 1st communion obligations were over. Holidays meant family — mine, not Christ’s. Religion for us, was and is, in the gathering together.

Holidays meant giving up my bed for Grandma Betty or going to mass with Nana Duggan, where I would sit in awe of her beautiful clear notes, rising up above the chorus’ own.

Nana Duggan, bel canto.
Nana Duggan, bel canto.

These days my husband and I cook. We host. Our house is the place of gathering. Frank is at the stove right now making the stuffing and we follow the menu his own dear Grandmother Hazel served for years. My mother is here, she and Alice sharing my daughter’s bed last night (we woke to the sounds of the two whispering and conspiring). My mother-in-law left us in February but she will be present, too, in the eyes of my two year old niece Junie, and my father-in-laws’ delight at his grandchildren. My sister-in-law’s mother Merel left us in April; she will be here in the sparkle in AJ and Hailey’s eyes. We’ll phone my Dad and his wife, and my brother-in-law and family in Illinois. The cousins we’ll reach through Facebook.Whether you are driving, or gathering at home this year, I wish you a wonderful day. We may speak different languages, identify with different religious traditions, and we’ll serve different ethnic dishes today, along with the turkey, but I know your house will smell as good and be as warm as mine.

Every holiday is about grandma, and every family is about going the distance for the ones we love both near and far.


Lisa Duggan

Lisa Duggan is the Founder and CEO of The Modern Village, and publisher of TheParentduJour.com and TheMotherHoodBlog.com.

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