07:50 AM

My Grandma Lena Michelli—#MeetMyGrandma

I grew up in Louisiana influenced mostly by the maternal side of my family. My mother’s mother, Grandma Angelina Michelli, was the only grandmother I knew. “Paoluzzio!” is what she’d affectionately call me. I’d later learn that’s how you say my name in a Sicilian dialect.

She was the consummate Sicilian Italian grandma. In the most significant of all family instructions—how to make a house a home—she was truly gifted. Although she died when I was twelve years old, the influence of her charms during those years was left indelibly upon my mind into adulthood.

In the early years of my memory I can recall times at grandma’s old home in downtown Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The home was characteristic in style of the nice homes that lined North Street, a main boulevard in its day. My mother went back to college after having 5 children. I being the youngest and not in school yet, there were times I was left with Grandma Lena in the morning until my mother picked me up in the afternoon. I only recall Grandma Lena with white hair and cat eye glasses. She was usually adorned in a cotton dress or cotton blouse and polyester slacks—always immaculately clean and pressed—with one of those wonderful, now vintage aprons with large, deep pockets for holding every tool needed for any domestic challenge she’d face throughout her day.

Grandma Lean always had either fresh biscuits, biscotti (sesame seed cookies), pizelle, or some other wonderful culinary treat for us to snack throughout the day. She had an amazing ability to engage me in household chores that never seemed to be as loathsome when doing it with or for her. Even mundane shopping trips seemed more enticing with Grandma Lena.

The only time you could rest was during the afternoons when she snuggled up to an iron and ironing board in the old back room of her house to iron grandpa’s clothes and to watch her two favorite soap operas “As the World Turns” and “Days of Our Lives”. I can still hear the introductory music and narrative, “As sands of the hourglass…so are the days of our lives...” I think that was the time I passed out on her couch and would awake some time after a nap to the sounds of chirping birds or quarreling squirrels outside in her majestic oak or inviting pecan trees. Or maybe it was the inviting smells of a pasta dish emanating from the kitchen. The lady new how to cook!

They would later sell their home in Baton Rouge and build a house next door to us out in the country. That was a dream move for us grandkids—ready access to Grandma Lena basically 24/7. When mom would kick us 5 children out the house during the summer so she could get her work done, we’d hit up Grandma Lena next door. She was always on top of our antics, and wise beyond measure. She never fell party to enabling undesirable qualities in us or interfering with our parents’ parenting. She’d give us a treat, hear about our woes or dreams, and always give us wise counsel—like “Excuses are like armpits. Everyone has at least two, and they both stink.” My mother would later inherit that one as well! If you rubbed her wrong or were being thick skulled about something, she’d raise her hand as though she were going to swat you upside your head and say, “Chi testa capo tosta!” Which basically means, “Oh what a hard head!”

And if you wanted to visit with Grandma Lena, you usually had to work along side her at whatever task she was attending at the moment—a trait she passed on to my mother. She didn’t seem to have patience for belabored dramatizations, lounging or laziness. If you just wanted to “lolly gag” as she would put it (passing time chit chatting while not productively multitasking), she’d politely invite you to get to work by assisting her with the chore at hand while you were visiting or to get out the house with your lazy self. It was always work first, play second. And She was definitely the early-to-bed and early-to-rise type. Despite Grandma Lena’s hard-working demeanor, there was never a doubt that family was paramount important. She made holidays special and never missed a family special occasion. She was adept at balancing love, faith, kindness, neatness and discipline—essential attributes in every effective home.

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