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They Call Me Nona

July 31, 2009 - Michael Palmer
The first move was to an apartment, after 30 years of repairs, painting and lawn care it seemed like a vacation from all those home owner chores. It was a nice little complex, with a small pond in the back. However, just like a fancy pair of shoes that are one-half size too small, it looked good for a while but just didn’t fit and wasn’t comfortable.

A friend at work told my Dad about a small old farmhouse on State Route 13 north of Newark that had a decent sized yard and an old barn. It was better suited for the trio. Once again mom could plant flowers and dad could put in a small garden, besides, they had a grandson now, Tony, their first.

A bit surprising to us, mom was not very happy with the term grandma. They came to the hospital and were excited to see the new baby, but when she heard the word grandma associated with her it seemed to strike a sour chord. Having been a life-long proponent of “When life gives you lemons make lemonade,” she decided that she would like to be called by the Latin derivative slang for grandmother, Nona.

She was a wonderful grandmother, spoiling was her life’s calling and now that she was no longer the primary disciplinarian, she put away her polenta stick. Polenta is a mush made from cornmeal and the Italian recipe called for a wooden paddle to stir the ‘goo’ while it cooked. It also was a handy weapon in the war against juvenile delinquency and Mom wielded it like a Samurai. I recall the day I realized that if I outran her and waited a few hours to return home there would be no beating. Still a punishment, but no polenta stick.

Bill Cosby has a classic comedy routine, available on YouTube, in which he dissects the difference between parents and grandparents. He says of his children's grandmother, "That's not the woman I grew up with!" Let’s just say being Nona fit her better than the disciplinarian role. Also, there were a few changes in childcare that had taken place since the early 60’s that were a bit of a transition for her. I now can relate to that aspect a little, but the changes in the last 20 years are not as drastic.

Her policy on food also changed. Cookies had lost their ability to spoil your dinner and now could be served as an appetizer. Vegetables now were an option at meals. That had never been available at the dinner table when I was a child. “I don’t think I will have the succotash this evening,” was always followed by, “You will eat every bit of food on that plate young man and you will not leave this table until that plate is clean.” I attempted to flex my good parent skills with my children at the dinner table, “Just try some of the broccoli, you might like it.” Mom intervened on their behalf like Perry Mason, “Objection your honor, if this child doesn’t want to eat their vegetables then we can just move directly to dessert.” This shocking shift in behavior should have been expected, but some things never changed. Meals were always prepared with love and were an important part of a family get together.

We had a holiday routine where we would travel to celebrate Christmas Eve my wife’s family and then Christmas morning with Nona. There were a few glitches in this plan over the years. My youngest daughter April was just learning to walk in December of 1990 and a pair of patent leather shoes proved to be quite slippery on Nona’s carpeted stairs, so we had a trip to the emergency room for a broken leg that year. April got a nice pink cast for Christmas.

A few years later, our car was not running very well and we could not make the trip. So Nona and grandpa decided to pack Renee up in the car and come up for Christmas morning. We fixed the turkey and put it in the oven early in the morning and waited with the now awake children for their arrival to open presents. They never arrived, it was lightly snowing and the car had hit an icy patch on the highway and slid off the road into a tree. Another Christmas spent in an emergency room, everyone was bruised from seat belts but otherwise fine. The car, however, was totaled.

That crash pushed the decision by Nona to move back home to Dennison. Dad was retiring and it was decided that since their only three grandchildren at that time were living almost two hours drive away, they would put a modular home on the farm.

Chapter 6 - Down on the Farm


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Christmas with Nona in St Louisville