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Manga

I have been lucky enough to have TWO wonderful grandmothers in my lifetime.

One, you all know and love. The ‘infamous’ Evelyn. She is my fathers’ mother (as if the uncanny resemblance wasn’t obvious enough). Gramma Ev is the epitome of an Angry Italian grandmother complete with a sharp tongue. But I love her nonetheless. Hell, I even created an entire blog dedicated to sharing the ‘Voice Of Evelyn’ with the world, because Everyone Needs A Little Evelyn.

My other grandmother (also an Italian woman) was known as Manga. I called her Manga when I was about 2 years old, because I couldn’t say the word grandma. She in turn gave me a nickname: Mia. It’s funny because as I embarked upon the years known as teenage hell I was always MIA – Missing In Action.

I seldom write about this Grandmother (my mothers’ mother) because it is still a bit too painful to think about how we lost her to Alzheimer’s Disease. My memories surrounding her last few years alive and her death are better left in that drunken hazy fog.

To be perfectly honest, I haven’t given Manga that much thought since she passed away. (It makes me too sad.) Of course on her birthday, or on the wedding anniversary to Poppa Sye, her presence fills me.

Sometimes I like to think that she is watching over me.

When I was a little girl, I loved spending time with her. She looked like a fashion icon that walked straight off the cover of a magazine. Her nails were perfectly manicured, her hair was set once a week by professionals, her fancy alligator or snake skin bags matched her alligator or snake skin shoes, and her hounds tooth coat paled in comparison to the treasured mink fur.

Manga was beautiful. She never left the house without being properly lip-sticked and fake eye-lashed. To me, she looked like a 1930’s movie star. All. The. Time. She smoked long, thin, white, ‘Now 100’s’ brand of cigarettes, which she left burning in crystal ashtrays around the house, but she smelled of Arpege Perfume, never like nicotine.

Manga kept an IMMACULATE house. (She must be where I got my OCD cleaning-obsession gene.) She was also an incredible chef. Manga used to cook tomato sauce that made a person weak in the knees. (Too bad I didn’t get that gene.)

One of my favorite memories of being with Manga was having our special lunches together. My mother and I would drive to Scotch Plains to meet her at the Country Club for finger sandwiches and tall glasses of fresh brewed Ice Tea.

I don’t know why, but when I was around 5 or 6, I had a thing for half n’ half creamers. (Do you know the ones I am talking about? They come in individual tiny plastic containers on the side of coffee.) I LOVED to drink them. Straight Up. I drank them much like an adult would slam a shot of liquor. My mother, who was trying to raise me to act like a lady, especially in public, and even more especially in a Country Club, would not allow me to indulge in the sweet cream I coveted. But Manga was a wise woman. She patiently waited until my mother would excuse herself from the table to use the rest room and then quickly order up a salad plate full of creamers for me to devour.

And Manga ALWAYS let me win at every game we ever played. Weather it was cards, board games, or tic tack toe.

[No wonder why I am such a sore looser today.]

After my Grandparents moved to Florida, obviously, I saw a lot less of them. Sure, my brother Adam and I would fly down in the summers to spend a few weeks playing golf, swimming, and eating homemade Polpetta soup. But, it wasn’t until I was 17 when I moved in with my grandparents.

[That story is a post unto itself. This post is already too long and I am not even half way done. * Gasp! *]

What I will tell you about is the night I witnessed True Love. Manga & Poppa Sye are the reason I believe ‘True Love’ exists…outside of the movie theatres, off of the silver screen and in Real Life.

It must have been 2am, maybe even 3am, when the three of us were together in the living room. I was sitting on one end of the 8 foot long plaid velvet sofa and Poppa Sye was comfortable at the other end. Manga was situated behind her desk, reading a TV Guide and filling in the cross word puzzle. A ‘Time Life’ infomercial came on the television selling a musical collection consisting of several artists from the ‘Rat Pack.’

Poppa Sye slowly rose from his seat; he fixed his pants, smoothed his hair, and glided all the way across the room. He approached Manga from the side, got down on one knee, extended his hand and asked, “May I Have This Dance?” My grandmother took his hand and replied “Why You Rascal…Of Course You Can.”

And there they were, in the middle of the living room, in the middle of the night, with their arms wrapped around each other, and slow danced to a commercial.

If you could see the way they still looked at each other after over 63 years of marriage, you would know what True Love looks like too.

(I don’t know too many people that can stand to be in the same room, let alone slow dance, or even hold hands after 15 years of marriage…although My Parents are the exception to that…but I digress.)

A few nights ago, Poppa Sye was going through some of his personal belongings when he came across a tape recorder that had Manga’s voice on it. For posterity, Poppa Sye wanted to have that recording transferred onto a disk. Poppa Sye planned on paying someone what I thought was a large sum of money to complete the process. After I overheard that conversation I sprang into action.

Why should he PAY someone ELSE to do something that I can do FOR FREE on my Mac using Garage Band? I was also worried that the ‘other person’ might try to take advantage of my grandfather by over charging him…or even worse…damage the original recording.

I asked Poppa Sye to please, please, please, with a cherry on top, give me the chance to see if it was even possible for me to import the tape recording onto my computer. Mildly reluctant, he agreed.

Poppa Sye handed over the antique recorder. I keenly stared at the apparatus sizing up how to use this old fashioned device, while Poppa Sye’s eyes darted nervously about.

I was excited with so much anticipation to reconnect with the voice of my beloved Grandmother, but I had no idea when the recording had been taken. As it turns out, the recording was made towards the end of her life, when Poppa Sye went on his daily visits to take care of her in the nursing home.

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I hit the back square play button.

It was the first time I had heard my grandmothers’ voice in a several years. The tears just streamed uncontrollably down my bright red cheeks. I quickly wiped them away onto the sleeve of my robe. I didn’t want Poppa Sye to see that I was crying. I knew that would make him cry. But it was too late. Poppa Sye pulled out his linen handkerchief and dabbed the corners of his eyes.

We sat together (avoiding any further eye contact) with our salty, wet, faces, listening intently to the sounds coming out of the machine. Most of what Manga was saying was incoherent jibberish. There was a lot of moaning as if she were in some kind of pain, followed by nonsensical babbling. I felt sick at heart to hear her like that. It was difficult to listen to what was once my definition of a true LADY reduced to making infant-like-noises due to her state of dementia.

Mid way through the tape, as if by magic, there were a few glimmering moments when my grandmother managed to string together words. Of course, her words didn’t make any sense when put together, but she did speak real actual words, instead of grunts.

* Side Bar: Do you remember the scene in the movie ‘The Notebook’ when the wife ‘came out of the Alzheimer’s fog’ and began speaking to her husband, then finally recognized her husband? They had a ‘moment’ just like they used to, before she fell ill. And that’s the point in the movie when you suddenly realized WHY the husband kept hanging on to the hope that One Day she would come out of the fog and stay out of the fog …for good? Yeah, well, that is what Poppa Sye was like with Manga. Only MORE intense. Poppa Sye never gave up HIS hope that one day Manga would be cured, or at least get better. But, unfortunately, that never happened. Not in the movie, and not for Manga or Poppa Sye.]

Okay, okay, I digress. (Again)

In addition to professing his undying love for her, you can hear Poppa Sye asking Manga questions. He was trying desperately to communicate with her, if only for a second. And sometimes Poppa Sye would get that second.

Poppa Sye: “Hello my love. Don’t you look beautiful! Did you like the woman who did your hair today?”

Manga (in a baby-talk-tone of voice): “Yeah…” *sigh * grunt * sigh “Because in the window.”

(Yes, my grandfather still paid for my grandmother to HAVE HER HAIR DONE even if that meant smuggling a stylist into the nursing home.)

The question and answer session went on for quite a while. Some times Poppa Sye would get answers, but mostly, Manga was either: silent, confused, or murmuring.

Suddenly, and without warning, a single glorious sound rang out into the air.

The sound rose above the scratching rickety machine and came out of the recorder crystal clear despite the fragile almost sheer conditions of the tape.

It was Manga’s laugh. And it filled my whole room.

Manga’s laugh sounded EXCATLY the way I remembered it sounding when I was a child.

I finally heard with my own ears what Poppa Sye always looked forward to, and WHY he HAD TO visit her ALL DAY and EVERY SINGLE DAY.

Now, I can fully appreciate why he spent his life savings trying to find the newest treatment, or vitamin, or voodoo cure he could get his hands on. He just wanted to be able to hear that laugh.

I am happy to report that I did manage to figure out HOW to get the recording of Manga into the Garage Band program on my Mac. I burned it onto a disk for Poppa Sye. And I have the original saved and stored forever.

I am currently swimming in the memories of My Manga.

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  • Meleah

    Graham:
    I am HEART BROKEN to hear about your grandmother. That is so awful. Thankfully you had that time with her, and have been able to preserve her memories with your family and videos/photos.

    Im so happy you enjoyed my post and thank you for taking the time to read every word. This was a LONG one.

    You have such a warm way of writing, that clearly comes from your heart

    Thank you! I am glad it comes through in the writing.

    xxoo 🙂 🙂

    Jules:
    Alzheimer’s IS one of the most degrading and horrible diseases. Im so sorry to hear of your loss. Thank you for reading my post.

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