Reading about Filene’s Basement’s impending closure for up to two years while its building is renovated reminded me of my late paternal grandmother, Lillian (Coleman) Daley. My recollection had dimmed some, but there are some memories that remain. The first is from the perspective of a boy who’s eyes only rose to the tops of the clothes bins in the dusty basement during the mid 60’s. That perspective gave me a unique view of half crazed women rifling through piles of what I’d later understand to be flying brassieres’ Yes, it was scary down there.
The second story is actually a story that occurred on a second story. Um, okay, it was a third story, but I’m not changing that line… Anyway, the two bedrooms for my brothers and me growing up at 10 Pine Street were renovated attic space with ceilings sloped with the roof line. One night after some sort of a battle with probably my brother Kevin, “Nana” told me a story of how one brother carried the other when the brother couldn’t walk. I don’t remember the details, but I’ll never forget the punchline. She ended the story by telling how the young man doing the carrying said, “He ain’t heavy. He’s my brother.” Every time I’ve heard the Hollies song over the years since, I’ve thought of that moment.
Since the statute of limitations has long since passed, I can now tell this story… One night when I was in high school… I was 15 or 16… Evidently I consumed some bad hops or barley, because for some reason as I dragged my ill carcass up the front stairs, I was yelling for some guy named “Ralph” and vomiting. It very well could have been food poisoning… Well, no. Now that I’m thinking about it, I remember being in a prone position barfing out of an open car door in the parking lot of our hometown McDonalds. My friends of course were extremely worried about my welfare as they ate. I remember Bobby “Roggie” Rowe even asking, “Hey Leo, want a cheeseburger?” “Nana” was the first to reach me on the front stairs and she did all she could with her barely five foot frame to help me. Suddenly, a less sympathetic figure in the form of my mother appeared ranting like a lunatic in my general direction. “Oh, Carol, he’s just got some kind of a bug,” pleaded my savior Lillian in a high pitch as she threw herself in front of me like a Secret Service agent prepared to take a bullet. “A BEER AND CIGARETTE BUG?” bellowed my mother, certainly intent of curing me permanently of my “bug.”
I never saw her before she died. It seemed she went from good health to no health in just a couple weeks 18 years ago. Megan was due imminently and I chose to stay home instead of making the trip to Florida. The next time I saw her, she really didn’t look like my grandmother. The little woman from Nova Scotia who had survived an abusive alcoholic husband and many trips to unimaginable places in search of her heroin addicted son was still clutching her Rosary beads, but she was gone. She got to know and love Jessica, but never met Megan who was born a couple weeks later. Oh, how she would have loved Kyle and he her. My boy would have had lots of fun with “Nana Lily.”
After the wake, I was the last one in a small room as the funeral director closed the casket. I lost it. I’d been OK up till then, but I guess the thought of never seeing her again was overwhelming. As I write this, it’s clear to me it still is. I miss you Nana. I love you.