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Red Hoyle Roses

The tears could have filled an Olympic swimming pool: On February 26, 2006, an amazing person, Miriam Gordon, left this world. For the eight years I had to spend with my grandmother, we became particularly close in a way I will never be with any other person. Nanny--what I always called her, as per Jewish tradition-- was the closest-to-perfect person everyone that knew her will ever meet. If all the stories were written, the volumes would dwarf Grolier’s Encyclopedia. Each day, Nanny is the guiding light I look to as an example for my conduct, decisions, and behavior.

The weather that July day was like a Michelangelo sculpture, perfect in every possible regard; it was an excellent day to drive to the Chicago Suburbs to visit Nanny and Papa. Since the trip is approximately three to four hours, it felt like a vacation to me. Whenever my parents announced we were going to “Nanny and Papa’s house for the weekend,” I swelled with excitement like a helium balloon. Making the trek, as my family had done so many times before, always induced the most pleasant kind of nostalgia. It was always the same: the same navy-blue van, the same parents and brother, the same type of dreamy summer, and—the same kind, gentle, and compassionate Nanny.

When we arrived at their large, beautiful home, my awe as young child was so palpable, it could have grown legs and walked off of my countenance. In my mind, this home was a grand palatial mansion, inhabited by the humblest and most munificent of all princesses. Before one entered, two towering snow-white double doors gave a tasteful and affluent impression. With a full-sized garage attached to the house and a permanent swimming pool on the property, it was lavish in every possible aspect, yet it was not by any literal means a manor. Truly, the home was a direct reflection of Nanny’s heart, genuine and large in size.

What I cherished far more than those material things was the priceless time I had to spend with my family. Like Nanny demonstrated in her perpetual invitations to their home, family is the most imperative foundation for successful society and a place where acceptance and love should always be found. Her ears were Neosporin for even the deepest wounds, and her benevolent words warmed the coldest winters. Today, I try to emulate her excellent listening, but then, all I wanted to do was spend time with her. As a child, I pondered death somewhat but did not feel it would affect me soon. It was nothing more than a far away thing in the future, which afflicts only the ill, so I thought.
As for my present, it held countless games of cards. My brother and I were taught by Nanny how to play such games as war; Nanny is actually the first person that introduced me to the concept of playing with a deck of cards. It was a very symbolic gesture, as there are many lessons I now draw from those cycles of games. If you lose, play again. Respect your opponent. The humbler you are throughout, the less it matters if you lose. “Cards” are such a simple idea, but they connected us, and I associate them with her like one might affiliate a garden with flowers. With those red Hoyle roses, she lived her happy life. Today, though, I recall the cards and see now the life lessons within them.

Brighter than the sun, her smile was one of the few things that I did not have to wait to appreciate retrospectively. It is very representative of who she was. With it, she could tell me she loves me without saying “I love you.” Nanny had much to express but few words to say. Her skin was cold, soft, and wrinkled; her body was a frail and skinny one. Above all, she radiated kindness. The humble stature and demeanor she had was well-suited to complement her calm and gentle, but always clear, voice. It is miraculous how a single person could bestow that much kindness, grace, and beauty upon the world in one lifetime.

After an afternoon of cards, Nanny sat down at the piano. She played her soul out, right through her fingertips, and then told my brother and me a bedtime story.

That was the last time we ever saw her.

Although Nanny is no longer alive, she still guides every day. When I think of myself as a musician, remembering her drives me to practice harder. Day to day, I think of her when speaking with others. “Be kind like Nanny,” I will often think to myself. I make several choices at this adolescent age. These decisions are now my life, I am no longer crawling around in a carefree kindergarten classroom. Whatever I choose to do, that is who I am. Just like an architect selects materials for a house, I have the freewill to be whoever and whatever I want to, and those decisions ‘build’ me. Becoming a man means accepting responsibility for my life. As I do this, I cannot go wrong if I just stop and imagine her face and remember her words. Nanny is my guiding light, and she will always shine brilliantly, not necessarily leading me down the right path, but gifting me with the example I need to choose for myself.



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