My maternal grandmother, Amelia, had one sister, Julia. The two women lived together later in life after their husbands had died. Julia called her older, taller sister "Mimi," a name I never used. It seemed too girlish and playful for the regal and kind woman I loved from a distance. I simply said "Grandma" when I called her name and following Aunt Ruth's lead, said "Grandma Seraponas" when speaking of her at home.
Amelia Seraponas was my mother's mother, but from the age of four, my brothers and my sister and I lived 600 miles away, with my father's sister Ruth and her family in Kansas City. There were tensions between the two sides of the family, unspoken but felt by the grandchildren. I did not see Amelia as often as my other grandmother, Helen, a feisty little survivor adored by her six surviving sons and daughters who could laugh at her sharp tongue.
Grandma Amelia worked to keep in touch. She sent me postcards from her trips to Ireland and South America, a robe one Christmas, an iridescent blue morpho butterfly encased in glass and a topaz from her trip to Brazil, a small framed photo of herself, and once, a poem about how quickly November comes after May.
She died in November, 1984, at the age of seventy-nine. I gave my first daughter her name. We call her Mia, for short.
Last month, one of my second cousins sent me Grandma Amelia's diary from 1933-34, found in her Grandmother Julia's things. It's a tiny browned book I can fit in one hand, Grandma's record of the time that she married and become a young mother. I flip through the pages with an insatiable appetite - the bits of life set down here will never be enough for my curiosity, never.
It's a reunion of sorts, but with a part of my grandmother's life that I never saw. I knew the patient, sweet and gentle elderly woman who always smiled; in these pages I meet Mimi, the happy party girl, with so much life ahead of her.
Amelia Gedment married Anthony Seraponas, a Lithuanian milkman she often called Tone and sometimes Tony, on Saturday, February 25, 1933.
Mimi and Tony's Chicago wedding was a simple affair compared to the imitation royal balls popular in this century. The night before, the ginger ale was delivered and Mimi couldn't sleep for the longest time. The happy couple went to church in the morning with Amelia's Lithuanian mother Petronella, with Julia, and Julia's husband Victor. After Mass and breakfast, they went to a portrait studio to have photographs taken.
You can see Amelia's beatific smile in the portrait. I adore her Juliet cap and the long veil. I love the elegant painted backdrop and the elaborate bouquet, with ribbon-tied blossoms spilling out, and the center part in Grandpa Tony's pomaded hair, like that of a tommy-gun toting extra in a Jimmy Cagney movie.
Back home, the newlyweds played cards and the piano until 5:00, then cleaned up and began to greet their guests. Forty-eight people were served dinner that night in the rented apartment where Amelia lived with her mother. The basement had been decorated with white paper and a "snappy" temporary bar in the days before. It served as a dance hall to the sound of a hired accordion player. Later, four bottles of whiskey would be found missing. Julia danced until 2:00 a.m.
Entranced by the sketch of a Depression era wedding, I float over the detail of the hired Bohemian musician. Later, I described the scene to Randy.
"They asked the landlord if they could change the wallpaper the week before! They peeled off the paper themselves and she says the house smelled like paint and oil. What a mess!" I remember Brent painting our bank walls khaki and the vault a vivid red while I addressed invitations.
"And, Randy! Randy!" I suddenly realize another coincidence. "They had an accordion player for the music! Just like us!"
The connection dawns and flashes of our own sweet day comes pouring back to me. Our friend Julie plays violin in a band and she had offered to play during and after the service at our home. Julie knew a guy.
Whether I asked Julie if she had an accordion player in her circle of friends or whether her mention of Rob had triggered some deep twinge in my DNA, I don't remember. But the music they made was gorgeous. Pretty George Handel while the guests arrived and after the vows, as Randy and I led the crowd down California Avenue from our converted bank building to the reception hall, the herky-jerky bliss of Nino Rota's "La Dolce Vita."
Photo by Matt Dinerstein.
The distance between me and Grandma falls away. She was there with me on my wedding day and now I am there with her on hers.