On Thursday, April 4, 2019, my grandmother Carmella Schillaci passed away. She was 86 years old.
She was a strong-willed 100% Sicilian with a icy glare who could hurl a fuzzy slipper with computer-like accuracy. She liked to brag that when she was a county hospital nurse she wouldn’t take any shit… both people and patients admired her for that. I just think she scared the hell out of them. Either way, stuff got done.
Carm, or as I would call her “Nan” (the origin of which is completely lost to me) was the daughter of uneducated, but hard-working Italian immigrants. She only spoke Italian at home… learning English after she started school. I would hear her and my Aunt Lucy speak it when they didn’t want me knowing something… both then and now the Italian language sounds like music to me…. and I wonder if they’re talking about me.
I got as far as learning the swear words… and THAT only came when I messed up. In a way, being bad built my vocabulary and exposed me to my native culture.
But, despite her humble, uneducated beginnings, my grandmother AND grandfather managed to get educations and rise above their parents. In turn, my mother became a nurse, my aunt a lawyer, my cousin is three auditions away from a Broadway career and then there’s me… I have a B.F.A., an M.F.A. and I draw a talking squirrel: three out of four isn’t bad.
When I drew political cartoons, Nan made sure she saw them whenever they were printed. Little did I know (only finding this out after Nan was moved into a skilled nursing facility) she cut every single panel out and saved them… we found four drawers filled with clippings. Hundreds of panels. We could barely get the drawers open… NO IDEA how she managed to get them shut.
She was complicated, principled, mean, angry and fragile all at the same time. She wouldn’t hesitate to give you the shirt off her back, but she’d make sure to call you an asshole while she was giving it to you.
She always wore ORANGE lipstick. I told her once to try another color… because NO ONE wore orange lipstick. (Me the fashionista and style guru… have you ever seen MY closet?) One day she put on red just to show me. It looked horrible… so I never mentioned it again. Weird. I guess that’s why color theory is still a theory.
I owe her a lot and never repaid her. That really sucks.
At least now she’s at peace. No more pain. If there is a Heaven, she’s there now… knocking on the gate and yelling: “Let me the HELL in, goddamn it!” She was a spiritual woman… really, she was.
Every single cat and dog she ever nursed and fed will be up there waiting… along with my grandfather… wondering where all these animals came from and fully aware the party is over… and Mom is home.
Love you forever Carmel… thank you for everything. Get some rest.