Grazia Silverio DeBacco turned 98 this past fall. As a young girl in the early part of the 20th century, she, along with many other Italians, came over to this country in the hopes of finding a better life. Eventually, she grew up and settled down with her husband in a tiny house on Blue Row in Brady's Bend, Pennsylvania, a small, three-mile-long town on the Allegheny River, and proceeded to have ten children -- three girls, seven boys -- between 1923 and 1946.
It's funny how that doesn't seem like much when you render it that simply. But this was the height of the Depression, in a small limestone-mining town that had seen better days, in a house roughly the size of a Manhattan apartment.
And then there are the kids themselves, who are some of the kindest, gentlest, funniest people you'd ever want to know. A little eccentric, some of them, a little goofy, some of them (okay, a lot of them), but at heart they are all good people. Everyone has relatives that they're not too thrilled with or wish they didn't have any blood connection to. As far as I'm concerned, the ten children of Grazia DeBacco and their families categorically do not number among those. I'm proud to call them my family, and I owe it all to Nana. We all do, really. (One of the most famous stories about Nana was when she called Johnny, her oldest son, in the Pacific Theatre during World War II. Johnny came to the phone worried sick that something had happened, but Nana was just calling to make sure he was all right. He assured her that he was, and she said that was good, she loved him, and then she hung up.)
Later on in life, Nana settled down in a small house on a big hill in the Roseville part of Brady's Bend. The house consisted solely of a small kitchen, small living room, medium-sized bedroom, and a bathroom. It was all she needed. An endless parade of children, grandchildren, in-laws, siblings, cousins, and umpty gajillion other friends and relations would always cram themselves into her tiny kitchen to visit her.
In the 1940s, her oldest daughter, Ann, met a man named Fred Andreassi, who was visiting relatives in the area. He got into a car accident, and the two of them fell in love while waiting for his car to get fixed. He proposed, she accepted and moved back to the Bronx with him. They had four children, the oldest of whom was my mother, GraceAnne, born in 1947, the year after Nana had her tenth and youngest child, Loretta.
In 1976, after my grandfather died, my grandmother moved right back to Brady's Bend. They put an addition on the small house on the big hill, and mother and eldest daughter lived together, entertaining family, watching soap operas, making the best chicken soup and pasta in the world, and arguing constantly. (Really, it was like a vaudeville routine. A few years ago, Nana needed a cane after some hip problems, and I am convinced that she kept the thing long past its usefulness because she enjoyed brandishing it while admonishing my grandmother with her traditional, "Oh, Annie!")
I loved visiting Nana, in part because she always had wonderful stories to tell, in part because she was a phenomenal cook, in part because watching her and Gramma interact was great theatre, in part because she always made me laugh -- but mainly because, well, she was Nana.
In 2001, I wrote a Star Trek: Deep Space Nine novel that included an independent planet colonized by humans. The president of this world, called Europa Nova, was a white-haired woman who took no guff named Grazia Silverio. I thought it a fitting tribute to a woman who, given a chance, probably could've run a damn fine planet. (I was also touched when David R. George III included a scene with President Silverio in his 2002 DS9 novel Twilight.)
Last fall, my parents, Terri, and I went to Brady's Bend for Nana's 98th birthday celebration. She was as sharp as ever mentally, but it was obvious that her body was giving up on her. She could barely move, could barely hear. As always, her party was held in a large hall that was full to bursting with family and food.
In many ways, I'm glad that that's my final memory of her. It fits.
A few weeks ago, she went to the hospital. Her body finally gave up. She died in bed at 3pm on Thursday 1 May 2003, quietly, surrounded by loved ones.
After 98 years, she more than earned it.
We should all be so lucky.
I know I'm lucky to have had her as my great-grandmother, and I'm proud to be part of her legacy.
Rest in peace, Nana.
[First posted on sff.people.krad at SFF.net on 1 May 2003.]
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