Monday, November 21, 2011

Our Other Thanksgiving: A Multigenerational Family Story and Recipe

Other-Thanksgiving-2004 “Don’t adjust your glasses,” I affectionately teased as I captioned this Thanksgiving 2004 photograph for our family album. “Other Nana’s actually cooking.” Alice D’Amore, my husband’s grandmother, would rather make a reservation than cook a meal any day of the week. But this photo is truly miraculous, although for a different reason than you might guess.

Alice earned her rather unique nickname because my husband’s great-grandmother (the original Nana) lived with his family. As a toddler, my husband decided to call her the “Other Nana.” When I met her, Alice explained why she loved the name and the family continued to use it. “There are millions of grandmas out there, but I bet I am the only Other.”

Other was truly an original. Long before “Mad Men,” she regaled me with eye-opening stories about her experiences working as an executive secretary in Manhattan starting in the 1940s. While she enjoyed work greatly, it was also a necessity. My husband’s grandfather died in a tragic accident working an extra shift to save money for their new baby on the day they were supposed to bring my mother-in-law home from the hospital.

Other lived her life with a remarkable grit, a fabulous sense of style, and a wonderful spirit of adventure that she imparted to both her grandchildren. When my husband and I began dating in college, she quickly adopted me as one of her own. We grew very close, especially after I lost both my grandmother and grandfather before my husband and I got married in the summer of 2002.

In the fall of 2003, my husband and I moved to Philadelphia when he began a one-year clerkship with a federal judge after he graduated from law school. We had just settled into our new one bedroom apartment, when we got a phone call that changed our lives dramatically.

Alice fell while trying to swat a spider with a broom. She hit her head, causing a major bleed in her brain. After her surgery, she wasn’t waking up from her coma. My husband refused to give up on her and kept calling her name until she opened her eyes. While the brain surgery ultimately saved her life, it greatly damaged her balance. Alice could no longer live on her own.

I remember packing up her apartment with my sister-in-law Jayne, a college student on fall break at the time, in tears during Thanksgiving weekend 2003. The step-down rehabilitation facility in New Jersey discharged her a few days before when she failed to make additional improvement. At the ages of 26 and 27, my husband and I became her primary caregivers in a city that we lived in for two months. During the Thanksgiving dinner at my mother’s house, I remember watching the fork miss Alice’s mouth as she desperately tried to feed herself.

As it turned out, our temporary location in Philadelphia helped us tremendously. Our apartment building allowed us to break our lease and move into a two bedroom on the same floor. When Alice’s health deteriorated and she was readmitted to the hospital, she received quality care on a special geriatric floor this time. Her doctors connected us with an acute rehabilitation service upon her discharge. A social worker there put us in touch with an intergenerational respite program at Temple University, that gave us a much needed break from round the clock care.

The Time Out Program at Temple University’s Intergenerational Center gave all of us a piece of our lives back again. At first, it gave my husband and me a chance to escape the relentless circle of round the clock care by going to the movies for a few hours. As Alice improved with intensive physical therapy, her paired student Emily eventually could take her on trips to the supermarket and help her pick up her medicines. To show her appreciation, Alice greatly enjoyed taking Emily out for cups of coffee and cake. She regaled Emily with her life stories and gently provided advice when asked as Emily decided what to do with her life after college.

Although she could never live on her own again, Other made a miraculous recovery that year that gave her a sense of independence back. She lived with us for five years. Before she passed away in July 2008, she got to meet her great grandson Joseph Henry who brought great joy to her final months. Our Thanksgiving story illustrates that intergenerational programs are not just nice, they are necessary.

Since Alice always appreciated a cocktail at the end of the day (in a tiny cordial-sized glass no less), we present a recipe for her favorite special occasion drink, a French 75. It fits her personality more than the mushroom soup she helped to make that day.

  • 3 ounces gin
  • 3 ounces fresh lemon juice
  • 4 teaspoons superfine granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups ice cubes
  • 1 cup chilled champagne

In a cocktail shaker, combine gin, lemon juice, sugar, and ice cubes and shake to chill. Strain cocktails into glasses and top off with champagne. I hope you enjoy it as much as she did.


Written by Anne Tria Wise

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