Tuesday, September 20, 2011


In the 27 years I was lucky enough to spend with her, Mary Lina Albano Poulson played a large part in shaping me into the person I am.  I truly believe the world would be a kinder place if everyone could have met her, even just for one evening.  Those of you who were lucky enough to know her will agree she was one-of-a-kind

Today would have been her 95th birthday.  I set out this evening with no idea how to celebrate the occasion.  Darling Kristen, however, gave me the perfect idea for a start.  Books.  I found myself wandering through Foyles, not sure what I would find that she would have liked.  In the end, I managed to find two:

  • A Fortune-Teller Told Me: Earthbound Travels in the Far East by Tiziano Terzani (when I was paying for it, a stranger at the counter told me how wonderful it is so that's a good sign).  I picked it up because it is about a guy wandering around Asia for a year using only ground-based travel.  It caught my eye because I plan to do some of the same kind of wandering next year (only for a month or so though).  Gram loved to travel and she loved adventure.  If there is one thing I know she regretted it was not going to some of the exotic places she always dreamed of. She always encouraged me to do exciting things  so I know she would have really loved this book. 
  • I Can Be Anything! by Jerry Spinelli.  Yep.  That's right.  A kid's book.  Don't knock it til you've tried it!  It's really cute.  It caught my eye for many reasons (not the least of which being the adorable animals in it that Gram would have loved).  It also happens to coincide with a project I am working on that I think she would have appreciated.  
Following my book purchase, I decided to get some dinner.  The obvious choice was clam chowder.  I looked at probably ten restaurants before I found the place with the right feel and the right menu but it was soooo worth the search.  Amalfi, an Italian restaurant in Soho, makes a mean clam chowder - this coming from someone who is not really a big seafood eater.  I sat at the window, watching people pass, while I savored the soup.  The only non-Gram-approved factor would have been that it was tomato-based instead of cream-based but she would have still found it really tasty.  Anyone would have found it tasty.  It WAS tasty!  To quote the menu:
A traditional clam soup with Sardinian fregola pasta grains, wine, chili and parsley, served with Ciabatta.  
I also had a glass of red wine which I waited to start until I worked up the courage to ask the table next to me to share in a toast to Gram.  He was really sweet about it.  Definitely one of my more bold stranger moments.  As an aside: it's weird how people worry about you when you eat out alone.  As a frequent lone diner, I find that people really want to find out what my deal is.  Not only did the toast table look at me with wonder (prior to the toast request even), the guy at the table on the other side felt compelled to ask what I was doing, as did the server.  The more intimate and romantic the restaurant, the more they seem concerned about me being unaccompanied.  It's a weird phenomenon but it lets me talk to lots of strangers and, if you haven't noticed yet, I enjoy meeting new people.  Anyway, a description of the wine:
Chianti DOCG - Albinoni, Terre del Sole, Toscana - Seductive dark cherry fruit aromas lead into a supple, full-bodied flavour with attractive supporting tannins to offer a well-toned build.  
Gram loved a glass of red wine.  She was known to sneak bottles from Dad's cabinet but her blushed cheeks and rosy nose always gave her away.  That and her subtle, mischievous grin.  She also had a weakness for Peach Schnapps which I sneaked to her once when she was recovering from her surgery (the first of her life at 91 years old).

Following my soup, I enjoyed a lovely pizza Margherita.  Simple but flavorful.  A classic.

Maintaining the Italian theme, I chose Amorino for dessert.  They didn't have mint-chocolate chip (one of her favorite treats was C. Kay Cummings Trafalgar Squares) but I got a good mix representing her tastes:

  • stracciatella - mint chocolate chip minus the mint
  • pistachio - she LOVED them
  • speculos - I had no idea what this was so i sampled it and it tastes JUST like her gingerbread cookies!!!  Crazy!!!  Perfect find for tonight :) 
Oddly, they had no Almond Sandies.  Do they even make those any more???

Gram would never ever have eaten so much in one night - just "a bite or two" or perhaps "only half" - but I decided to splurge in her honor.

Throughout the evening, I kept my notebook close at hand and jotted down thoughts - while attempting to hold back a few tears - of things she taught me and how she still influences my life today.  I miss her every day.

small warning: this may be a long list.  I didn't intend for it to be but once I started writing, it just kept getting bigger.  I won't judge (or in all honesty have any idea) if you don't make it all the way through :)

Things She Taught Me
  • Always carry a notebook.    
    • Days blend together.  Things make you smile but then you get sucked back into work and you forget what it was made you happy.  Write it down.  When you read it at the end of the day, or end of the week, you will be glad you did.  
  • Remember and appreciate the little moments 
    • hint: it's easier to do this if you have a notebook.  Clever, eh?  When something makes you smile, purposefully remember it.  
  • If someone needs your help, help them.  
    • Particularly small, helpless things like tiny or broken animals - but also people who are too scared to ask.  She was incredibly tender hearted.  The baby ducks were her favorite part of the spring.  One year we had one who struggled a lot and never could work up the courage to jump into the pond.  She worried about him day and night.  When he didn't make it, she buried him in the yard with a tiny, hand-picked bouquet adorning his final resting place. 
  • Walk every day
    • I firmly believe this is why she was in the incredible shape she was.  I also believe that walking forces you to enjoy the world at a more relaxed pace which is something we don't do enough.  Don't let it be a luxury!  Make it a habit in your life.  You won't regret it.  I walk every day after work (even if it means pushing Rae around for a while) and it's one of the best parts of my day.  
  • Read every day
    • Keeping enough books in the house for her to read was a part-time job.  When I threw her 90th birthday party, I asked everyone to buy her books.  Seeing the stack, everyone thought we had surely amassed enough to keep her occupied for a year.  She was done in three months.  I used to secretly test her love and patience by bringing her text books instead of fiction.  She read them with the same fervor and speed as if they were written by Dan Brown.  
  • Write every day
    • Even if it was just a sentence or two, she wrote something about nearly every day of her life for decades.  We have them all and it's really incredible to be able to go back to specific days to see what was going on.  
  • Keep life simple
    • She was a depression-era baby and learned young to only take what she needed.  She made things by hand, she mended worn down and broken things, she found creative ways to save money. 
  • Write letters!
    • A seriously dying trend, which breaks my heart.  I love writing letters.  I love receiving letters.  In fact, I have five cards in my bag that I didn't get a chance to mail today.  You might be a lucky recipient :).  When Gram sent letters, she covered them in stickers of adorable things - usually flowers or little animals.  They made her smile and she hoped they would make you as well.  Which leads me to...
  • Never underestimate the power of small touches
    • The tiniest, thoughtful thing can make somebody's day.  It doesn't take much to leave a small note on the kitchen table for the sole purpose of making someone smile when they read it.  Her Christmas present to us every single year was a tiny stocking she knit herself that was just big enough to hold a rolled-up $20 bill.  We all covet these tiny reminders now because she took the time to make them for us.  Tiny is huge!!! 
  • The importance of being alone
    • While she may have taken it to the extreme at times, I learned from her that solitude is not an odd desire but is healthy and necessary.  I spend a lot of time alone, sometimes reading and writing, sometimes not doing anything at all.  It's important.  It's refreshing.  It's lovely. 
  • Dry humor
    • She made me laugh.  Her comments were often so dry you could easily miss the layers of complexity and wit.  Man oh man did she make me laugh!  
  • How to not care what people think of you
    • Ok, we probably can't ever not care completely but she always said "You would care less what people think about you if you realized how seldom they did."  It's true!  Do you judge people the way you assume they judge you?  Probably not. Probably not even remotely.  People forget about the "embarrassing" thing you did even before the blush has left your cheeks.  Laugh at yourself, learn if you need to, and move on like everyone else in the room did fifteen minutes ago. 
  •  How to keep in touch
    • Just do it!!!  Don't ever think that it's too late; that it's been too long since you talked and now it would be weird to start again.  Don't ever think that you'll wait for them to start the conversation.  If you want to catch up with someone, catch up with them!  Write them a letter.  Give them a call.  Send them an email.  Find them if you have to.  If it is important to you, it is important to them.  Keep in touch! 
  • Maps rock! 
    • Her room was covered in maps.  My room is covered in maps.  Pretty clear correlation. 
  • How to have faith
    • She wasn't particularly religious but she had an incredible amount of faith in life.  She always said "things will work out the way they should."  It drove me nuts because it also made me learn...
  • How to not overanalyze things
    • I will still do it but when I think of her response it does stop the runaway train that is my panic attack and make me trust in the universe to sort it out.  The universe knows how things connect.  I can only guess and when I do I'm usually wrong.  In the end, I trust the universe to sort it out more than I trust my brain to solve it so this strategy works out well.  
  • How to play in the dirt
    • We gardened a lot together.  The four of us (that's ma, pa, gram, and me) spent nearly every weekend in the yard together during my childhood.  Dirt is good.  Plants are good.  Mud is good.  
  • Sun is good; sunsets and sunrises are priceless
    • Some of my favorite moments with her were early in the morning or late in the evening when the red sky painted the mountains.  Many evenings I sat with her on the balcony by the pond and watched the sun set.  These moments taught me to...
  • Appreciate a shared silence with someone you love

Things She Didn't Teach Me
  • How to use a computer
    • After a rather confusing phone call asking her to click one icon on the computer, I realized she was actually lifting the mouse up and putting it on the screen to click it.  Definitely not tech savvy. 
  • How to tip
    • When it came to the bill she always said,"if you figure out the tip, I'll take care of the bill." She never wanted to deal with that part.  We even gave her a little cheat sheet but she just got overwhelmed.  A silly thing but something that makes me remember her. 
  • How to judge people
    • I wonder sometimes if she was capable of judgement.  She lived by the philosophy, "if you don't have anything nice to say then don't say anything at all."  That's fine and all but many people who observe that standard do so with the added "in front of their face" clause and say the mean things once the person is gone.  I don't think she actually thought the mean thoughts at all though.  She accepted everyone. 
I could probably think of pages and pages more to tell you about her.  This is what I mean when I say you should have just met her for a while because I can never describe all the aspects of how wonderful she was.  I think about her every day for one reason or another (though I do have a permanent reminder inked into my body that I see all the time).  It was really nice to spend an entire evening remembering who she was and realizing how much she still lives on in those who love her.

Cheers to you Gram!!!