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Cavanaugh: Unconditional love of grandmothers, mothers
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This is a tough Mother’s Day for me as I am sure it is for any of you whose mom might be suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s. Molly and I were talking about what to send my mother this year and there really isn’t anything that I know of that she needs. Actually sending gifts is a way for us to feel good about ourselves anyway.

So I am going to sincerely offer up a prayer this year and ask God to be gentle with the rest of her life.

Since I wrote about my Mom recently and I have written about my Grandmother Cope, I thought I would devote this Mother’s Day to my Grandmother Cavanaugh.

I have been and am still affected by being raised in a matriarchal environment. My grandmothers were the dominant ones in their family. My father who was the oldest of seven children called or visited his mother and his aunt, her identical twin, every day of their lives.

Even though I grew up in what would be considered by many today a great escape – close to the river surrounded by acres and acres of woods – I longed for companionship, so I loved to spend the summer in the hot confines of Washington D.C., where my grandparents lived along with my cousins – one being only two years younger than myself.

My grandmother’s name was Christina and it seemed her house was so big when I was visiting and staying with her. Seeing it in later life I realized it was actually quite small.

When I was very little, I couldn’t pronounce grandma so I started calling her Nana. Later my mother insisted our family call her Grandma. All my cousins still called her Nana.

My grandmother was not a very good cook but she always had plenty on the table. She served many of her vegetables, including potatoes, out of cans. At home we always ate fresh but for some reason I loved to eat at my grandma’s. Eating canned vegetables was a treat.

The one thing that she and my great aunt could cook was fresh hand-made dough that was turned into the best fried bread in the world. The recipe was passed down through the family and to this day on holidays it is mandatory that we have fried bread.

My grandmother was not the most demonstrative person in the world but you always knew you were loved. I never ever heard her raise her voice or say anything bad about anyone.

When I visited my grandmother, I, along with my cousin, was allowed to roam the streets of southeast Washington all day long, finding many adventures. No one worried then about perverts or the like. I still wonder how come so many have sprung up over the years to cause our own grandchildren to never be out of our sight.

Our family was one of the only white families for blocks, so me and my cousin played street football with boys our age. Color never crossed my mind. If you never played street football it had no rules. This was a guarantee that you would have a fight every day and after that all was well again.

On Saturdays for a quarter we went to the movie matinee where we always saw at least two shows, and sometimes three, and sometimes we would sit through them again. I loved those old westerns. Lash LaRue and Hop Along Cassidy and Gabby Hayes were my favorites. The monster films gave me nightmares for days.

In those days some houses still had ice delivered for their ice boxes; the ice man delivered his ice on a horse-drawn wagon. He was always glad to give us pieces of ice. There was nothing more refreshing on a hot summer day and it was free.

At Christmas there was always a big tree filled with those lights that had water that bubbled. Seeing those lights was a highlight of the season.

My grandmother went to church almost every day. She had a hundred rosaries it seemed. She kept her seven kids on the straight and narrow, because my grandfather… well, my grandfather Willy was an interesting character. I will write about him on Father’s Day; he just never lived up to his responsibilities.

When my grandmother and great-aunt were alive the family never missed going to weddings and funerals. At these occasions both of them would sit in the best chairs like the queens they were and hold court. They always dressed alike down to the jewelry they wore and they swore that they never talked to each other to arrange their dress so it would be the same.

My grandmother had a part time job with my aunt at a cleaners in Alexandria and somehow saved enough money so that her children received an inheritance.

Later in my life my grandparents moved to Virginia and one Sunday walking home from church she was knocked down by a person who stole her purse. She never quite recovered. Her funeral was one of the most peaceful and beautiful I have ever seen.

I still can see my grandmother with the biggest smile and the largest bead necklace and the flowery dress. I still feel the love she gave unconditionally to me. It was not pretentious in any way. Her grandchildren and great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren number over 100 today. I don’t recall anyone of them ever being in serious trouble and most have gone on to have very successful lives.

I pray that each of you still has the time to talk to your mother or grandmother this weekend. Tell her that you love her and appreciate her, because we are not always guaranteed that last chance to do so.

T. Pat Cavanaugh is the publisher of The News. You can reach him at 770-787-6397 or