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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

When Every Day was Christmas

Natividad Bidot was John's maternal grandmother. And she was a fantastic lady, which makes sense when you consider that her name means "Christmas" in Spanish. She was a gift who kept on giving.

When I first started dating John, I would often hear stories of his wonderful Puerto Rican grandmother. Having looked after John and his younger brother, Anthony, while their mother and father worked in NYC, she was a critical character in all of John's childhood stories. I was excited to meet her and finally get to know this woman who had such an impact on my then-boyfriend's life.

So imagine my surprise, on the first day I met her she flipped me the bird.

Really? Yes, Really.

It was John's niece's birthday and I was meeting most of the family for the first time in Long Island. Natividad, or Nati, was sitting in the living room and taking everything in. Almost 90, she was still a beautiful woman - cute and petite with a sharp awareness in her eyes. She was unable to navigate the room due to her poor vision, so she preferred staying put. John brought me up to meet her.

"Grandma, this is Kiran," John introduced me.
"I'm so happy to meet you!" I said, giving her petite frame a big hug.
"Me too, baby," she said to me before turning to John and saying, "Look at this one, already kissing my ass."

Huh? Well, I probably just misheard. After talking to her for a few minutes, I asked her if she wanted a drink.

"Ay Karen, I'm fine."
"Are you sure?"
"Yes, Kirsten. Kirsten. That's what I said. Oh what the hell? Get me a 7Up."

After retrieving her drink, I came back to find John's Grandma talking to one of the extended Italian family relatives. Nodding her head politely and smiling along as the woman chatted with her, Grandma radiated contentment and good will. As soon as the lady walked away, Grandma turned to me.

"Ay baby. What a nut that one, huh? She's cuckoo-ruckoos, no?"
"Uh, yeah." I later came to find out that this was a fair assessment. Smart woman, that Grandma. "Here's your 7Up."
"Ay, thanks baby. What's your name again?"

I got to know John's grandmother and other relatives a little better that day and then it was time to leave and wish everyone farewell. As John and I were driving on the Southern State Parkway, we looked over to see his brother's car. Anthony was driving Grandma home and was headed in the same direction as us.

As the car passed us, the passenger side window came down and John's Grandmother looked out the window, gave us a smile . . . and then . . .

"John, is your grandmother flipping us off?"

Over the next year I got to know Grandma better. Despite her spunky exterior, she had a heart of gold and I got to bear witness to what a wonderful and loving grandmother she was. One of my favorite things that she used to do was how she would end a call with John. She would often continue to speak after she thought we had hung up. Rather than hang up the phone after we said good-bye, she wouldn't click off till she walked the phone over to the receiver.

"Bye Grandma. Love you," would be John's sign-off.
"Bye Baby."

pause . . .

"Ay baby, I love that one. Ay, que lindo! I miss him so much. He's crazy about me." Sigh. "I wish I knew what that one's name was - Karen, Kirnan - so complicated!"


She was so excited for John and me when we got engaged. We visited her in Long Island shortly after the announcement and she gave me a long, warm hug and welcomed me to the family. I had already come to love this woman and was happy to call her "Grandma."

"Ay, que linda," she said, holding my face in her hands. "What's your name again?"
"It's Kiran, Grandma."
"That's right, Karen."
"Ay, why so complicated? I am old, I don't know these things. Karen, Carrie, Kristen. Whatever. I still can't say your name, baby, but I love you both."

And you know what? That was fine with me. Since I was probably the first (and only) Indian person John's grandmother ever knew, I had a hard time taking any offense.

We lost John's grandmother to cancer a few months before we got married. The last few weeks for Grandma were spent in hospice care at John's mother's house. Grandma was in pain, but would wear a brave face when family and friends would come to visit. On one of those visits, the conversation turned to our upcoming wedding.

"Ay, I'm so happy for John and what's her name. They are going to make a great couple." Grandma told her daughter Nilsa, now my mother-in-law.
"It's Kiran, Mom. Yes, they do make a great couple," said Mom.
"I'm just so sad I'm not going to be around to see them get married!"
"You'll always be with them, Mom."
"Yes, but I won't get to see their little Indian babies. With the feathers in their heads," said Grandma.

To this day, nobody knows if Grandma was joking or if she was serious. If she was serious, nobody had the heart to correct her and inform her that I was the other kind of Indian (dot, not feather). When our children were born, I'd like to think that Grandma was smiling down on them, despite their feather-less status.

We love and miss you, Grandma. Christmas is just not the same without some Natividad.


Anonymous said...

You made me cry...Love, Mom

Glennon said...


Anonymous said...

My sorrow, when she's here with me, thinks these dark days of autumn rain are beautiful as days can be; she loves the bare, the withered tree; she walks the sodden pasture lane. - Robert Frost

Your words bring tears to my eyes and a yearning to see her again. I can hear her voice...and I truly miss her. Thank you, Thank you for reminding me of all the beautiful memories I still hold dear to my heart and soul. Love, Stacey

Diana said...

That was funny, heartwarming and a beautiful tribute to a woman who sounds like she was larger than life. Thanks for sharing. Thinking of you and John's family as you all miss 'grandma'. (hopefully she isn't flipping you the bird?:))
Love, Diana


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