I got the call at 7 am on Monday. My mother’s name was on my phone’s screen, and I knew that had to be a bad sign. She rarely calls. When she does, it’s never before 9. I had planned to visit my 94-year-old Nana in the hospital later that morning for the first time since she fell, by herself, in the Belmont home she lived in for over 50 years. Two broken vertebrae were soon joined by pneumonia. Then heart failure, according to a message I received from my aunt before six o’clock this morning. I assumed then that I had very little time left to see her. I had no idea that she had already passed by the time I read my aunt’s email.
I felt, and still feel, like I made an enormous mistake, one for which I’ll probably never forgive myself. Why didn’t I visit her on Sunday, like I had originally planned? Why did I feel like there was enough time to push it out one more day? Even if she was delirious and couldn’t remember who I was — which seemed pretty likely, based on what I was told by my mom and aunts — I could’ve at least been by her side one last time.
Nana was ready to join my grandfather, who passed in 1992. She was ready, period. I know my guilt will subside in the coming days. In the meantime, I feel like my only outlet (and way to say I’m sorry) is to explain what she meant to me here.
She was born in Chicago, and spent the early part of her life rooting for the Cubs. As a child she used to go to games at Wrigley on something called “Ladies Day,” when tickets cost 25 cents on Fridays. She was eight when the Cubs lost the World Series in five games to the Philadelphia Athletics. That began a streak of the Cubs losing a World Series every three years that lasted until 1938 … four World Series failures in 10 years. She was trained to expect baseball heartbreak from the beginning. That surely made the last five years of her life that much sweeter, at least from a baseball perspective.
She moved to San Francisco before my mother was born, in 1952. Based on the story I’ve heard countless times, my Nana and Grandpa had tickets to see the Seals, but they fell on my mom’s due date. Her obstetrician generously offered to accept the tickets if my grandparents couldn’t attend. I can only imagine Nana’s smirk at this suggestion.
The Giants moved to town soon after, and they stole Nana’s heart from those cursed Cubs. Of course, the Giants weren’t exactly the luckiest bunch either. Yet that didn’t stop her from keeping score, every single game. She suffered through more World Series disappointment in 1962, and again 40 years later. She loved Hank Greenwald’s wit, Kirt Manwaring’s angelic face (“He just seems like a nice boy.”), and Matt Cain’s demeanor on the mound.
She also appreciated Barry Bonds’ tremendous skill, even though Bonds did something to irk our family. Nana was hit by a Bonds foul ball many years ago, and my aunt Joanie tried unsuccessfully to get Bonds to sign the ball at a later date. Joanie pleaded with Bonds, describing how he had hit an 80-something woman with that same baseball, causing quite the bruise. Bonds ignored her while walking past. The rest of the relatives on my mother’s side seemed to take the slight a lot harder than Nana did, though.
Even when someone lives to 94, the loss felt by those she leaves behind still stings. But it’s hard to recall what she missed over those 94 years. She has four children, eight grandchildren, two great-grandchildren. In 2010, she saw her San Francisco Giants win their first World Series. Five days later, she was at my wedding. She saw two more titles for the Giants, and a few short years after she started following the Warriors, they captured their first championship in 40 years.
Yesterday my sister told me one of the last things she said before she started to fade. On Thursday, my uncle Phil told her that the Warriors had won the night before in Washington. “I’ve been waiting to hear that all day,” Nana said.
Perhaps more than any member of my extended family, she followed my work here and on CSN Bay Area. Every time I saw her over the last year-plus, she told me I needed to be on TV every single night.
“They need to give you your own show,” she’d say.
“Thanks, Nana,” I’d say. “But that’s not going to happen.”
“Well, they should.”
And that was that. There was no arguing with her when it came to matters like these.
I’ll remember so much more. How she’d bang out the New York Times crossword puzzle in less than an hour, in pen, every single day. How she never missed my birthday, and her penmanship on the funny cards she’d send was always perfect. How she always had a stash of Milano cookies. How she made scrambled eggs, but also had Trix cereal on hand for picky grandchildren. How she took me and my two buddies to the airport when we went to Europe at age 19, then a month later she picked us up and took us to the Iron Gate restaurant in Belmont that evening. (Jet lag hit Ben pretty hard during dinner, and Nana laughed while wondering aloud whether he was going to fall asleep on his steak.) How she let me live with her for a month after I graduated college, when I had no money or idea what to do with my life. How she held our baby daughter Anna, whispering things that kept her so calm — secrets between Anna and her great-grandmother that I’ll always cherish.
There’s no way I would have this website without her love of baseball. Every time I’d see her during the season, she’d ask me what was going on with the Giants. When they were doing poorly, she was upset about the lack of pitching — even if pitching wasn’t the problem with that particular team. She always expected her boys to allow two runs or less per game. And when we gathered in the home of my aunt and uncle who never had cable, she and I would commiserate about the lack of baseball on television.
Nana was so sweet, kind and generous, but there was a little bit of fire behind those bright blue eyes. My wife likes to reminisce on Nana’s love of shoes, and how she pointed at Liz’s bare feet during our wedding reception, just to let her know that even if no one else noticed, she noticed. Nana’s mind was always there, and despite several health scares over the last several years, she somehow lived alone up until the very end. She loved her routine in that Belmont house, which often was based around the Giants’ schedule. She was fond of saying that the New Year truly started on the date pitchers and catchers reported.
New Year’s 2016 takes place on February 17 in Scottsdale. Part of me feels like she’s going to miss one heck of a season. Yet, another part of me knows she’ll watch it all unfold from up above while keeping score. I love you, Nana.