Saturday, December 21, 2013

Bobbe Dunn

This was my grandmother. My mother's mother. Catherine-Susan McCabe Dunn Trotta. I called her Nana, most people called her Bobbe. My grandmother was many things, but first and foremost my grandmother was a story teller. Most of her stories began with her lamenting that she didn't take notes when she was younger eavesdropping on her aunts and mother telling stories at the kitchen table. But you kids today, she'd say, you could record all of this on your tape recorder. I meant to, but just like she never got to writing down the stories of her elders, I never did either. It's OK though her stories are tattooed in my memory banks, and I can recite them all even without a tape recording. 

This is what ran as her obituary. It's alright, but it's just not enough. Her stories should be told again. I really feel I need to tell her stories again. I started writing this entry a month ago. I come back to it, I change some things, add some things, get a little sad & save it for later. I'll never finish it at this rate. There's so much I need to process with her passing. It isn't going to be over in an afternoon. I think for 1 year I will dedicate one post a month to a story from my grandmother. So you can look forward to hearing how my grandmother invented belt-less maxi pads, her excommunication from the Catholic church, and dozens of other really cool stories. Understand that we had a tumultuous relationship. It wasn't all playing hairdresser and pretending we spoke french. There may be uncool stories too. I need to do this to process the other stories too and to make my peace with her passing. So I will leave the following that I've already written as an introduction....
Her name was Catherine-Susan. Together, not a first & middle. My family lacks name originality. She was named after her mother, who was named after her mother. I'm not sure, but there may be very well be a chain of Catherine Susans stretching back to the dawn of time. I have 2 second cousins and a third cousin (or is the child of your second cousin a second cousin once removed?)  that bears that moniker too. I'm dumb-founded that while writing this it is the first time I realized all four of her children have original names. I guess it didn't occur to me because they each in turn recycled their names. A moment of sadness here that it never occurred to me to ask her why she didn't choose to continue the tradition. Everyone called her Bobbe. There's two different stories about why that is. One story is just that she always used a dozen bobby-pins to pin up her black curls. That story is boring. I like the other story better. She was the first-born, and her grandfather was hoping that she would be a boy. So he started calling her Bobbe & it just stuck. Both of these stories may be true, then again they may be whole cloth; story tellers are allowed artistic license too. The grandfather version always seemed likely to be true to me. It made sense. The name fit. My grandmother wore long beaded necklaces that tied in a knot when they reached her sternum. She used Oil of Olay moisturizer & Dove soap. She was a seamstress, and designer. She owned a tailoring shop with my mom called "A Stitch in Time" and created costumes for the productions of  the Chateau DeVille Theater Group, now Lantana's in Randolph MA. She also swung hammers.  The raised ranch she lived in during my childhood, she built. No I didn't say she designed it. I didn't say she had it built. With a hammer, with a table saw, with sweat & blood and her 4 teen-aged children assisting; she built a house. About 15 years after the foundation was poured, when everything was finally exactly perfectly what she wanted; she sold it. When she was about 50 she bought a rundown 12+ room farmhouse in Cornish, Maine and spent the next 30 years restoring every inch of it. About 10 years ago I brought my friend Lori up for a get-away vacation. Lori complimented my grandmother on the new three-season porch. My grandmother started to tell the story of how hard it was to talk her partner Mike into spending the- oh I think it was $3000- to build the porch. Lori was flabbergasted that Nana, then 70-something years old, had a porch built so inexpensively. It took me a minute to get what was getting lost in the conversation- Nana didn't have it built, when she said Mike (then about 78 years old) and she put on the porch last spring, she meant that she & Mike were out on a rig tearing down that wall & building this porch. She was no nonsense,  pragmatic, and tough as nails.She was creative, skilled and capable. She was so many the qualities I take pride in using to describe myself too. But she was also distant, cold, stand-offish.She was judgmental, and harsh. She set standards and expectations unreasonably high. The qualities I worry that I inherited too. When I was little I thought she was magic. When I would need a pencil, for the lists I kept even then, she would reach up into her mane of black curls & sort of feel around for a moment and like magic, produce a pencil. My straight as a bone hair can't replicate that trick. So little me started stabbing a pen through my ponytails to copy her in my own way. 

No comments: