Dear Holly: You Really Loved Having Grandma in Town from California

1 year, 9 months.

Dear Holly,

I was definitely worried about Grandma’s timing in arriving at our home in Tennessee, as she was preparing to fly here from California.

Just a few days earlier, Mommy and I had to take you to the Emergency Room twice in the same day for your 106 degree temperature, as you were suffering from the flu.

My biggest concern is that Grandma would come all the way out here, only to not be exposed to our normal jolly little Holly.

Fortunately though, just as Grandma was coming in, your symptoms of the flu were on the way out.

I noticed right away how quickly you were drawn to her. Despite us only getting to see her about twice a year, you treated her as no stranger.

What really amazed me was on the 2nd day of her visit, you spent a solid two hours just chilling with her in the living room, playing with your toys. You never once needed Mommy or me.

I definitely noticed that you adopted a certain energy from Grandma. It was like a switch was turned on whenever you were around her.

You just wanted to show her what a sweet little playful granddaughter you are. It was as if you wanted to make sure Grandma got her money’s worth out of her cross-country trip.

Though you’re too young to process that Grandma is actually Mommy’s Mommy, it’s like somehow you already understand this.

You instinctively know that she is a very special person in your life. It helps that her personality perfectly compliments yours.

I am confident you could have spent all day with her on the living room floor, with just your plastic tea party set and a baby doll to serve as entertainment.

You typically are reserved around people you don’t see often.

Grandma is the exception.




Dear Holly: Both of Your Half-Italian Grandmothers

9 months.

Dear Holly: Both of Your Half-Italian Grandmothers

Dear Holly,

Everyone in our family of 4 is a quarter Italian: I am, Mommy is, your brother is, and you are.

That’s because both my Mommy (Nonna) originally from Buffalo, New York, and Mommy’s Mommy (Grandma) from near San Francisco, California are half Italian. I realize that some people honestly don’t give much thought to their ethnic background and heritage, but I definitely do. It fascinates me.

You have the Metallo genes on Nonna’s side and the Tocchini genes on Grandma’s. With your relatively fair skin and sort of strawberry-blonde hair, your Italian genes aren’t so obvious at this point. Yet still, 25% of who you are is traced back to Italy.

Last month, Grandma flew in from California to help take care of you for two weeks; as you had one sickness after another for so long. Then, the day after Grandma flew back, we picked up Nonna, who stayed home with you for a week. So for three straight weeks, you were under the constant care of a half-Italian grandmother.

We are very fortunate that we were be able to call both of your grandmothers out to Tennessee to take care of you.

No matter how good a day care is, it can never match what a grandmother has to offer. Not only were you spoiled for three weeks in a row, but so were the rest of us in our family.

Life is definitely easier when Grandma or Nonna is in town.

It makes such a difference to be able to have someone else there to help the balance of cooking, cleaning, and helping to care for you and your brother. Three adults versus two kids is a more favorable ratio.

But as for now, we’re back to normal/crazy. So much for chocolate cake waiting for us when we get home.

Sometimes life just has to be a little crazy. We’ll just be crazy together.



Dear Jack: My Grandma is in Heaven Now

5 years, 10 months.

Dear Jack: My Grandma is in Heaven Now

Dear Jack,

Last weekend, our family traveled to my hometown of Fort Payne, Alabama so that we could attend the visitation and funeral for my Grandma; Delores “Lola” Gonzales Metallo.

Our family most recently visited her just a few of months ago in July, which made the 2nd time she was able to meet Holly.

Then the following month, while you were staying at Nonna and Papa’s house for a week of “summer camp,” you visited Grandma again.

I’m so glad you got to have that one last special visit with her. Nonna sent me this picture of the two of you, which she took with her phone:

“Special visit with Grandma. A sweet bond between a 5 1/2 yr old Great Grandson with his 81 yr old Great-Grandmother. Grandma had an old movie playing on her TV and Jack loved it. Grandma was soooo happy. She loved hearing about Jack but especially the movies he was getting to go see.”

But as of last Thursday morning, at age 81, she passed on to Heaven. No more pain or suffering for her.

One of the first things that came to mind when I heard this was the children’s Bible I read to you each night before you go to bed.

Grandma gave it to me as a Christmas gift in 1988, nearly 30 years ago. In the front of it, she wrote, “With all my love!”

Dear Jack: My Grandma is in Heaven Now

Grandma was known for her love of dogs, her ability to perfectly iron a shirt, her obsession with possible upcoming bad weather, and her fascination with anything Biblical.

She undeniably had a great effect on me developing my faith in Jesus. I think it’s so cool that I get to teach you from the same Bible she gave me.

During the visitation the day before her funeral, I really enjoyed hearing the stories from people who I didn’t know well, but who knew stories about her that I never knew.

It was much more a time of celebration than it was a time of mourning. She lived a long, full life. She got to meet all 4 of her great-grandchildren before she passed, of which your the first.

I would not be who I am today if it weren’t for her influence on my life. She was there every birthday, every Thanksgiving, every Christmas, and every time our family got together; each year of my entire life.

Dear Jack: My Grandma is in Heaven Now

She meant a lot to me, obviously. And I know for a fact that she really loved you a lot.

We will see her again, though. This is not goodbye.



Climbing the Family Tree

At some point, it starts to become irrelevant.  Which part of your family tree actually matters?

Fort Payne, AL in 1976- my mom (bottom), her Italian dad and Mexican mother above her

Every family’s got one- the “family tree enthusiast”.  It’s ultimately the person with the most natural motivation to find out where the family came from- not the people who simply say, “I’d love to know more about our heritage…” but instead, the one who actually gets to work on it.  And after I found myself spending hours sometimes researching the origins of last names I had heard of in our family, I soon realized I was appointed by destiny to be the “family tree enthusiast.”

Since last May, my grandmother on my dad’s side has been helping me with the research.  Her last name is Clowers; which last year when I looked it up was an English name and meant “people from the hills”.  But this weekend after sitting down with my grandmother again, I discovered that “Clowers” was changed from “Klauer”, and that was changed from “Clore”, which was changed from “Klaar”, which was not English at all, but instead Dutch.

Chattanooga, TN in 1946- my great-grandparents on my dad's side: Francis Clowers & Madelee Wiseman

The highest I could climb up my family tree was to a Dutch Lutheran named Hans Michael Klaar (born in 1630) who married a Greek woman named Ursula Sybella (born in 1635).  When I Googled the last name “Klaar”, I found more Jewish ties to it than anything else.  It’s possible that further up the family tree the Klaar’s were Dutch Jews, but that would be near impossible to confirm.

Climbing back down the family tree, the next woman being married into the family was another Greek woman, Anna Barbara Maria.  Then Dorothy Kaifer (German), then two more presumed German women (no last names given but I’m assuming they were German since the family had by that point moved to Germany), then surprisingly a Jewish woman named Nancy Ullman (it translates as “rich man”), then Mary Harris (English), then Emmaline Lunsford (English), then Polly Katherine Green (English, Jewish, or Irish), then finally, my great-grandmother Madelee Wiseman (typically a Jewish-German last name which translates “white man”).

same great-grandparents 37 years later

Then my grandmother (maiden name, Clowers) married my grandfather, John David Shell.  All I know so far about his family tree are of Scottish (Scrimsher and Johnston), Cherokee Indian (name unknown), and German (Miller) origin.  But the last name Shell has a potentially interesting origin:  The Jews living in Germany were often given their last names by the Germans, who would insult them with last names translating to things like “stinky” and “ugly”.  Shell used to be “Schell” and literally translates “loud, noisy, and clamorous”- which I would say is an insult.  Plus, by Googling “Schell”, it’s Jewish people that pop up.

So what am I on my dad’s side of the family?  Dutch-Greek-German-Jewish-Cherokee-Scottish-English.  But I’m starting to come to the conclusion; what does really it matter anyway?  At the top of both sides of my dad’s family tree are Dutch, Greek, and German.  In the middle are Jewish and Cherokee.  At the bottom of the trees are English and Scottish.

The Clowers-Wiseman family in 1953- my great-grandparents in the middle, my grandmother on the far right in the black dress

Which is more relevant?  Am I more English and Scottish because those are the most recent?  Am I less Dutch and Greek because those are at the top?  Am I equally all of those things?

And that’s not to mention my mom’s side- she’s half Mexican and half Italian.  But because of the rumors that my great-grandmother Mary Vite was Jewish (there are Jews with the last name Vite), I may not be ¼ Italian after all, but instead 1/8.  Or what if she wasn’t half Jewish, but instead half Greek?

I will always be fascinated by ethnic backgrounds of people, but in a way, I am satisfied with what I know now about my own mysterious ancestors.  Because what is most relevant in a family tree is not found by looking up, but instead by looking down and all around; it’s the people that still influence you, that love you, that care for you, and vice versa.  That’s the part of your family tree that matters.  And to be honest with you, I’m pretty dizzy after spending all that time so high up the family tree.  It’s good to be back on the ground, with family members who are just as alive as I am.

Under the family tree: my Italian (and possibly Greek or Jewish?) grandfather Metallo; my mom's dad