By Louis De Lauro
I think I was 23 when Nana Lena died.
It still hurts. Nana Lena was my wonderful grandmother—my mom’s mom. She lived with us in Lawrenceville when I was growing up, and cooked the best meals. She told me simple stories, but they were often charming and meaningful stories. She held my hand. She kissed me goodnight. I loved her. My sisters loved her too. Growing up with her in our house was a gift.
When I was 22 and Nana Lena was approaching the end of her life she told me that she was cold, so I gave her my softest flannel to wear and she wore it all the time. She told me many times that she loved my cozy flannel shirt. I loved that she loved my shirt. I loved that it kept her warm. I loved her so much.
When she died, with tears in my eyes, I took my flannel back. And I put it in my closet. The shirt sat untouched in my closet (in seven different homes) for 28 years until last week.
Just last week, my daughter, Ava, the amazing one, organized my closet. “Dad, let me help you get rid of all of the clothes you don’t wear.” Thankfully, I got rid of two large bags of clothes. I paid Ava, even though she was willing to help me for free. She’s the best kid ever.
Fast forward to Sunday this week—just a few days ago. I couldn’t get over how organized my closet was. I was admiring my daughter’s fine work. And then I realized, my flannel was gone. I double and triple checked my closet, the shirt was gone! I had that flannel for 28 years. I planned on wearing it one day if I lived to be as old as Nana Lena.
Well, I grimaced a bit and held back tears and decided it would be best not to tell Ava that the bag I dropped off at the Catholic Charities Clothing Box last week had Nana Lena’s flannel in it.
The soft flannel I bought at the Copper Rivet clothing store at Quakerbridge Mall in the early ’90s. I wore that shirt maybe 10 times and Nana Lena wore it maybe 30 times before she died.
I decided, Ava didn’t need to know that losing that shirt nearly brought me to tears. Ava didn’t do anything wrong I thought to myself. No reason to make her feel bad. I am not sentimental. I don’t own stuff. I lease a car. I have a cheaper smartphone. I have no fancy toys. But truthfully that shirt meant a lot to me. And it hurt me to think it was gone.
Fast forward to this morning. I walked down the stairs to get my morning coffee and there is my daughter Ava eating breakfast wearing Nana Lena’s flannel.
My eyes lit up and I said, “Ava, you are wearing my favorite shirt!” Ava looked and me and said, “Mom told me it belonged to your Grandmother Lena. That’s why you like it so much. I am going to wear it to school today.”
I held back tears. And said, “That’s awesome! So awesome! I am glad you are wearing it.”
I texted Ava earlier today, “I need a photo of you in that shirt.” So she texted me a photo. I love the photo.
Driving home today I smiled and decided it would be best not to hold back any more tears. Ava is the best kid ever. I hope she wears the shirt a few more times. I don’t mind happy tears.
I miss my grandmother, and that’s a good thing. Missing someone who is gone means you loved them and they loved you. Nana Lena told me some wonderful stories. I hope you found this story charming and meaningful.
One day when I am much older I promise you that I will wear the shirt again. And I will tell anyone who is willing to listen to me this story about my grandmother, my daughter, and a flannel.
Yes, she is wearing the shirt in the attached photo.
Article Photo: Louis De Lauro’s daughter
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