One of my favourite people in the world is called Laura Virginia. Or as I like to call her, "grandma". As a kid, I was subjected to long tortuous hours sitting around her odd angular kitchen table. My mom would ask her to tell stories when grandpa was in the war, or how they met, or that job that she had at "Martine's" when she moved to Sarasota. My sister and I would be subjected to these long, detailed stories about "back then".
I don't know when or how it happened, but those long boring afternoons have become some of my most cherished memories. Every time I get to sit with the extraordinary Laura Virginia I beg her to tell some more. She usually obliges, takes my hand, and starts by saying, "Ok my darling".
Now let me back up a little and describe Laura Virginia to you. She is not a perfect angel. She would readily admit to that with a facetious chuckle. She is a little rough around the edges. She's got a hard past and a tough demeanour. And if she points her finger at you, beware. Now that she is 92, I guess you have to watch out for her cane instead. However, she has soft white locks of hair, and beautiful kind eyes, and when she smiles you can't help but laugh along. She has got a voice that sounds like she should be on a Count Basie Orchestra album. She is beautiful. With all the wears the years bring in, she carries them with stride. She is now 92 and her body doesn't work the way she wants it to. Her eyes are nearly blinded by macular degeneration. She would say that she is a 30 year old stuck in a 90 year old body. To me, she is the softest, warmest, funniest person I know.
When I was a kid she was not easy on me. When my family was going through hardship, she was blunt and never let my character slip even though everyone else treated my sister and I as fragile. Personal problems were not excuse for bad behaviour. When I was sick she wouldn't let me watch anything other than the news. She would put two glasses of water in front of me, and say, "These better be finished when I come back in five minutes. You are gonna pee out this cold... today!" And you better believe she would be back in five minutes on the dot to make sure the water was gone, to refill the glasses, and start the clock again. However, after her tough talk she would kiss me on the forehead, to check for fever. She would always leave the room by saying, "I love you my darling."
I remember her stories of holding three jobs to pay for 9 of her rotten kids (she would always crack a smile and look to see if my mom was listening). I remember the stories of my grandfather in war. I remember how she used work at the drive through, because it was one of the only jobs available. She would rock the cradle of her baby with her foot underneath the drive through window. The Serena family has always faced hardships. Laura Virginia would always tell me, "but what are you gonna do? You can only get back up and keep moving forward. It's gotta get better at some point." We have always been a family of fighters. Do yourself a favour and find copy of Frank Sinatra's song "That's Life". You can get a pretty good idea of what this family has been through. All of our family parties usually end with this song. Everyone arm in arm, and singing at the top of their lungs...even if they mumble through a few of the verses.
This week, I have been dealing with some challenges in my personal life. My process with trying to get permanent residency has proved to be harder than I thought. I miss my family, including the incredible Laura Virginia. I have been under a lot of stress trying to gather everything I need. I called my mom for a few more important documents. I could immediately tell when she answered the phone that something was wrong. She told me that the amazing Laura Virginia was having a rough day and even grandpa was praying again. I spent that whole night tossing and turning worried about my wonderful Laura Virginia. I woke up and called again and luckily she was doing better. I got to talk to her on the phone. I told her to keep ordering people around (sorry about that mom and aunt Gina). I asked if she was feeling better, she replied, "well my body doesn't want to work properly anymore, but what are you gonna do? I'm gonna sit here and eat ice cream." What a great outlook. I don't know what else I can do, but I'll keep breathing today, but for now, I'm just gonna enjoy this ice cream that's in front of me.
I am learning everyday, that the stunning Laura Virginia made it through the hard yards. And anytime she was faced with adversity, she would shrug her shoulders, stand up, and keep moving forward because "What else are you gonna do". Well, I would put forward that there is a lot else that you could do. You could sit and have pity on yourself. You could blame others for your current lot in life. You could just give up on your dreams and try something else. However, if there is anything I have learned from the remarkable Laura Virginia, keep fighting and don't waste your time complaining. And for goodness sake, eat some ice cream.
I love you grandma. Keep fighting. I promise I will too.
Jason is an American director, freelance producer, and writer. These are merely personal musings.