A Modern American Fairytale

The other night, I gave my second Toastmasters speech, to count toward completion of my Competent Communicator manual. For those who don’t know, the first ten speeches a member gives in Toastmasters follow certain guidelines. The second speech focuses on the organization of your speech, be it chronological or otherwise. I chose chronological.

If you’ve read my blog before, you know that I adore my grandma. She is the reason I became an artist, and she’s inspired me to do other things in my life as well.

I got a little – OK, very – nervous during my speech (I had two surprise visitors), and I forgot some parts and ad-libbed others. But it all worked out well: I won Best Speech of the night!

Once upon a time, there was a young girl named Alessandra. She lived off the Via Clelia just outside Rome with her aunt, uncle and cousins. Alessandra’s mother, who was young and unmarried, had given her up for adoption to the relatives. It was no matter, though; Alessandra was happy and did well in school, even when the teacher would call on her to stop daydreaming and doodling in class. “Pay attention!”

When Alessandra was eight years old, she became severely ill. Lying in bed one night, she looked toward the foot of her bed and, whether real or caused by the fever she was running, she saw an apparition there! He said to her “Your time is not up… you will do many things in your life”. From then, Alessandra knew she would recover and would live a long, full life.

GrandmaShe grew into a beautiful young woman, sought after by the men in the town where she lived. It was the 1940s and she was independent and popular. She had many suitors and there were many others who would have loved to take her dancing on the piazza. In fact, if it hadn’t been for the big bad villain Benito Mussolini, life would have been charmed indeed.

One day, arriving on a steel steed in the sky was a handsome young American named Ralph. He and Alessandra immediately fell in love and, despite their cultural and language differences, they married and he brought her to the United States. When they got to New York, the story goes, Ralph couldn’t spell his wife’s name, so he shortened it to Sandra. She loved the U.S. and had many exciting experiences right away – she saw the Statue of Liberty and lived near the snow-capped mountains of Colorado. When she saw the Golden Gate Bridge for the first time, her only disappointment was that it was… orange, not gold.

Grandma & GrandpaRalph and Sandra had four children together – Howard, Carolyn, Ralph and Cindy – and the family moved all over the world. For a few years, they stayed in Denver. Then Pennsylvania, Casablanca, Okinawa and, finally, New Mexico. Sandra never held a job outside the home, but no one could underestimate her; she was very bright. On her own, often while her husband was deployed, she learned English, earned her drivers license and became an American citizen.

Sandra was a spitfire who ruled the roost and never held back what she was really thinking. When someone upset her, they’d know it immediately. One day, her neighbors on Okinawa annoyed her so much, she put on a record of a song called They’re Coming to Take me Away, Ha Ha! and blared it out the living room window. Many years later, while living in a rather shady part of Tucson, she noticed that law enforcement agents had blocked her driveway while they were coming to arrest a neighbor. She marched out of her house and yelled at them, “You get your ^%$#@! van outta my driveway!!” They reparked.

She was also a very talented, self-taught artist, and she produced beautiful oil paintings, needlepoint crafts, porcelain dolls and pencil drawings. She loved to watch Bob Ross on PBS and she would try to imitate his style. The family didn’t have much money so she sewed many of her children’s clothes. During the 1960s and she would try to imitate the short skirts and bellbottoms of the day and, when the kids were grown, she moved on to making clothes for the dolls she created.

One by one, her children grew up and moved on with their own lives. Only her youngest daughter, Cindy, stayed home.

In 1991 the fairytale abruptly ended when Ralph succumbed to cancer in June of that year. The family gathered together later that summer to say goodbye and the night before, many of them dreamt about him. He was young and was in his Army Air Corps uniform He said, “So you’re coming tomorrow, right?”

On her own with her daughter by her side, Sandra decided to find something to do with her time. At age 77, she enrolled in college, taking art classes for the first time. She was very competitive, and she’d be upset if she got an A-, much less a B. A few years later, she moved to Phoenix to be closer to her younger son, and she and her younger daughter live there to this day, happily ever after and surrounded by the love and respect of her four children, seven grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. [ETA: I don’t know how I managed to forget my cousin’s two little girls, but anyway, Grandma has FIVE great-grandchildren]

Fellow Toastmasters and honored guests, my grandmother is 89 years old, and this is her story.