Grandma holding three year old me

Remembering Grandma Zita on Mother’s Night

As darkness descends this Modrenacht (“Mother’s Night”), I think of my paternal grandmother Zita (pronounced “ZIT-ah”), who passed away at age 96 on November 17 of this year.  I shared some thoughts about Grandma with my aunt before I came in person to say goodbye, and she read them to her. 

When I saw her the next evening I held her hand and prayed with her–the Catholic prayers I learned as a child and which I have never forgotten regardless of how far my path has taken me from the religion of my birth.  When she passed I wrote on my Facebook that I would have much more to share about her when I was ready.  I’m ready.  

Grandma has been a towering role model of strength I have looked up to my entire life. My grandfather passed away in 1977, and she lived on her own until she needed to go to residential care in her early 90’s.  She showed me how to be strong as a woman and make a life on your own terms.

I’ll never forget all the Saturday night sleepovers with her and going to mass, Eat-N-Park for breakfast with her sister and friends, and visiting her mother, my Great-Grandma Wagner, on Sunday mornings. This taught me the importance of maintaining a close circle of friends and of caring for family. She also showed me the importance of spirituality in life and the value of being involved with one’s spiritual community as she led our church hall’s catering, volunteered during food festivals and church fairs, and served in the Christian Mothers and as an athletic booster for our parish school.  While my religious life has taken me on a different path, her example led me to find a fulfilling religious life and being an active part of my own spiritual community. Her example led me to become a minister myself, as a woman in my own right.

I’ll always remember watching The Love Boat on the couch bed when my sister and I slept over, countless games of Crazy 8s and later 66, toasted cheese sandwiches at Mrs. Ravich’s house and playing with the Little People. I remember her pride in seeing me graduate from Boston College and how she drove like a bat out of hell the whole way home.

I remember her telling me after my wedding ceremony to my first husband that it was a beautiful ceremony, and I could tell she was proud of the fact I wrote it myself. I don’t know what she really thought of my Pagan ways, but her praise on that day absolutely meant the world to me.

She told me that St. Zita is the Patron Saint of the Kitchen. Aptly named, Grandma was known for her cooking, especially her cookies. She used to give each of us a tin of her homemade cookies each year at Christmas with a stern command that we must return the tins back to her for next year. 

Round gourmet sugar cookies cooling on a black wire rack
Gourmet Sugar Cookies: The first of Grandma’s cookies I’ve made this year.

Luckily she made a little booklet of her recipes for all of us in the family some years ago, so I have copies of them all written in her own hand.  I became known in certain circles for making her chocolate mousse, which I also made to serve at her wake.  I bake her cookies as well–some of them, anyway–but this year I am baking them all in honor of her. I hope to be able to give some to my dad’s family this year for Christmas (although I don’t have it in me this year to make everyone their own individual tin–maybe one day). 

So as I light the first candle of the Yule and pray to the Mothers, Grandma Zita resides foremost in my mind and in my heart. 

On this first night of Yule we call to the Mothers;

Those who bore, loved, and raised us and all those who came before;

Those women of our Ancestral lines who watch over us still;

The Three Sister Rivers who bring life to this land we call “home;”

And the Three Sisters of Fate who weave the threads of our lives into our family tapestry.

At the Yuletide we carry on the sacred and secular traditions you handed down,

Bringing peace, warmth, and cheer into this darkest time of year.

Great Mothers: We honor you!

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