Granny’s Rosary

Granny’s Rosary

From Chicken Soup for the Canadian Soul

Granny’s Rosary

Miracles do not happen in contradiction with nature, but in contradiction with what we know about nature.

Saint Augustine

When I was a young boy back in Italy, I used to love to sit on my granny’s lap while she recited her nightly rosary. I would snuggle up in her arms as she sat rocking in an old wicker chair by the fireplace counting beads and whispering prayers in a soothing foreign language (Latin, I later learned). Sometimes she’d let me hold the rosary and keep count for her until I fell asleep. And although by age eight I felt a little silly about this awkward nightly routine, I continued because I knew how much it meant to her. She was old and frail, and so it was that in 1966, when my father, brother and sister immigrated to Canada, my mother and I stayed behind in Italy to care for Granny, who was too old to make the trip.

Two months before my twelfth birthday, Granny shattered her hip in a nasty fall and became bedridden, never to sit in her rocking chair again. She passed away ten months later.

The afternoon before her departure, when I returned from school, she called me to her bedside. The long months in bed had not been kind to her. In the dimness of the room, she looked so incredibly small in that big bed, her face drawn, her long white hair wispy and dull.

Extending one of her long, bony hands she beckoned me to her side. “Come,” she said in a voice that seemed to travel miles before reaching me. And when her hand closed around mine, I noticed that it was cold and waxy— almost lifeless. “Oh, you’re such a wonderful boy,” she whispered as she stroked my face. “And you’re going to be a handsome . . . handsome man one day soon!”

When I knelt down to hear her better, I noticed her eyes were swimming in tears, her thin bloodless lips quivering. She sniffled, drew a laboured sigh and then continued, “The time has come for Granny to move on.” Understanding well what she meant, I immediately protested.

Putting a finger to my lips she hushed me. “Nothing to be afraid of, my child, it’s just part of life,” she explained, “merely the completion of a wonderful cycle. When the angels come for me, miss me not, because I will always be here by your side.” She then reached under her pillow and brought out the rosary. “Here,” she said, handing it to me. “I want you to have this. Keep it close to your heart and remember me by it.” Oh, how she loved me.

Again, when I tried to interject she sealed my lips with her cold fingers.

“Go and play with your friends now,” she said. “Granny is tired and would really like to get some sleep.” Then she turned over as much as her broken hip would allow. I kissed the back of her head and left the room clutching her rosary. That was the last time I saw her alive.

After Granny died, my mother and I made the trip to Canada and joined my father, brother and sister in Toronto. It was 1969, and I was fifteen years old.

I never did use the rosary the way Granny had perhaps intended me to, as I wasn’t totally sure how the whole thing worked. Instead, I strung it between two nails on the wall behind my headboard. It hung for many years where I could look at it every day. In times of turmoil, I even took it down and held it in my hands for comfort.

At the end of my senior high school year, my class organized a trip to Heart Lake in Brampton, just outside Toronto. Here we felt five years of camaraderie could be brought to adequate closure; in other words . . . party time!

It was an overcast cool June morning and the beach area was mostly deserted. One of the girls hop-skipped up to the water and gingerly dipped one foot in. “It’s freezing!” she announced, running back.

The biggest and baddest dude of the class, known simply as Ox, shook his head. “Women, ha!” he said, looking at me. “What say we show these skirtsies and the rest of these pansies what real men are made of! Race you to the raft . . . loser moons the principal!”

“You’re on.” I replied, stripping down to my swimming trunks and racing for the water. I plunged in just before Ox. The water wasn’t merely freezing, it was downright galvanizing! As I came up gasping and began stroking, I heard whooping and cheers from our classmates and Ox blowing air like a whale beside me. Ahead, fifty yards or so, the raft awaited the victor. As I halved the distance, a whole body length ahead of my bovine friend, a sudden cramp seized my abdomen, and a moment later both my legs went numb . . . dragging behind me, weighing me down. Ox passed me; someone on shore yahooed . . . I went momentarily under. Using only my arms, fighting cramps that were quickly spreading to every muscle in my body, I managed to regain the surface. The raft now seemed at least fifty miles away. Ox was almost there. I was too proud to scream for help.

As I went under again, it suddenly became clear that I was going to drown, right here, in front of all my friends. When I finally decided to forgo my pride and yell for help, I no longer had breath to do it with. As I slipped under, it was not my life that I saw flashing before my eyes, but my granny’s rosary. If only I could touch it just one last time, I thought as I watched it dangling in the shimmering light just below the surface of the water. I reached for it. I touched it. It broke; beads slipped through my numb fingers and went floating down past me. As my lungs compressed, begging for oxygen, rising from the depth of the lake I thought I heard those foreign whispers from my childhood. With one last desperate lunge, fighting a spreading torpor, I reached for the rosary again, and managed to get a grip of its tiny silver crucifix. This time it was as strong as a rope, and I felt it pulling me up.

I don’t know how, but moments later I was hoisting myself up onto the raft to join my already gloating friend. After a brief rest, without saying a word of what had happened, we swam back to shore without further incident.

When I got home later that day, the first thing I did was run up to my room to check on the rosary. As I threw the door open, I noticed it was gone; one of the nails had fallen out and the other hung askew downwards, as if someone had pulled it down in haste. Then, I stepped on what felt like a couple of tiny pebbles. With my heart knocking in my chest, I knelt down for a closer look and saw in amazement a scattering of loose beads . . . my granny’s rosary.

Vince Fantauzzi
Brampton, Ontario

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