Monday, March 05, 2007

Nanny's Funeral

We drove up to Massena on Wednesday night under the almost full moon lighting up the snow covered mountains as we threaded between them. Poppa put us up at the Quality in downtown Massena where the rest of the family was gathered. Patti was waiting for us and we visited with her and Susanna before turning in 'round midnight. Colleen and Ambiana in one queen bed and Gaelen and me in another. Thursday we spent the morning at the hotel visiting with Aunts and Uncles and Cousins and Brothers and Sisters, most of whom were meeting Gaelen for the 1st time. At 2pm we all went over to the funeral home for the viewing.

There was Nanny in a box, dressed up, her hair done, a rosary placed between her hands. Family and friends came, had a last look, stood around chatting while the kids ran around playing. At dinner following the viewing there was a VCR playing a tape of Nanny and Gramps 50th wedding anniversary dinner, at the same restaurant we were in except this time no one was standing up and testifying.Unconscious common-unity..the great grandkids migrated to a different wing of the restaurant while the grandkids and children of Myrtle D. kept to their own circles. Gaelen hated the table at the restaurant overfilled as it was with 3 glasses and table settings per person, white folded napkins, 2 carafes of wine and a basket of bread but he got over it.

The funeral on Friday was a mass wrapped around Chucks Eulogy which I quote here in full:
"We are all gathered here today to honor and celebrate the life and soul of our dear mother and grandmother Mary Myrtle Travis, know to our family as Nanny. It must be realized that it truly is an end of an era for our family, and to realize the significance of this, is to briefly trace the life of Nanny from her girlhood in a turn of the century Massena, a place with no paved roads, and given the wintry climate outside today, a place where a service such as this would have been traveled to in a horse drawn sleigh. Nanny descendant from the Québécois heritage of her father the legendary police Chief Benjamin Demo, known as Daddy Dee and her mother Julia Love, lived over the course of a century which experienced the Great Depression and two world wars.

Nanny was born in a time of horse drawn vehicles and lived to witness human beings walk on the moon. There is a key to understanding Nanny, a tough and, as her great granddaughter Reilly Whalen once observed sweet old woman who loved us all, in this era of internet communications and jet travel which allowed a few of us to come to this celebration today. The key is that in her heart and through the Catholic faith that she cherished so deeply, is that she lived almost the entirety of her life, except for a few sojourns in this northern border hamlet of Massena. This is a place which acts as a spiritual compass that anchors the small town sensibilities in all of us, despite the fact that we are flung from California and Utah to Dublin, from Alaska, Colorado to Boston and all other places in between.

Drawing upon the memory of the Travis family (with the help of Aunt Elaine) we can reflect that it all started here in Sacred Heart Church in 1937, when Charles Bartlett Travis the Second, known to us all as Gramps and Nanny were betrothed, from what I hear in the church registry. Gramps was drawn to Massena for work, and reflected to me, that he married late because he needed the financial security a job offered to properly raise a family. Nanny was his bride, and she relayed to me once that her brothers Franklin, Samuel, Benjamin and Joseph teased her because gramps wore spectacles and was as they say thin on top. Alike attracts alike, Gramps the engineer married Nanny the Math teacher.

They went on as we all know to have three children, Charlie Bart Junior, Julie and Richard. Raising children (speaking not from experience, but from observing my various brothers, sisters and cousins) is a lively hood all its own. Nanny had her hands full. When Charlie my father was eleven, he fell and chipped his tooth, broke his leg, and was hit by what is disputed to be a Model T Ford, in front of a church. Given that he used to pick on his little brother at times, no wonder Uncle Dick -who later earned an Eagle Badge in the Boy Scouts bought himself a Model T Ford.

Aunt Julie it seems was the early traveler. Spending a summer in Germany (which perhaps explains her respect for order), she was greeted upon her return by Gramps, who apparently didn't recognize her. Nanny fostered her flock, her classes and her faith. Whilst it might be conventional family wisdom that she nurtured a favourite grandchild, I wish to dispel this. One evening I was staying in Westlake after Gramps had passed, Nanny retired, about an hour later she came out to the kitchen for a glass of water, when I commented that I thought she had gone to bed, Nanny said that before she went to sleep she always said her prayers, and that she had so many children, grandchildren and great-grand children that praying before bed could take up to two hours. She was merely coming out to get a sip of water at half-time it seems.

Nanny also loved baseball, the Yankees in particular (apologies to Michael- an avid Red Sox fan) and was full of life and sport, as well all can attest to summers at Lake Ozonia, where Nanny would go tubing across the lake surface, in a motor boat captained by Billy Whalen, her hair safely tucked in a bathing cap. A wise woman, Nanny also taught me the lesson of mourning, a lesson that has come home to me the past few days. When my father and I as an eleven year boy traveled from Rochester NY, to attend the burial of Uncle Sam, Nanny greeted us at the door in tears, but after the funeral and the celebration at Nanny’s sister, Aunt Ella's house I believe, I was a bit confused over the joviality that filled room. I believed that people should be acting sad or at least not so merry (as the Demo side of the family that day). When I brought this to Nanny's attention, she gently laughed and told me that now that the funeral was over, it was time to be happy and celebrate the life of Uncle Sam.

I believe that this is an apt lesson for all of us today. I would like to Aunt Julie and Uncle John for their care of Nanny in her later years, a hard task undertaken with devotion and humour (on Uncle John’s part in a way that would not be misplaced in a quiet public house in Dublin). I would like to thank Uncle Dick and Aunt Elaine for their unfailing care and help to Nanny and Gramps in Westlake, and especially in the time of Gramp's passing. I would like to thank my mother Kathleen, for driving me one legged up to Massena the Christmas before last, so I could visit with Nanny one last time.

And I would like to thank my father Charlie, for being at Nanny's bedside, as she slipped the surly bonds of this earth and this life, and returned to Gramps, her great granddaughter Taylor Ray, and the bosom of her family to touch the face of God. May we celebrate her special life and the lives of the previously departed Gramps and Taylor Ray. And may we be aware of the expectations and ideals that Nanny fostered in all of us, and believe that we are all special, unique and talented human beings, who have the gift and beauty of this life at our disposal"
No cemetery trip as the snow is too deep, the weather too nasty what with freezing rain, sleet and blowing snow so it was back to John and Julies for more food, more unconscious gathering, great grandkids and grandkids kids in the basement with pizza while the children of Myrtle D. socialize upstairs. Still no mention of Nanny, it's as if she slipped away a long time ago and we've each come to terms with her loss before her body did. Travii mourning seems to involve lots of food. The only person I heard mention Nanny the two days we were there was Chuck. I would have liked a little more focus, maybe at the funeral home on Thursday or afterwards at dinner we could have had a talking circle with each of us offering up a memory or story about Nanny.

Gaelen plays his 2nd game of checkers with Cousin Billy's daughter Karley who is a month older than him.

It was nice to see Susanna and for her to finally meet Gaelen and Ambiana. Here she is with Patti and Maya, you can see Grandma zippin' behind them in her wheelchair.


Riley Whalen


The snow was heavy at times and there was some doubt whether we should drive home Friday but the sun came out 'round sunset and before we took off Gaelen and I trudged down the hill behind John and Julie's house and walked upon the frozen Raquette River! The drive home was fine, the roads more or less clear to the interstate and then smooth sailing from Plattsburg all the way home to South Hadley. It was wonderful to have Gaelen with us for this trip.

Two cooks in the kitchen with their fancy-pants aprons!!!


Join us in Massena and stick around for vintage Ambiana!!!