My Grandma, the Firecracker – July 4th, 1976

daisy1My Grandma Daisy was a real firecracker.

Tart of tongue, explosive, caught you off guard, sometimes delightfully so, sometimes scarily so.

It was not surprising that she died on July 4th, 1976.

About a month before she died, I had moved to Washington DC, where I was working as a summer intern for my U.S. congressman on Capitol Hill before starting law school in the fall.

(and yes, everything you’ve heard about the wild life of interns is absolutely true. or so I was told by other interns in my office who apparently went to better parties that I did.)

July 4th, 1976 of that bicentennial summer was a Sunday.

I probably had plans to go to see the fireworks on the Mall with friends and then attend a cook-out.

It was an exciting time to be in DC, working on the Hill, feeling connected in a rather tiny way to our nation’s history during the 200th year since its’ founding.

But my participation in anything July 4th related was not to be.

That Sunday morning, as was our family’s tradition, I called my Mom and Dad at home in Connecticut at precisely 11:00 a.m.

No one answered.

Highly unusual and not a good sign.

An hour later I learned that  my grandmother had died. She was 80 or 82. No one knew.

Back then women of certain age did not disclose theirs.

My Dad, her eldest son, had gotten in the habit of visiting her in her apartment daily after her emphysema had grown worse. He was the one who found her. He thought she had died in her sleep.

My plan to see the fireworks on the Mall was  quickly replaced by parental instructions to take the next plane from DC to LaGuardia airport in New York City and from there to take the van service to our home in Connecticut to prepare for the funeral.

I was secretly pretty excited to get to fly on a plane.

I’d flown before, of course, but not often and plane travel was still a pleasurable experience.

Our shuttle flight, midday on July 4th, 1976 had very few passengers.

As we began the descent towards La Guardia, the captain of the plane announced.

“Look out your window, folks, there are the Tall Ships in the New York harbor.”

On that bicentennial July 4th holiday, hundreds of Tall Ships from around the world had converged on New York harbor.  It was a huge parade of ships, a historic event.

Breathtaking to view it from the air.

I leaned over to take a look. Then felt very guilty.

Was it o.k. for me to take part in this celebration?

The other passengers were enjoying the spectacle.

“Hey”, I wanted to say, “I’m not supposed to have a good time today. I’m on this plane to go to my grandmother’s funeral.”

But of course, I didn’t say anything.

And soon enough we were landing.

My grandmother’s funeral had its memorable moments.

The rabbi described her as a sweet person, like her namesake flower.


My father turned to me, whispering, “The rabbi clearly did not know my mother.”

It’s true, she wasn’t sweet. A rather sharp wit, not the least bit warm or fuzzy (that was the role of my maternal grandmother.)

My Grandma Daisy didn’t cook as much as she assembled food. She likely did not own an apron.

Her preference was to go out for Chinese food on Sunday nights rather than host a family dinner.

She was always stylishly dressed and I recall the smell of her (strong) perfume that wafted in front of you before she entered the room.

There were not many mourners back at the house after the funeral. One of my grandmother’s friends described her, somewhat lovingly, with a word that began with a “b”.

We all told stories about her snappy personality, her expertise as a bridge player (a grand master I was told) and her fondness for the good things in life.

When I think back to that July 4th, 1976, I remember the Tall Ships seen from the window of the plane as it dipped into New York harbor.

My grandmother had a long full life. Mine, at age 24, seemed on the cusp of beginning.

I didn’t get to see the fireworks or celebrate our nation’s birthday on July 4th, 1976.

But was it a coincidence, that my Grandma Daisy, a real firecracker, died on July 4th?

Probably not. She would have wanted to go out with a bang.

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7 responses to “My Grandma, the Firecracker – July 4th, 1976

  1. Catherine Stirling

    Love it…what amazing subliminal planning on her part. I’ve already shared it with friends.

    Sent from my iPhone



  2. Alice Agatston

    Dear Nancy,

    That your Dad’s mother and your Grandmother was a “Firecracker” could not be a surprise to your friends and believers in genetic influences. Daisy departed this world the same anniversary day shared by John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. “Driving Ms. Daisy”? how was Daisy a name for a Jewish woman. I would not have guessed. And for her friends to use the “B” word, I would not have guessed.

    Attorney’s and Actors are far more social than reclusive artists. I had no knowledge of wild HILL intern parties. I went to one wild law student party. It was so loud and everyone kept talking and moving.

    I am so happy your are writing and sharing!!!

    Love, Alice Agatston to Aust


    • Thank you, Alice. My Grandma Daisy’s family was from Alsace-Lorraine (when it was French or German?) so maybe that is where her name came from.
      I appreciate you, the artist, taking the time to be my loyal reader!


  3. Judy Wolf

    Nancy’s sister here…Daisy’s real name was Dena…Daisy was her nickname. Her full name was Dena Lazard Wolf. She was born in Brooklyn but her family was from the Alsace-Lorraine region which includes the border areas of both France and Germany…


  4. This is a wonderful post. You always here about people dying after reaching a milestone of some sort (spouse who recently died or my dad who was determined to make it to his birthday and died 8 days later). Wonder if your grandmother was making a statement. 🙂


  5. She sounds like someone I’d like to have known!


  6. Hi Nancy! This post is a great example of the statement, “Life happens while we are making other plans.” While the day didn’t turn out the way you expected it was still a very strong memory you will carry with you all your life. And although your Grandma didn’t sound “sweet” she gave you a great example of a women who was practiced life her own way. Thanks! ~Kathy


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