Heroes and Influences: Grandma Anna

June 1, 2021

When I was growing up, the legend of Anna Casey loomed large in the Crystal Park neighborhood of Canton, Ohio.  

She was born near the turn of the 20th century. She went to work in the factories in elementary school, hiding in a 55-gallon drum when the child labor inspectors came.  

She married young, lived modestly, and had five children, 27 grandchildren, and 29 great-grandchildren by the time she left this world.  

Her neighbor once told me a story of how Anna Casey would make great pots of chicken pot pie (oh, it was so good… she used lard) and families from the neighborhood would come to their back door to get dinner four or five nights a week during the Great Depression.  

My dad tells me a story of how they lived in a small home with red asbestos shingles. The home just wasn’t big enough for the four girls and one boy, so Anna decided they needed a bigger house down the street. My grandfather Sid wanted nothing to do with moving, he was a man set in his ways. In only the way she could, Anna smiled and told Sid that he didn’t have to come, but she was moving to the bigger house down the street. He weighed his options, and they moved.

I was born in a small house with red asbestos shingles down the street from Anna Casey. My mom worked as a waitress and my dad at the steel mill. I spent a lot of time in the bigger house down the street.  

I remember one particularly traumatic visit to this house. I had to be between two or three because my mom was pregnant with my sister. She was standing on one end of the sidewalk by our house watching me walk toward grandma Casey at the other end. As I passed by a house on the way, a big brown pit bull on a chain came charging at me barking and snarling. I froze between my pregnant mom and my white-haired, 4’10” grandma. Grandma sprung to the rescue, shooing off the dog and whisking me away. Even a pit bull knew better than to mess with Grandma Casey. 

Grandma and Grandpa never had much money, but their house was always full of family and friends on Christmas Eve. They spared no expense. I can still hear the sounds of singing and laughter and joy that permeated that house. My mom tells a story of me being three years old at the Christmas Eve party and grandma putting me up on a chair, quieting the crowd, and having me recite the Pledge of Allegiance.  

I remember being rebellious as I got into my teens. I would usually stay at Grandma’s on Saturday nights and I wanted to stay up late. Grandma never fought with me. She smiled and told me we would watch the Carol Burnett show together. I would lay my head on her lap to watch and she would stroke my hair. I never made it to the end of the show.  

In my troubled teen years, I started getting bad grades and skipping school. As Grandma listened to my problems, she never belittled me or made me feel bad about how I felt. Instead, she encouraged me. She told me that both she and I knew how smart I was and that these problems were just an excuse for me not to do my best. I never wanted to let her down, so I did better.   

Grandma Casey was at my wedding but never got to meet my daughter, Anna Casey. My daughter has lived up to that name, but that’s a different story for another day.  

I remember when she died the line to get into the small funeral home was out the door and around the block in the freezing cold. It went on for hours. Everyone came to pay their respects to this giant small lady. They shared stories of pot pies and more. Anna Casey taught me how to live, and she taught me how to die.  

I think each of us has a person in our lives who teaches us to believe in ourselves. Who was that person for you? Do they know they were that person for you? Anna Casey showed me how to believe in myself by having a selfless, unconditional belief in me, even when I didn’t deserve it.  

Thank you, grandma. I love you. I miss you.  

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