Many times over the last 25 years, we thought about moving to a bigger, more modern house. Only one problem: we'd have to leave Chuck and Hannah Delcarpine.
They were more than just good neighbors. They became family, their house across the street a safe and fun haven for my daughters as they grew up. Chuck taught them limericks, card games and songs on the piano. Hannah read them stories and gave them hugs and comfort. She introduced them to potato latkes at Hanukkah and taught them Jewish prayers and how to spin the dreidel.
Chuck and Hannah were the grandparents my daughters never had. When we went on vacations out of state, my girls eagerly called them at night to share their good time. And when we'd roll back into the driveway in our minivan, the girls didn't rush into our house. Nope, it was off to Chuck and Hannah's.
They were there for every occasion as the girls grew up — preschool graduation, soccer and volleyball games, high school graduation. When the girls had boyfriend problems, Hannah proved an effective and nurturing arms-length advisor. She boosted their esteem. She had the business background and smarts to help with homework, the wisdom to provide positive influence to teenagers.
Sometime after they adopted their role as surrogate grandparents, they got the real thing from their daughter, Lisa. First came Tyler, then Dylan, handsome and talented boys. As they grew, we saw plenty of them — climbing trees, throwing baseballs, spinning dreidels. They obviously enjoyed the same atmosphere that had been so special to my daughters growing up, playing games and watching TV with their grandparents. The boys gave them titles, names that evolved as they often do through a child's pronunciation. Chuck became "Abba;'' Hannah "Nana.''
They were models of how we might someday handle the role, God willing. And then on Sept. 4, my youngest daughter, Carley, gave us Violet. She came out strong and healthy and when I looked into her wide eyes, I instantly knew what all you other grandparents had been bragging about. I cradled Violet and fell in love.
Just a few weeks earlier, Hannah had done what Hannah always did — support my daughter at a big moment. She attended a baby shower and happily tagged and hauled home a carload of essentials, from diapers to a portable crib.
A few days later, she went to her doctor for a checkup. Hannah, like so many of her generation, had been a smoker. She fought to quit, but the effects had left her with some health issues. This one turned out to be critical — advanced lung cancer. We prepared to help her fight. But before we even got the chance, she slipped into pneumonia and then hospice care. The process moved so fast, my girls were unable to gather, to bid a proper farewell. They must know that Hannah would be the first to tell them, "It's okay.''
I did get to hold her hand and stroke her forehead. She briefly opened her eyes and in that instant I thought of Violet and how life goes on. My family will look at her and think of the lovely and kind woman across the street — dedicated wife, mother, sister and Nana.