My grandma, Sara Yaquinto, died peacefully in sleep on Thursday. She was 96 years old and now has a new body in heaven where she is with her Savior and reunited with family and friends. I'm so happy for her home-going.
This is the eulogy I delivered at her funeral today:
I am honored and humbled to have this opportunity to share with you a few memories of my dear grandma, Sara Yaquinto. I could never begin to trace the history of her 96 years. She lived a very full and blessed life but I will tell you a few of my most treasured memories.
I will remember most the time I had with Grandma in the kitchen. The kitchen is the place where everything was happening at Grandma’s house. We spent many hours cooking together. Well, to be truthful, Grandma did the cooking and I did the “helper jobs.” I watched her long fingers with those perfectly-manicured nails fly through the food preparations. Food was a love language for my grandma. She loved to serve others by serving them food. Grandma had the gift of hospitality. Many of you can agree with me that Grandma had this magical way of turning “a few things out of the refrigerator” into a grand banquet for guests – whether they were just stopping by or had prearranged to come to dinner. First, she would bring out the sliced cheese and wedges of pepperoni followed by the olives and Italian bread. Then would come the homemade canned peppers and sausage and pasta dishes with homemade Italian cookies she just happened to have pulled out of the freezer the day before. A few light appetizers would turn into a five-course meal almost instantly. And there was no refusing food from Grandma. If you said no, you got one more serving of pasta. If you said yes, you got two more servings.
Our family built many traditions around cooking together. When my grandpa John was alive, we would make it a tradition to go to their house and make pita piatta, an Italian pastry full of cinnamon-sugar-raisin-nut goodness. Now this is a tradition we carry on with our own children. I will remember Grandma’s Easter breads, Italian love knot and pizzelle cookies. And nothing beats my grandma’s Eggplant Parmigiana – those tender layers of breaded eggplant slathered in marinara sauce with melted cheese on top. (I know, I know, now I’m making us all hungry…)
When I went away to college and then eventually moved to California and got married, I spent many hours on the phone with Grandma asking her to recite recipes to me. This was our connection across miles and time zones. Somehow I didn’t want to lose her gift. Today, some might say cooking is my gift but I owe it all to Grandma and my mom Maria who modeled that Italian hospitality for me.
My Grandma Sara Yaquinto was a woman who loved to serve people. She was very involved in this church (St. Linus) and in the community. She was a part of countless groups and clubs, including the Italian-American Club, president of the Christian Women’s Club and the Daughters of Isabel group, to name a few. She served luncheons for funerals, hosted fundraisers and encouraged club members in her sweet way. Grandma was also serious about her faith. She attended church regularly and prayed daily. If I was struggling with something I always knew I could ask her to add me to her prayer list and she would do it.
Many of you will also remember that Grandma was always dressed to the hilt whether she was going to a club meeting, a fancy dinner or just down to the post office. We’re talking hose and matching jewelry and fancy hats and the works. She was also the queen of bargains, frequently scoring name brand shoes and skirts from her favorite Hudson’s. I loved to shop with my grandma. She knew right where the sales racks were. Grandma’s style was impeccable and so was her hair.
When I wasn’t in the kitchen with Grandma, we were hanging out in her hair salon in the basement. Whenever we would come to Michigan to visit, my mom would have her cut my hair. She was about the only one who could tame my thick, unruly curls. She would sit me in that special salon chair that pumped up to the right height and I would peruse her ladies magazines and hope for the best. Grandma did hair for people in her church and neighborhood until age 90 when she broke her hip. I was always surprised at the way she squeezed in one more friend for “a little trim” or “style.”
Grandma also loved to play cards. She was a whiz at games like “Knock,” “King’s corner,” “Rummy,” “Pinnacle” and others. My brother Paul and I would look forward to going to Grandma and Grandpa’s house so we could play cards. Grandma always brought out the pads of paper to keep score and a bowl full of nuts or candy to munch on. You could try to beat her, but Grandma generally won. It was a given.
Grandma loved her grandchildren and even several great-grandchildren in recent years. She would make a special effort to make it to our high school and college graduations. She would drive to Chicago with Grandpa to see us perform in plays and music recitals. She always bragged on her grandkids and spoiled us with gifts and cards. I will always remember the joy of receiving her cards in the mail in that beautiful, sweeping handwriting with a personal note. Her birthday, Easter, anniversary and Christmas cards would always arrive days before the special holiday. She spent much time sending cards to all her relatives and friends.
Of course, I couldn’t celebrate Grandma without pointing out that she was very particular about the way things should be done. She would clear the table before you were done eating and strip the beds in hotels before checking out. One of my favorite memories is the first time I brought my husband to meet Grandma at her house. She served us a meal, which included spaghetti and her famous sauce. Ericlee was trying so hard to be polite and impress her. At one point, we heard Grandma’s familiar gruff tone, “What are you doing?” she pointed at his plate. He was neatly cutting his spaghetti with a knife and fork. “Dontcha know you do it like this?” she demonstrated that you twisted spaghetti on a fork using a spoon for leverage – only if you needed to. There was to be no cutting up spaghetti in her home. My 6-foot-tall fiancé at the time shrunk in size at the table with no apologies from Grandma. Oh how we still laugh over that one.
Grandma was always into the details. She even planned the details of today’s mass and gave specific instructions about the music and what she’d wear down to the jewelry. That’s the way she was – always ready for the next step. Today we celebrate her life together. I know there must be a grand banquet in heaven now that Grandma has arrived. I can just see her serving up a homemade Italian feast for a host of angels and relatives. She’s been planning it for years. Buon Appetito!