When I was little, I remember my grandmother had nicknames for my cousins and me. My brother Jackson was “Dandelion”, for my grandmother’s favorite flower; cousin Roy was “Scout” (To Kill A Mockingbird being her favorite novel), and I was “Blackbird.”
My name came from the Beatles song, which was also a favorite of hers. I remember her singing it to me late at night while I was falling asleep. I always thought that song had some kind of magic, because it made me go to sleep almost instantly. Grandma would sometimes pet my hair while she was singing to me, and it made me feel so safe.
As time went on, I was practically begging my parents to let me sleep at Grandma’s. Whenever I entered her house, I could smell fresh-baked Italian Bread, fried chicken cutlets, and all sorts of delicacies. My favorite was of course dessert. Grandma would make her own Italian cookies, strufogli, and buy me ice cream when she knew I was coming over.
When Grandma got older, Christmas and the holidays became one of my favorite times because we’d all go to her house since it was harder for her to travel. I remember playing board games with Roy all night, and sometimes mom and dad would let me sleep at Grandma’s. One night, Grandma told me a story about our family coming to the New World.
“You know, Blackbird,” she said, “we weren’t always this well-off.”
At this point, I was sitting on Grandma’s lap, and she shifted me to the other knee.
“Your great-grandfather came here in the late 1860’s from Sardinia. He had to work several jobs just to survive. He was a lumberjack, a shipwright, and a coal miner. Oh, he worked very hard, Blackbird.”
I smiled as I thought of the nickname and its origins. In high school, I was in marching band and learned to play “Blackbird” on the clarinet. I never got tired of tooting that song out, though I suspect everybody else got tired of hearing it! For my high school graduation, Grandma gave me a pin shaped like a Blackbird.
As I was going through Sophomore year, Blackbird was becoming more and more widely used as my nickname. I loved the connotation, especially because it was only something my Grandma knew the meaning of; everyone else just called me that because of the Blackbird pin.
In summer of 2017, I’d graduated high school and was looking towards a life of uncertainty. I didn’t know whether I wanted to go to College, or what I would study if I did. I also had no real professional goals, and found myself just sort of drifting. I knew I wanted to travel, and possibly work with animals. A few friends suggested Vet school, which I gave a thought to here and there but couldn’t afford.
I kept coming back to “Blackbird” that year for reasons I don’t really understand. It was always a presence in my life, but I’d never felt it so strongly before. One night, I was drifting off to sleep listening to some music on my phone.
When I awoke, the intro to “Blackbird” was drifting through my headphones. I smiled. I’d had no idea how I even got that song to play, but it seemed like the powers that be were sending a message. Maybe I was crazy, maybe not.
The next year, I entered school as a Vocal Major. Grandma passed away before I graduated, but I always remembered that song and thought of our early days together. When I finished college, I was wearing the pin and thinking of her.
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