Posted on April 11, 2016 by Kieran Koch Laskowski
At first glance, Bernice seems like an ordinary, eighty-four-year-old woman. Her typical day consists of sitting in her favorite recliner, sipping black coffee while watching the news and staying on top of the latest weather updates. Born and raised in the small coal-mining town of Tamaqua, Pennsylvania, she grew up and remained a working class citizen her entire life, never having held any wealth or fortune. Yet when she speaks of her most prized accomplishment – her family – she feels richer than anyone in the world.
Bernice, lovingly referred to as “Nana” by most, is the proud mother of five children, grandmother of twelve grandchildren, and great-grandmother of four great-grandchildren (and counting). She always wears a ring on her left hand – not a wedding ring, but one encrusted with the five birthstones of her children, a reminder that this so-called ordinary woman has achieved the extraordinary with one simple thing: endless, unconditional love.
Through the happiest and darkest of moments, Bernice has always faced life with kindness, compassion, generosity, and a witty sense of humor. She’s felt the joy of holding a newborn child and the pain of losing one of her own. She’s watched her loved ones grow and prosper while lending a helping hand to those who sometimes need it. She’s the first to crack a joke at someone’s misstep but always keeps them on a pedestal. Anyone whose life she’s touched, from her family and friends to complete strangers, can attest to the boundlessness of Bernice’s heart.
As she sits in her recliner with her coffee, Bernice counts her wealth not in money or valuables, but in memories – memories of playing with her grandchildren and great-grandchildren: building sofa forts, playing make-believe, pushing them on swings, resolving quarrels over who got to sit on the blue swing, reading Green Eggs and Ham, making green eggs and ham, watching them doodle on scratch paper, watching them, now grown, look through the doodles she saved safely in her closet, and so much more. If memories were currency, Bernice would be the wealthiest woman alive.
Although seemingly ordinary, this unassuming matriarch gave rise to an extraordinary family, a family that strives to continue her legacy of light and love.
Photography and Text by Kieran Koch Laskowski, Copyright 2016.
About The Author: Kieran Koch Laskowski is a senior majoring in Biological Behavior in the College of the University of Pennsylvania. Class of 2016.