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The Remembrance Project: Constance Collins02:28
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The name Constance Collins insisted on was "Nana Connie"—and not only from her 21 grandchildren and 28 great-grandchildren.

"My dad used to say she could have a conversation with a telephone pole," her daughter Madeline remembers.

Constance Collins (Courtesy Lisa O'Neill)
Constance Collins (Courtesy Lisa O'Neill)

Like everyone else who loved her, Connie’s granddaughter Lisa understood that her insistent mothering came from motherlessness. When Connie was 2, her mother died in the Spanish flu epidemic, leaving 6 children, and what seemed an unfillable void. "Even at 96, 94, she missed her mom," Lisa recalls.

Growing up in Cambridge, Connie skipped grades brightly, graduated at 15, and was running the lingerie department in Sears a year later. She was driven and fire-filled.

"She didn't have a good filter," Madeline recalls. "I think indomitable was a really good word to describe her," Lisa adds.

She and her husband—a blessedly calm man—had seven children over 23 years. Her beautiful and dramatic excesses ran into all areas. No cough was ever as dire as Nana Connie’s cough, no child was ever as remarkable as the child she’d just met, and no injustice was as unjust.

"When she would be very upset about something, she’d say: I hate that with a 'hot hate,'" Lisa remembers. "The word 'hate' wasn’t enough."

She’d always been a Catholic, walking miles and miles between towns to attend masses. But after her third child, and until the end of her life at 98, a new passion came upon Nana Connie.

"I remember going to her house and her entire kitchen wall was covered with photographs of the saints," Lisa recalls.

One saint spoke most to the heart and history of her. In Nana Connie’s devotion to Mary Magdalene, she’d found a mother at last.


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