Vivian Casalduc, 45, lived to make her family's eyes light up. Each December, she would bake gingerbread for a giant candy land, where the ground was coated with thick piles of shredded coconut and the houses were studded with lollipops and licorice. "She would make it during the first two days in December and let everybody look at it all month long," said her daughter, Angilic. "Then on Christmas morning, she'd let everyone ransack it."
Five small grandchildren spent alternate weekends in her care, and would come home with cotton candy in a kaleidoscope of colors and shapes. Turns out, grandma had bought a cotton candy machine. Every weekend, she would take them to the Children's Discovery Center creche at the World Trade Center. She spoiled them rotten — like all grandmothers should.
A Brooklyn native who grew up in the housing projects, Vivian married at 16, had three children and divorced. Her job as a microfiche clerk at Empire Blue Cross Blue Shield moved from Brooklyn to the 28th floor of the World Trade Center's North Tower in 1999. Her commute was longer, but the salsa concerts on the plaza beneath the Twin Towers became a part of her lunchtime routine.
Vivian left one prescient lesson, her daughter said: "Do everything the hard way." Why major in one subject when four would do, or take a taxi when public transportation was there? "Do it the easy way," Angilic remembered, "and you'll never learn anything, and God forbid, anything happens, she worried we wouldn't know how to survive."
After learning that their grandmother was missing in the wake of the attacks on September 11th, Vivian's grandchildren all reacted the same way. "They all said the same thing to us, 'She'll be home next week to take us to the playground,'" recalled Vivian's son, Paul. "They were confident. They felt she was alive and they kept us strong. When they broke down, we broke down too."