Yesterday morning my mother called me and said, “Hi.”
Then there was a full minute of silence, and I knew my grandmother had died.
It wasn’t a surprise. She was 86 years old and her health and state-of-mind had been going steadily downhill since my grandfather died three years ago. This past week she had been admitted for yet another stint in the hospital, because she’d fallen and broken a hip. She was too weak for surgery to set the bone, so they were just “making her comfortable.” So we knew it was coming, and it was time.
Still. You’d think that have made me more prepared. I feel like my heart is broken.
My Nana was a powerhouse. My Papa accomplished a lot of impressive things in his lifetime, but always with my Nana working behind the scenes, making social and business contacts, getting the best deal on everything, coming up with ideas, designing logos, lending her support. She made it all happen. Growing up, my Nana and Papa lived just minutes away, and they were like a second set of parents to us. We saw them every week, we took trips with them, we went to church with them, had sleepovers at their house. It makes me sad to think that my kids don’t know my own mother the same way.
And it also makes me sad that although my kids did get a chance to meet Nana and Papa, they won’t really know them. They won’t know the stories, they won’t be able to hear legends of relatives long gone and lost to time.
My favourite Nana anecdote is from back when she was in her early 20s, a new mother to a toddler (my mother) and a baby (my aunt). My Papa had never had much formal schooling, but his employer had recognized that he was a smart guy and a quick learner, and agreed to send him to a university in the states for a 2-year engineering degree. My Nana was at home with two kids, on her own with a new car and no driver’s license.
So, she got in that car and, having never been behind the wheel before, drove herself downtown to the licensing office. There, she took the test — with my mom in the backseat and the baby on the floor of the front seat in a bassinet — and passed. Chuzpah and a can-do attitude — that was my Nana.
I remember when I was about 10 years old — that would make her in her early 50s — she broke her leg. She was trying to ride my uncle’s new bike, and fell off. She was in a cast up to her hip and completely unable to move around for six weeks. She’d sit in an armchair, alternating being muttering about how stupid she’d been, and ordering everyone else around. Now that I’m grown and have inherited her need for busyness, I can completely understand how frustrating it must have been to be forced to just sit. Back then, though, I thought she was the luckiest person in the world, since the cast was so very cool. I even got to sign it. AWESOME.
Oh, and there was this one time when she and my Papa were on vacation somewhere with my Nana’s friend Irene. It was a beachy place and they were all in swimming, when a giant wave showed up and shoved everyone under. My grandfather and Irene were not strong swimmers, so my Nana grabbed her husband in one arm and her friend in the other, and dragged everyone back to shore. Kicking ass and saving lives — that was my Nana.
Of course, she could be strong-headed. She had a feud with my grandfather’s sister for 10 years — no one can remember what they fought over, but they didn’t speak or visit all that time. Then one day, my Nana just decided she was done with that, and called up my great-Aunt and acted like nothing had ever happened. All’s well that end’s well, I suppose.
My Nana made the best crispy potatoes — she’d mash them then roll them into balls coated with some sort of crunchy stuff. What were they called again? Ah yes, Potato Croquettes. And she was also legendary for her Christmas pudding — delicious dark fruitcake coated in your choice of white sauce or caramel. When no one was looking, she’d give me an extra little bowl of just white sauce, because it was my favourite. I hope my mother has the recipe. I vow to take up the torch.
In a week or so I’m going down to help my mom clean out my Nana’s house, everything to be sold or given away. I already have the one thing I’d like to keep, though. It’s a recipe for Baked Apples that my Nana wrote out for me when I was in university.
Across the bottom she’s written, “Thanks for being our granddaughter.”
Thanks Nana, for being my Nana.