I was thinking again of Nana in the night, and how her snappy, brown eyes could telegraph disapproval of an action, yet still convey her love to a disobedient or rambunctious child.
She operated largely in the background of the family, and does not stand out in my mind as a figure of authority to fear, even though she was. But her presence in my life was a warm, quiet, steady influence that I took for granted as always there, always steady & dependable.
Here is just one example of how Nana made a lasting impact on my life:
One Christmas, observing us ripping & tearing with abandon into the knee-deep assortment of gifts & toys we received, she took quiet notice of one box, about 6" square. In it was a pair of twin dolls - a boy & a girl - dressed in matching blue outfits. My sister received a similar pair, dressed in pink. In all of the confusion, we never saw Nana take them both & hide them away. I am ashamed to admit that in the great sea of Christmas excess that was America in the 1950's, we never even missed them!
Then, one quiet rainy day in the summer, when we were bored to be stuck inside & had been good (for a change), she drew them out & gave them back to us. I will never forget my surprise & delight to see them & get them back (even though I had not thought of them since they disappeared on Christmas). But the knowledge that she cared enough about me, & more, that she cared about the dolls & their condition, made them much more special to me. I took very good care of them & I don't think I ever played with them without thinking of Nana & of her special care of them for me!
She had lived a lean, tough life herself, and was therefore full of wisdom & pertinent warnings, such as the one cited yesterday. But she was also Irish to the core, & passed down to us innumerable bits of humor & wit. Most of her quips are blended together in my memory so that not many stand out as coming directly from Nana, but one I remember clearly.
It happened that one day, as children do, I was digging deeply into a nostril with a finger, fully absorbed in the search for whatever was itching or bothering me.... I didn't know Nana was observing me, until she quietly said with a straight face, "That man's dead, you know." Of course, I immediately stopped what I had been doing to inquire, "What man, Nana?" Her straight-faced reply, "The one you're making the pills for."
Nana was second to Mom in the hierarchy of the household & we all learned to respect her authority. That is, while Mom & Dad were around. Unfortunately for Nana, we sometimes took advantage of her gentle nature when our parents were away. I remember my mother telling me of the time she & Dad left us with Nana to babysit while they went out for dinner at the home of some friends. They had only been enroute for about 15 minutes when they had to head back home for Mom's purse, which she had forgotten. Here is the sight that greeted her when she opened the front door, in her own words to me (now remember - there were 5 of us, between about 3 & 12 years of age):
"You were being chased around the room by Patsy, both of you shrieking like banshees. Lauren (the youngest) was climbing up the rungs of the tippy kitchen stool to reach the cookies on the counter. Mike (the oldest) was swinging by his hands from the upstairs floor where the circular staircase were open, & Kit was sliding down the curved bannister at breakneck speed, screaming as if he was on a roller coaster. All was earsplitting chaos & confusion - and there sat poor Mother (Nana) in the middle of the couch - with her arms up over her head & eyes closed tightly, evidently wishing with all her heart that she was anywhere else!"
Growing up in a big family with a grandmother in residence added a rich dimension to my life. As Nana aged, and especially after she broke a hip, we all began to learn how to anticipate her needs. I am grateful for the lessons learned during that time. They came in handy later on, when my own mother, & later my mother-in-law, came to live with us until age & infirmity took them home. Not many people have had real-life courses in the care & nurturing of an elderly family member as I did. Even in the best of circumstances, it can be very challenging, specially when that person is a resident in your home. I have been blessed.
Thank you, Nana, for all your love, patience & humor, and for your forgiveness when we were thoughtless & careless. But most of all, thank you for the lessons you taught us, - the respect for our elders & the caregiving skills you instilled in us. I love you, have not forgotten you, and never will.