Happy 100th, Nana

What sibling drama has just happened here? The little girl on the left is my grandmother, with her older sister Helen and her little brother Frank.

Just a few years later, Helen died, and then a baby sister Marie, and then my grandmother’s mother. Here my grandmother, the only girl left in the immediate family, is surrounded by her three brothers and a cousin. Her father soon re-married, to a woman who preferred her own children to his, and this made life difficult. My grandmother left home as a teenager to live with other family, left school at 14, got work in town, met a man who gave her a child but did not marry her until 10 years later, when his mother died.

She was musically gifted, but her circumstances didn’t offer much outlet for its expression, outside of playing the organ in church. (Her child, however, was able to go to college and earn a degree in music education, and have a successful teaching career.)

Not long after her husband died (relatively young) from cancer, a woman she knew in town also passed away, and she contacted the surviving husband to offer her condolences. This led to the next chapter of her life — she married him, and was able to live a much more comfortable lifestyle. They moved out to a converted summer cottage in the country where she kept house, fed the birds, planted bulbs, sewed clothing for her grandchildren, and generally enjoyed life in retirement.

But something about her earlier life never allowed her to stop worrying — about us, about early death, about ruin, should something happen to someone on her watch. I think she was insecure about her security — never certain it wouldn’t all be taken away from her. Whether she really did worry or just learned to express herself in a worry-wort manner, I can no longer say. When we were kids, she drove us crazy with all that. She also had opinions we didn’t always want to hear, but she didn’t seem able to hold a grudge against anyone, even when the neighbor tried to stop the oil trucks (bringing her heating oil) from coming up their shared driveway with a lawsuit (he lost.)

Whatever it was, it didn’t affect her health much, as she lived to the ripe old age of 91, living by herself and getting into town regularly with the shuttle bus, doing the crossword puzzle, keeping up with the local gossip, writing letters to me overseas.

After she died, we found little notes throughout the house, in ceramics and in her desk, giving instructions as to what we should do with said articles after her death. In the last letter I have from her, she asked me to say a prayer for her soul when I sing. I would never have had the heart to tell her that I do not pray, but when I remember, I look up into the flyspace before an entrance and say, “Nana, this is for you.” She would have been 100 years old today.