There's one story about my Nanny that my friends always want to hear again and again. It goes like this:
My Nanny is an excellent cook. She makes the best dressing at Thanksgiving. Somehow her mac-n-cheese tastes better than any other. Many, many years of practice made her fried chicken nearly perfect. Her green beans always had the perfect amount of butter and the requisite pieces of bacon for flavor. She made the best chicken and dumplings and would make them just for me because she knew how much I enjoyed that dish. My favorites, of course, were her desserts. She made pies upon pies. Incredible chocolate and coconut cream pies that were impossible to resist. And there was The Fudge. The Fudge requires capital letters because it was so good. It was firm to the touch and then would literally melt in your mouth. She made it for most holidays and would always send us home with a baggie of it especially for me.
As the years passed my Nanny didn't cook as much as she used to, largely in part to her failing eyesight. She said it was just too hard sometimes to try to read every little measurement, etc., and it was much easier to just not cook at all. I really can't argue with her logic there. But sometimes, especially if she was staying at our house, she just couldn't help herself and would cook things anyway.
One day my sister and I came home to find a cake that my Nanny made. This was not out of the ordinary for my Nanny, so we didn't think too much about it. We each cut a piece of the cake and started to eat it, and it was not good. Not good at all. We took a few more bites and still....not good.
"Nanny," my sister said. "What kind of cake is this?"
"It's just regular pound cake. Why?"
"It just doesn't taste right."
"Well, I noticed it tasted funny but I thought it was just me."
"Well, it's not just you. This really does not taste good. Show me what you used as ingredients."
So my Nanny started to show my sister everything she used in making the cake. The salt, the sugar, the eggs, the flour. Then she started to pull out the vanilla extract that she used, and that is when the mystery was solved. My poor Nanny and her limited eyesight pulled out liquid vanilla pot-pourii and used that instead. And on that bottle of liquid vanilla pot-pourii it clearly said "do not ingest."
And that is the story my friends love. The love to hear about how my Nanny tried to poison us.
I say all this because it is a story I love to tell as well. And it is a story that I will always remember. My Nanny passed away a few months ago, so I've been thinking about these sorts of stories a lot lately, and this one is always at the forefront. It highlights so many things about my Nanny that I will always remember.
For starters, my Nanny was the most humble of servants. In church sometimes we talk about spiritual gifts and how to use your God-given spiritual gift. Without a doubt, my Nanny's spiritual gift was service. Service to her family, service to her friends, service to her church, etc. I have never met someone so willing to serve others as my Nanny was. It happened on more than one occasion that we would go to visit her and would find a piece of her furniture missing. Her answer to where the furniture went was always the same and simple answer: someone else needed it more than her. Every week she would go to church and play cards with her friends. However, she never really played cards due to her poor eyesight,so instead she acted as a waitress of sorts, always making sure that everyone had enough drink and snacks. And she would do anything for her grandchildren, no questions asked. She loved us all so unconditionally, even when she had cause to be angry with some of us or angry at our actions. It never mattered to her. The love was always the same.
Whenever she came to stay with us, it was like the house became a hotel. Our beds were made everyday. Any clothes laying on the floor or in the hamper were washed, folded, and laid at the foot of our beds. Dinner was always ready when we walked through the door. We always joked that having Nanny at the house gave us a taste of the good life, and how she should stay longer than her usual week. Stay a month! Stay a year! We could get used to this! And I always told people that she loved to do that; to take care of us. And I believe that she really and truly did, because making her children and grandchildren happy made her happy. She was no doormat though, believe you me. I say our beds were made daily, but that's not the truth. The day she went home she would do nothing, and when I would kid her that my clothes needed washing she would always say "Nanny's off today."
Sometimes I worry if I knew enough about her. I always wanted to ask her about her past and write it down; her history in her words. Unfortunately, we never got around to that. However, I did start to ask her to tell me more about herself over the past few years. She never seemed to want to share too much. She always acted as if her upbringing wasn't all that important or interesting, and that saddens me. I do know that she grew up as a farm girl in a small town in Oklahoma. She got married to my Poppy at a young age and only after a few months of knowing him. She was always honest enough to admit that their marriage wasn't the stuff of fairy tales. That it was hard sometimes, as it should be. She had four daughters. Four strong-willed daughters, I might add, and she raised them to the best of her ability. She worked for the local telephone company for a big chunk of her life. And she would have continued to work for them except that the office in their town closed. She continually cared for my Poppy during his last years of life. She buried one of her daughters, telling me later that it was the hardest thing she's ever had to do.
She passed away during the middle of all that horrible bar prep. Because of that, I feel like I compartmentalized her passing. I don't think I really dealt with it until the bar was over. And even now, I don't think I've fully comprehended it. I feel as if I forget about it until little moments hammer home the fact that she died. Like when my aunt came down to visit. Normally, my Nanny would have come with her and you could feel this heavy absence. It was palpable. Or how we passed through her hometown on our way back from Arkansas a few weekends ago. How I looked out from the interstate and could see the street leading to her neighborhood. How I always assumed that the next time we took the trip to Arkansas to see friends we could stop in on Nanny on our way back, and how this wasn't possible anymore. It's those moments that make it pop, you know?
And above all, I feel for my mom. She had a whirlwind of a summer. She went from the highest of highs, being in Denver for the birth of her first grandchild, to the lowest of lows of burying her remaining parent all in one week. It was only a few days after the birth of my nephew that my aunt called and told my mom she should think about coming home. That this hospital visit might really be the last one. If I ever doubted my mom's strength, it was erased that week. And if I ever doubted my dad's dedication to us, it was erased that week as he stayed behind in Denver to be with my sister and brother-in-law, and then drove all day and night to make it back for the funeral. And now my mom is struggling with it all, I believe. She says the hardest part of it all is that she feels she doesn't have a home anymore. That she still, even at age 60, felt as if she could always go to my Nanny's and be home. My sister and I wish we could fix all that, but we know it will take time.
And lest this all get too maudlin or emotional, which isn't really my forte, I'll end on a happy note. I know for a fact that my Nanny is in heaven now. That she can hear perfectly and can see beautifully. And with these restored senses I bet she is up in everyone's business. And instead of money or furniture, she is showering her family with blessings. And I am so happy for her.