She would have been 97 on Sunday, and I was certain she would live to 100 and beyond. She was that sharp, that bright and alert, and that alive. My nana was born in 1914, long before telephones, Blackberries or iPhones, the internet, and most of the other modern inventions that are the norm to us. She lived through two World Wars, a Depression that hit her small Pennsylvania town, really crippling it forever. She was the mom of four, nana to eleven, and great-nana to nineteen. She was the wife of a coal miner and restaurant owner who left us long ago, 29 years last month, and I can imagine how much she missed her husband. My very first thought when I heard on Wednesday night that she had left us, was of her walking and taking his hand, and that actually filled me with peace. When I close my eyes, I can see my grandfather smiling.
My nana taught us to bake, to garden, to cook. She washed her face with oatmeal, resulting in soft, flawless skin until her last days. When I saw an article in Self magazine about washing your face with oatmeal as a groundbreaking new move, I laughed. Nana had been doing it for probably eight decades or more. She also ate garlic and drank apple cider vinegar like it was no thing. She believed in the power of natural remedies and good food, and well, I would say that living until almost 97 and being completely healthy for most of it, she was on to something.
She was a hilarious, sharp-witted (sometimes too much so) woman who had seen a lot including intense poverty over the years, but she was resourceful, and loving to me and my sister, our husbands, and my niece and nephew. She was up on current events and could talk and talk when it came to politics, religion, and family. My memories of her are from when I am little, baking potato bread, sleeping in the bed with her and being terrified when she said “holy ghost” instead of “holy spirit” at the end of her prayers, making real cranberry sauce, and walking through her long gardens in the small Pennsylvania town she lived in. In later years, she moved to North Carolina with my aunt, and we visited for holidays, eating her from-scratch everything, went to the bingo hall (and won big!). Most recently, I got to spend a lot of time with my nana as she moved to New Jersey, where I got to visit her about every other month. I made an effort to see her every chance I could, each time grateful that I had that visit. I truly treated each visit like it was our last, because life is never a certainty, but when you roll into your 90′s it definitely becomes a little more uncertain. The above photo is from the last time I saw her. Wheelchair-bound for a number of years, she wanted a photo of herself standing up, so my husband supported her as she stood for this photo. To me it is as though this is how she wanted to be remembered. I will be forever grateful that we skipped our friends’ post-wedding brunch to visit her and to see that smile. Her skin was the softest I have ever felt, and my lasting memory is of laughing together.
My nana leaves behind so much warmth and love. I get to wrap myself in afghans she made and in love that she has left behind, to make nourishing home-cooked food and serve it in bowls she used in her own home, and to live on knowing how loved I have been. They certainly don’t make people like her anymore, and she will be missed.
Many of you have been so supportive during the past few weeks when things with my nana were uncertain. Thank you.