today ~ november 19 ~ is the anniversary of my nana’s birth.
she would have been…gosh, terrible as it is i’m not sure…somewhere over 90. she passed in 2003. we had grown distant, and it makes me so sad. but tonite it feels like a story that needs to be told.
it’s a complicated story and the short version is that she lived with my mother. my mother and i haven’t been on speaking terms for over twenty years now, but for a few attempts at a truce or reconciliation that were unfortunately short-lived. there is no real way to write about something like this without feeling guilty. someone will always say i should try harder, or forgive better, or won’t i be sorry when… but they didn’t grow up in my world. and as sad as at is, it’s just not meant to be. i’ve had to learn to trust that instinct within me that says move on and to try to be at peace with it.
but there’s a hole in me. i hole where my mom should be, and where my nana was. she was awesome. funny, foul-mouthed and gentle. i lived with her for many of my growing up years and we spent long summer days together. she loved birds and would stand at her bedroom window in the mornings whistling, mimicking their calls and talking to them.
due to some lifelong vision issues she couldn’t drive, so we’d cab around town. weekly we’d go to the library which i loved so much. it was this huge old stone gothic style building. in my mind’s eye now it is reminiscent of notre dame, though that could just be my imagination. it certainly was cavernous and echo-y with a gigantic stone rotunda at the entrance. to the right was the children’s section and i started with the hard big books and worked my way up to young literature in that room (judy blume and whatnot). to the left was the endless stacks of books. reference, fiction, non-fiction…row upon row upon row. she was an avid reader, two to three books a week she’d check out of the library. she loved mystery novels. particularly of the crime variety. i didn’t inherit that addiction, but i did inherit her love of books. they make me feel safe. they comfort me, keep me from feeling lonely, teach me things and inspire me. i adore them, collect them, covet them, and order them compulsively from amazon. amazon’s prime program* rues the day they signed me up, believe me.
after the library we would walk a few blocks down past city hall where she would remind me about my long-lost great-great-uncle that once served the town as mayor. we would also pass the world war II memorial. sometimes we would go and look at it since my grandfather’s name was inscribed on it having served in europe during the war. i’d like to say that these brushes with my genetic history moved me in some way, but really i was so excited to go to friendly’s i could hardly stand it.
if you’re not familiar, friendly’s, is a diner-esque kind of burger and ice cream chain. great crinkle fries. for me and nana though it was all about the lime rickeys. cool and refreshing on a hot summer afternoon. they had a little fizz and if we were feeling extravagant we’d get the raspberry version. we’d sit at a booth and well, hang out. i’m sure i blathered on about whatever little girls talked about. but whatever it was, i always felt heard.
i was with her when john lennon was killed and i remember sitting in her kitchen, the tv on, feeling sad because one of the men who made my song “michelle, my belle” was dead. my first little art studio was in her finished basement, and my watercolors hung – framed – in her living room. i obsessed over the princess diana wedding with her. i watched the whole thing on television and poured over the magazines, convinced i was going to marry that young blueblood and have a fabulous wedding like hers. we’d do exercises with jack lalane and that other lady in the black unitard, she taught me how to shuffle cards, played go fish with me, tolerated my gypsy moth caterpillar “pets”, and was there to catch me when i freaked out about some garter snake that slithered in front of us on the driveway.
but then too quickly i grew up. my mom moved us out-of-state. i started high school, got a boyfriend, and soon nana was just one of the grown-ups that i tried to avoid at the detestable holiday events. as soon as high school was over, i moved out of my mom’s place and ventured out on my own. a car, part-time college, full-time job and nana grew older. she suffered a heart attack and living by herself seemed too much (too much work, too much of a risk?) and she moved in with the one person i was trying so hard not to be around. years went by, she grew more fragile. her skin more papery, her voice more raspy. the oxygen machine a permanent fixture.
the last time i saw her fully alive was about a year before her death. i was sitting next to her at my mom’s, and suddenly i knew deep within the core of my body that this would be it. i started crying. i sat on the floor next to her chair with my head in her lap sobbing. mute. aching with remorse for not having done it all differently. i stayed like that for a long time. she rubbed my head…and i looked up and told her i loved her and left.
i saw her once more, in a nursing home, not quite in a coma but not responsive. she seemed to be troubled, in pain. i held her hand. asked them to give her more medication. soon, she was gone.
it is my only adult experience with death…and i wish i had been more of an adult when the time came. the regret i have is thick with the things i should have done. i wonder what her beliefs were about what was going to happen to her, i wonder what she wishes she’d done, or done differently. what does she remember about our time together? what kind of advice would she have for me now as an adult with adult decisions and responsibilities? would we play gin rummy? would she like my cooking? would i make her laugh?
whatever her beliefs were about where she was going, i know she ended up somewhere where she could reach me. she comes to me when the door is open and usually she doesn’t say much, but i can hear her whistling.
*free two-day shipping for a whole year for only $75! i know that’s not really free but honestly…when you order as many books as i do, it might as well be.