Over the past year, I’ve thought about my grandmother a lot. She died in late 2018 after a slow decline in health and by the time she passed, I was ready for her to go. She was a frail shell of who she used to be and death seemed like a better alternative to the existence she was living in the nursing home. I wasn’t upset with her passing, because I felt like I had mourned her death a year or two prior when she began going downhill, but it took a year or so for her to take up residence in my mind. Today, I want to talk about that.
My grandmother, whom I affectionately called Nanny, was a simple country woman. Raised in the foothills of North Carolina, she grew up in a family of farmers in a small cinderblock house that her parents built by hand in 1940. She was a small, skinny woman who would take hours to get ready to leave the house, even if it was just a quick trip to the Dollar General.
After my parents’ divorce, my dad quickly remarried and that marriage didn’t last but a few months. Being a military man on the road two weeks out of every month, he needed someone to watch my brother and I, so Nanny and her mother (Granny) moved down to Orlando to join us. It was the first time either one of them had lived outside of North Carolina and the first time in the city. There wasn’t as much of a culture shock as Nanny embraced the change and loved Orlando. The unlimited shopping opportunities, good weather, and the opportunity to take care of my brother and I enriched her life. She would remind me a lot as an adult that she had no better time in her life than those couple of years in Orlando.
Nanny was my saving grace in Orlando. My dad was devastated still from my parents’ divorce and the detour with a second wife had only made things worse. He didn’t have the skills or capabilities to raise two boys and quite a bit of the adult responsibilities fell onto me at the age of ten. For a few months, I acted as arguably the primary parent until we were able to make it to North Carolina and move Nanny down.
Once Nanny arrived, she took over like she’d lived there forever. For the first time (and only time in my life) I had three home cooked meals a day. The house was spotless and organized. And on the weekends, I found myself dropped off at the movies often while she went shopping for the day. It was a great time in my life and the only time I truly felt like I had the opportunity to just be a kid.
Nanny wasn’t what you’d describe as nurturing, I guess. I never thought of it until a recent conversation with my wife, but she was more of a strong, Southern woman. She loved you, had no problem saying that or hugging you, but she was not the type of person to get down on the floor and play with you. Instead, she was the type of woman who you’d want to be around so you’d volunteer to stand on a chair and rinse off the dishes just to be next to her.
I believe Nanny first took up residence in my head around the time COVID hit. Being a poor, country woman, I’d once asked her about the hardships of our family during The Great Depression. Her response was, “We didn’t really notice. There’s always someone who needs a ditch dug.” In a strange way that was comforting to me.
Nanny didn’t live a life of luxury. After my Dad remarried and we were transferred to Dallas, Nanny and Granny moved back into the same old cinderblock house she grew up. I’ll never forget spending that summer cleaning it out. The floor had to be jacked up and canned foods from the 1960’s had to be removed from the closet. It was a mess, but a fun time. Granny had suffered from Alzheimer’s for years, which is why she lived with Nanny. Everyone thought that maybe moving Granny back into the house she lived in most of her life would help her feel more at ease.
Granny would die in that house eight or nine years later and Nanny would live in it until somewhere around 2015-2016 before being moved into a nursing home.
I have dozens of great memories with Nanny and could write all day about her, but I wanted to hone in on what has really been stuck in my head lately:
Nanny led a very simple life. The type of life that some might call boring. She got up at the same time every day and went to bed at the same time. She watched the Today show, the 12 o’clock news, Days of Our Lives, and 5 o’clock news. In between those programs, she cooked breakfast, lunch, and dinner. When she wasn’t in the kitchen making drop biscuits or cooking her delicious green beans, she was cleaning the floors, dusting, or bleaching something. That woman used so much bleach she’d take the paint and finish right off of stuff.
She enjoyed mowing her yard, working in the garden, and snapping green beans. She liked her Diet Coke, coffee, and loved a Wendy’s Frosty. But never once did I see her go on a rant. I never saw her get extremely upset about politics or throw a fit about her favorite show being delayed. She didn’t panic when her car wouldn’t start or the air conditioner went out. She was always so calm and in control. In fact, she rarely would ever raise her voice. I’m guessing that is why it was so peaceful to be around her.
I even remember the first hurricane that we encountered while living in Orlando. I was terrified and I stayed up all night and recorded the wind and trees on her video camera. Nanny, like Granny, went to bed right after the news with not a care in the world.
I’m not saying Nanny was perfect, because no one is. She had her flaws like everyone, but she had some fantastic attributes I hope to implement in my life. I’d love to find the calmness that she had when facing adversity, but most important, I’d love to find the peace and comfort she had with the ebbs and flow of daily life. Nanny was content with her boring life. She enjoyed cooking, cleaning, and just living. She didn’t complain about not being able to travel the world nor did she hang her self-worth on having some grandiose job title. She just lived each day to the fullest by taking care of herself and those around her. When she was needed, she was always there.
Nanny didn’t read self-help books and I don’t think the idea of improving yourself had ever crossed her mind. In fact, the only thing she really ever read was Star or The National Inquirer, her little “trash magazines” as she liked to call them. But Nanny lived in the moment and maybe she didn’t need a self-improvement book to teach her that.