Monday, September 07, 2009
One Tough Ol' Bird
My Nana, my father's mother, lived a pretty lonely life. Don't mistake what I'm saying - she had us, but her one true love, her husband, my Poppy was killed in an accident at B.F. Goodrich when I was not quite three years old. She spent the last 36 years missing him. When the house started falling in around her and her health started failing she was adamant about staying there because that's where Pop was. Unfortunately after breaking her second hip she didn't have a choice and was moved to the nursing home. Oh, how she missed him.
For as long as I can remember Nana wore Vanderbilt perfume - and lots of it. As we grandkids got older we would talk among ourselves about how even her ice cubes tasted like Vanderbilt. Somehow it wasn't bad, though. Just very perfume-y.
Nana loved Coke and even this past week as she lay in her hospital bed, weighing barely 70 pounds, when my cousin Michanne asked her what she wanted she mouthed, "Coke." We didn't always have Coke at our house growing up, but it was guaranteed that a visit to Nana's meant as much as you could drink and cookies from the cookie jar.
I can't tell you how many hours we spent at her house growing up. When we were small enough we'd hide in the sliding-door cabinet in her coffee table. I remember spending a lot of time in front of the book case looking through books we didn't have at home - Gulliver's Travels being the one I remember most. And our childhood physical fitness is attributed solely to Nan's record player and her 45's, mainly "Chicken Fat". We grandkids burned a lot of calories on the shag carpet in her living room. She is also the only grandma I know that had all of the Village People's hits on records.
There were three bedrooms at Nana's house and we were always given the option of sleeping in the other beds, but until we were nearly teenagers we always chose to sleep in Nan's bed with her. It seems like maybe Sis tried once to sleep in the front bedroom, but it didn't last long. I know personally it was always better to sleep with Nana because we got to eat in bed and we always watched Johnny Carson. Popcorn, apples with salt, grapes - whatever we wanted - was on a paper towel and our Coke was on the coaster and we were propped up there against the headboard livin' large. It was never too late at Nana's for snacks. One year I spent the night with her on New Year's Eve. I know she expected me to fall asleep well before midnight, but no, I manged to spend the entire evening waiting on the ball to drop. As the new year marched in I bounced all over that bed, over Nan, around the room, did cartwheels and hooped and hollered. I vividly remember her watching me with a huge grin on her face, never telling me to hush, just enjoying my exuberance.
Whatever we wanted we got at Nan's, so the one time she denied me what I asked for it's no wonder I wrote a hateful note in a steno notebook and left it in the secretary in the dining room. I can only imagine what I had asked for - possibly a unicorn. It'd have to have been something that unattainable for her to tell me no. I wrote the note in anger, put it away and got over it pretty quick, but a week or so later while paying bills or writing a letter maybe Nana found it and oh my goodness the phone call I got! The jist of the note was that she loved my cousin Michanne more than me because Michanne got whatever she wanted and Nan never told her no and it was because of that that Nan told me I couldn't have what I wanted that particular day. The phone call cleared that issue up real quick. While she all but yelled into that phone she assured me she loved us all the same and how dare I suggest she loved any of the other kids more than me and what kind of grandmother would she be if she did.
You didn't mess with Nan either - once Sis stole a quarter from her purse. Her punishment? Nana put her in that big blue car and drove her straight to D&D Drive-In and forced her to spend it on a video game. Sis said it was the most miserable video game she ever played. Nan always described herself as a "tough ol' bird" and last week one of the nurses called her a tough cookie. I was holding Nan's hand and I gently corrected the nurse and said, "No, she's a tough old bird." Nan nodded her head, squeezed my hand and confirmed the description.
For probably the last 25 years or so Nan was plagued with facial tremors that could not be cured. She was constantly tense and it had to be painful. Medication didn't help much and talking to her any time but early in the morning was a frustrating thing because her muscles were so tired soon after she began the day she became nearly unable to be understood. Sometimes when I'd take the kids to see her she'd be so frustrated she couldn't talk to them so they made sure they entertained her with stories about school and their days. She loved to laugh and the kids made sure they accomplished that at each visit. She was always so worried that she scared the kids with her appearance, but never once were the kids anything but utterly and completely in love with her.
As we all sat around her bed this past week comforting her and hearing first audible words and then, as she grew weaker, whispers of "I love you" we all realized that there were few people in our lives that gave as much as she did. I know my sister and I would've had far fewer dresses with jingle bells in the petticoats without Nana. Bomber jackets, the popular tennis shoes, school clothes, Christmas dresses, toys, toys and more toys - Nana made them ours. But in addition to the gifts and clothes she gave us she gave us a solid foundation of unconditional love, constant support and votes of confidence, neverending assuredness that we had a place to go and someone to always be on our side. She adored us.
She was prissy and always cared about how she looked. She was neat, she was an amazing cook and loved laughter, big family gatherings and all of us more than we could ever imagine.
She slipped away just after 3:30 Friday afternoon while my aunt, my mother, my sister, my cousin, my cousin's fiance and God bless him, my uncle, the token male at a boisterous hen party, sat around her bed talking. She hadn't been awake in over 24 hours, had stopped communicating with us and her breathing was so very labored. The conversation had turned to boobs and boob jobs and aging not-so-gracefully when I think at the exact same moment we all looked at her and realized she was gone. It was peaceful, it was quiet and she was in the midst of a very girly conversation - it was just exactly what she wanted.
She's with Poppy now, she is relaxed and I guarantee you that Heaven now carries the faint scent of Vanderbilt in the air.
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