Monday, December 14, 2009

Nana goes to college

My Nana died a week ago today. She was 92 years old and lived, at least as far as I knew, a full, wonderful life, though she certainly had her share of hardship. She left behind three daughters (my mother included), eight grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren. We were all at the burial and memorial service in Charlotte, NC, this past Friday. Five of the eight grandchildren spoke about Nana at the service. And I learned that she apparently thought we were all as special as I know I was to her. That was the theme that ran through all five of our stories. Here's what I said about her.

I knew from early on that Nana loved me, not in some abstract, send me a card with money in it for Christmas kind of way, but in a concrete way that made me know she wanted me around. She introduced me to her friends. She wanted to know mine. She was a part of my life.

I took all of that for granted until my freshman year of college. I was at Emory, living in a dorm that had been built in the 1920s. It had no air conditioning (in Atlanta, Georgia). I shared a tiny room, just big enough for two desks, two twin beds and two dressers, with a roommate, and a bathroom with 20 other girls on my hall.

One day Nana called. She was planning to drive through Atlanta and wanted to see me. Could she stop and spend the night? I said yes without giving it a second thought. My first realization that this might be unusual behavior--for a grandmother to spend the night in a girls' dorm--came when I mentioned it to my roommate. She didn't seem to mind about Nana spending the night. She just seemed shocked that Nana would want to.

"Does she know where you live?" Nancy asked.

"Does she know where the bathroom is?"

"You're not going to make her sleep on the floor, are you?"

Word spread throughout the dorm of the impending overnight visit by a grandmother. You'd have thought the queen was coming. Was Nana spying on me for my parents? Did I really want her to come? they asked.

And I began to wonder what was wrong with my friends. They couldn't imagine wanting their own grandmothers to spend the night. Or their grandmothers wanting to.

After getting a unanimous verdict that this was weird behavior, I started to wonder what was wrong with us. Should I have outgrown wanting to see my grandmother? Maybe she was checking up on me.

When she showed up, a parade of people from the hall trooped through the room to get a look at her, like she was some strange species from another planet. She was nice and funny and agreed that none of her grandmother friends had spent the night in their granddaughters' dorm rooms, before smiling and saying, "Weren't they missing out?"

As I lay awake that night on the hard linoleum floor, I agreed with Nana. Her friends and mine were missing out, not just on a one night stand that would make a good story for years to come, but also on the kind of relationship that can have fun together, even in a hot, crowded dorm room.

A photo from my last visit with Nana, May 2009.


Anonymous said...

What a great story about a great nana.

Linda said...

What a great story - it brought tears to my eyes.

Karen K. Kennedy said...

Thank you, Anon and Linda, for the kind comments. She was a wonderful Nana!

Janet Reid said...

Now I know where you get your terrific from!

sammybourke said...

What a wonderful story.
What a wonderful Nana.
Hope you are going to write more about Nana and your relationship with her.

Anonymous said...

I, too, was lucky enough to have a grandmother like that. My Granny was from Alabama and never met a stranger. She visited my sixth grade class in Washington State for grandparents day and I couldn't wait for her arrival. She always made an entrance. Not because she was the kind of person who cared about making an entrance, but because she was a living tornado of unconditional love. I'll never forget watching her bound up the ramp of our portable and then entering with a booming, "HEY Y'ALL!!" It was the first time these kids had met a Southerner and heard the word y'all. Over the next few hours she distributed love like free candy. Granny died two years later. When I was graduating from high school six years after that visit, a boy who'd been troubled from 1st grade on came up to me and asked about her. He said, "I never forgot your grandmother. She was such a wonderful person." And he only got 3 hours with her. I was lucky enough to have 13 years.

Stephen Parrish said...

Aww, thanks for sharing this. (Janet Reid sent me.) You were lucky to have had such a grandmother, and you were wise to have recognized your good luck.

Shelby said...

absolutely exquisite loving post. I linked to your writing on my blog to share. cheers.

therese said...

Wonderful! I have a grandma story like this in my WIP. This is the type of grandma I intend to be.
Happy New Year!

SilverNeurotic said...

I never had a grandmother, but I lived across the street from two wonderful older ladies who "adopted" me (and later my siblings) as their grandkids. One moved away and then past away when I was still a kid (12) but I was very close to the other one. She past away three years ago, not long after I graduated college and I think about her every single day.

jmartinlibrarian said...

Your post may be a tribute to your nana, but it is a blessing for you and your readers. My eyes burn with tears thinking of that kind of love. Thank You

Karen K. Kennedy said...

Thank you all for your kind comments! Nana was a treasure!

Ellen B said...

That is such a lovely post - everyone should have relationships like this in their lives.

Your Nana sounds like a wonderful woman. I'm sorry to hear she's gone. Thanks again for posting this, I'll link to it.

Southern Writer said...

I'm so sorry for your loss. What a beautiful tribute to her you've shared. What an amazing woman she must have been!

Pamela said...

jealous -- I am.
What a beautiful memory.

Marjorie said...

My 100 year-old aunt passed away on Jan.5th. And just 3 weeks ago she beat me at Rummy-Q.