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.