Nana was my maternal grandmother, I saw her once, maybe twice a year, usually for Easter, when my mother would take us kids to Arizona for a week of swimming at the pool, eating amazing food and scrabble playing at the dining room table. The warmth of Arizona was always so welcoming compared to the extended chilly winters of the Northeast.
There was something so comforting and steady about our visits. One always knew what to expect. Joe would be sitting in his chair in front of the TV or smoking his pipe on the porch, shirt unbuttoned, ready to tell a story. Nana was more often than not in the kitchen, prepping for dinner or putting groceries away. As a child, our conversations were mostly about what we were doing in school or what we wanted to eat for lunch. She was a wonderful grandmother when we were little. She relished in our stories about lizards at the pool, she had fried chicken and mashed potatoes on the table for dinner, and she scratched our backs quietly as we fell asleep. Her unconditional love, funny witticisms and wonderful cooking promised us grandchildren in far away New England that we had a lovely, warm and special Nana, on whom we could count.
As I grew older, my appreciation for Nana grew. When I came to visit, here is what I saw: a family of bright, animated, socially dynamic jokesters, traits my Mother and Uncle David passed onto my cousin Kristin and my brother, Clay. I was always more quiet, usually found to be reading a textbook on a comfy chair instead of entertaining a crowd. I write this, because in a sea of impressive social dynamism, Nana held her quiet ground as the matriarch. Her steady, quiet, yet quick-witted presence (she is where the wit originated), coupled by her beauty and skills in the kitchen, made her a paramount influence for the quiet granddaughter in the corner.
She taught me many things, that beautiful Nana of ours. I took after her in many ways (her calm, her curves, her classic looks, her love of cooking and of family) and her model taught me by example to trust my calm quiet as a strength, to enjoy my looks but never promote them (I might add that I am not the beauty that she was, but there are some resemblances) and finally, that the importance of food as a robust and valid way of bringing the family together is a powerful thing. As I grew older, I watched her very carefully in the kitchen and wrote down many of her recipes. I grew to become a confident cook and one, just like Nana, who makes simple meals that are tasty crowd pleasers.
These days, as I sit in my home in Georgia, I am reminded that her lessons will never be forgotten. I make her cornbread and fried chicken on a regular rotation (they are my daughter's favorite). And I have become the matriarch of my own small family in a very familiar scene. Here in Georgia, when I host Thanksgiving and Christmas, I am always surrounded by loud, funny, wonderfully witty and social family members. My daughter has inherited that gene from my mother and is quite the character. I sit back quietly and let the food and the stage I have set bring everyone I love in the room together to the table for good food, good laughs and family games. My quiet is her quiet and I am so thankful to her for teaching me that kind strength and wisdom.
I was able to visit Nana one last time, a week before she passed away. We watched Rosemary and Thyme (a mystery show for garden enthusiasts), I massaged her aching hands and I was able to cook for her. She requested scallops, which I happily cooked, and when she took a bite, her eyes lit up. She asked me how I prepared them and she honestly wanted to know all of the details, as if she would soon be cooking away in the kitchen once again. That still makes me laugh.
When I said my final goodbye, I thanked her for producing three such wonderful children (all three so different, but all such amazing parents themselves) and for being such a graceful and loving soul. I began to cry and she said, “Don't cry, honey. I'll be waiting for you.” I think she is indeed waiting for us. She is up there in an amazing kitchen, just waiting for us all to join her so she can cook for us again and then play some Scrabble.
I miss you, Nana. Thank you for everything.