Today is my grandmother’s birthday. Had she not died young, she would have been in 102.
Nana’s first name was Jimmey. She was tiny. And poor. Her father was an alcoholic. There’s a story that her dad tried to sell the family cow to the president of the US when he was playing golf on a course not too far from my grandmother’s childhood home. The president declined the offer.
Nana had, I thought, a total of 7 children (6 girls, 1 boy) in her family. I wanted to put all their names in my novel MESSENGER. It seemed a nice way to remember the woman I loved so much. As I was writing, I couldn’t remember a sister I had never met and my daughter Caitlynne did some genealogy for me.
One afternoon I received a phone call.
“Mom. There were ten children in Nana’s family!”
I got all their names in MESSENGER. And then I had this to ponder: why didn’t the sisters and brother know about the two little boys and the baby girl who only lived a few days each?
My grandmother married an abusive man who made his children’s lives miserable. He worked for the railroad and built them a house from two railroad cars joined end to end. I knew him for only a few years, and found him the day he died. He was lying on his bed as though he’d needed a rest. He was in his mid-forties. I hope, in this life, I am able to forgive him for his cruelty. It translated into generations.
Nana made biscuits and syrup. She let me drink huge glasses of hot tea with her coffee creamer in it. She took me to the library. She watched me dance. Listened to me sing. Laughed at my jokes. Threw her arms around me in huge hugs. Held me on her lap. Sent me secret letters, sometimes with a dollar bill tucked inside a card. She loved romance novels and wore polyester because she hated to iron. She smoked, drank beer and laughed with her whole self. She let us pluck her eyebrows (she could sleep through that!) and file her fingernails and toenails.
I was her first grandchild. I was her favorite grandchild. (Sorry, Kelly. I know it’s true.) She let me spend weeks with her in the summer. Bought my warts. And didn’t mind when I peed in the concrete planter in her front yard.
As she lay dying, I whispered to her that I had a book coming out. My first one. KELLY AND ME. I told her I had dedicated it to her and her dad. She couldn’t speak but she let me know she both loved that I had dedicated the book to her and did not love that I had included her father.
I wish she could have held that novel, read it. I know she would have laughed over the stories in it. Some were from family incidents. And while she might have been unhappy that Papa (her father) was a star, I hope she knows now that she is the hero in every book I write that has a grandmother in it.
She saved me.
Happy birthday, Nana.