My grandmother on my mom’s side, whom my brothers and cousins always referred to as “Nanny,” passed away a couple weeks ago. She was 87 years old.
So many of my earliest memories involved her because she was always close. In the early-1990’s my dad started working nights, and so every Sunday my mom would take my older brother and I (before my little brother was born) and the three of us would spend the night with Nanny. It was hard times for my parents back then. My dad had been unemployed for about a year, so we didn’t live in a very good neighborhood in San Bernardino and my mom didn’t feel safe most nights.
But Nanny was always dependable. She had been married twice, but her first husband — my grandpa (naturally) — left when my mom was young and her second husband — who I never met — died. That left Nanny with an obvious void, so she partook in seemingly every vacation that my family (and my mom’s sisters’ families) went on. She was the glue that kept everybody together.
I think what I remember most around that time was that my mom would always take us to Del Taco on our way to stay the night with Nanny, and once we got there my older brother and I would huddle in front of a little twelve inch television set that still had a dial and antenna to watch Sunday Night Baseball on ESPN. It was the best. As children my brother and I had no idea the reason we stayed there every week, or multiple times per week. We just knew that there was fast food and TV, and that’s all that really mattered.
Nanny did not have an easy life, but I think she would have considered it rich and fulfilled based on how much time she got to spend with her daughters and grandchildren. Her house was always the epicenter on Thanksgiving and Christmas; she had a doughboy pool that we would frequent in the summer months; and you can bet your bottom dollar that every time my family traveled to Solvang or Mammoth Mountain she would be along for the ride.
In our teenage years it became a nuisance to my brothers and I — this was after Nanny had gotten a hip replacement — because she was such a drag on days when we did some walking. Back in the hotel room we all stayed in, we would cater to all the garbage network television she wanted to watch on CBS or whatever. Famously, in 2004, Duke played a game against UConn in the Final Four and she was complaining from downstairs that my brothers and I had the volume turned up too much (even though it was probably about as low as it goes).
At the time these were minor annoyances, but looking back it’s what made Nanny who she was. If I had the same mentality and understanding as I have now — as a 32 year-old — I would have bent over backwards to assist Nanny any way that I could. I would have gladly watched her NCIS or whatever the fuck they play, and I wouldn’t have cared so much if Duke was playing in the Final Four. Okay that last part is a lie, but the rest of it is true. I swear.
I think the most lasting memory I have of Nanny is the most recent. She moved to Washington state with some of my other relatives back in like 2006, but it didn’t stop her from sending me $1,000 in 2015 after I totaled the Subaru STi I had bought like three weeks earlier and almost died. She sent the money to use as a down payment on the next car that I bought.
I called her shortly after and we had a long conversation about everything happening for a reason. I obviously didn’t agree, but I didn’t fight her too hard on it. She was a very religious woman, and I am a very unreligious man. I think the main point was that I was not dead and I easily could have been. Nonetheless I appreciated her so much for that, and I’ll never forget it.
Nanny and I didn’t see each other too often once they all moved to Washington. Normally I would see her only once or twice a year, whether it was from my family visiting them up north or her coming down to Southern California. At any rate I always looked forward to talking with her, because despite our differences in age and worldview, she was a fantastic conversationalist. She knew how to listen, and had a vault of knowledge and stories to share.
Dementia got the best of her over these last couple years. If truth be told I don’t think any of us expected her to last as long as she did, but like a true member of my bloodline she was a survivor till the very end. I told my mom, shortly before Nanny’s passing, that I think it’s a shame that there isn’t a heaven for her to go to. Because she would have made an excellent, worthy candidate.
I know that sounds morbid and not very consoling, especially considering that all of us only have one mom and I told that to my mom, but death is something that comes for us all. I find moments like these are best faced with the only reality we know, rather than spewing some woo-woo about being in a better place.
Nanny’s place was here, with us. She lived a full life that mattered to all of us. I choose to celebrate that fact in lieu of wishful thinking, but that’s probably just me. I regret that I missed so much over these last 15 years that she’s been away from me, but I take solace in the love and communication she always had with my mom, and Nanny more than made up for her time away from me with maintaining her status as a good mom to her daughters, a good grandmother to her grandchildren, and a good great-grandmother to her great-grandchildren.
We’ll be having a service for her in San Bernardino at the end of the month, where she will be buried next to her second husband. It will be one of many times to celebrate a woman we all loved, for a life that was damn sure well-lived.