On Wednesday afternoon, I learned that my 97-year-old grandmother died.
|This was in August at my cousin's|
One of my nieces pointed out that Nana is the only woman she knows who gave up high heels at age 92. That makes her practically French, doesn't it?
Nana led a typical Kentucky life, marrying at age 16 to a man 12 years older because he wanted a young bride that he could raise the way he wanted. That sounds terribly sexist, which it was, but he might have gotten more than he planned on when he married my strong-willed grandmother. The two of them had three children, one of them my father.
Nana helped run a general store and the family lived above the store, until one night a fire broke out. The family escaped and stood outside in the cold watching their home, livelihood and several hundred dollars in life savings burn to the ground, My grandfather didn't believe in banks, so he kept cash. He nearly died trying to save the money.
Some of Nana's jobs after that included running a hotel, which I vaguely remember as a child. What fun to visit my grandmother and get to stay in a hotel room! She also worked at the post office and knew everyone in her small town.
One of my favorite stories from Nana was when she rode a horse into town to get a permanent at the beauty shop. Just the idea that they didn't have a car to drive, they still relied on horses or wagons, but she still searched out the permanent wave for her thin hair. But the story got better. On the way home, the horse got stuck in quicksand. Nana had to crawl off the horse's neck to get to solid ground then tug on the horse's reins until she got him up to dry ground too. Another time she told about the horse running away with her as she lay flat and wrapped her hands around its neck, holding on for her life.
Kentucky, especially the poor parts, has always been behind the rest of the world, but the idea of using outhouses and riding horses to town even 80 years ago strikes me as "Little House on the Prairie."
My grandfather died 32 years ago, but Nana wasn't finished with marriage. She dated a few guys before she lucked into meeting Ish. They fell in love like a lightning strike and married quickly to spend their remaining years together.
Ish freed Nana in a way. She went from a woman who only wore dresses, to someone who discovered pants were sensible and sometimes more modest than dresses. She began to spend winters in Arizona, and she and Ish traveled to explore new lands, including Venezuela.
|Here's my Aunt June, Nana, me and Grace|
A few years ago, she had a stroke. She insisted on lying down for awhile rather than calling the
emergency squad. She never fully regained strength in her left side, but she lived at home with her daughter or a live-in helper, intent on completing many tasks at home. She would slide down the stairs on her butt to get to the lower level and go through her belongings, deciding what to keep or discard.
A few years ago, she became terribly ill. I drove the four hours from Columbus to be with her. My aunt and uncle in Kentucky both had the flu and couldn't visit her in the hospital. My parents in Florida weren't within reach. I sat by her hospital bed, but she didn't wake up. I didn't think she'd make it through the night.
I called my parents and told them to come. They did, and Nana was better by the time they arrived. She seemed to beat all the odds.
|This was probably celebrating her 90th birthday, or maybe 92.|
In October, another call from the hospital. She had pneumonia. I drove down to sit by her bed. My aunt had been there all night and I waved her off to shower and rest. I pulled up a chair by Nana's bed, and for someone who they thought could die, she sat in bed alert. She hardly dozed at all. Instead, we talked.
She asked me about her great grandchildren, and her great-great grandchildren. I showed her pictures on my cell phone. We talked about her early life.
"When I woke up, I thought Wilbert was sitting in that chair," she said. Wilbert was my grandfather, her first husband.
We talked for a few minutes and she told me, "I was unhappy married," and I knew she meant in her first marriage. "But he was a good father."
She wasn't inclined to talk about her future, in this world or in heaven, in spite of her strong religious beliefs.
She fell asleep about half an hour before I needed to leave for the 4-hour drive back home.
"I love you, Nana," I whispered as I kissed her soft hair, plastered down in the back against the bed.
And she recovered again, returning to the nursing home to play bingo.
Then Wednesday, Mom texted me that Nana had died.
I have to guess that she has no regrets, even though she didn't quite make it to her 98th birthday.