Moments With Nana

My grandmother lived an extraordinary life, but for me it was the little moments that made her so great.


One evening, not long after my parents split up, I found myself sulking through an evening at my grandparents’ house. Nana was on babysitting duty, and things weren’t going so well for five-year-old me.

Their house was angular and wide open, seventies fashion with shag carpet, high ceilings, and a clock on the mantel that boomed creepy bell tolls on the hour every hour. It was strange, and I wanted to go home. I wanted my what I knew. I wanted my parents, and at some point, I found myself tucked away in her office.

The windows shined black with night. My little makeshift bed was laid out on the floor. I sat at her desk, my hand against my cheek, staring at a picture of our family taken not so long ago. In the picture, I stood proudly with my father and grandfather. On the couch sat my cousins, my aunts, my sister and my mother. Everyone was smiling, everyone looked happy.

Nana walked in and saw what I was doing. She set a hand on my shoulder. I pointed to my mom in the photo, traced her back to my dad. Back and forth my finger went, as though I could will the two of them back together.

Nana knelt down to face me. She explained my parents still loved me. It was nothing I’d done wrong. She wiped the tears from my eyes and let that soak in. The boom of the clock filled the house, a grave reminder that time moved on. It was getting late.

Nana offered me ice cream.

Over the years, my dad would remarry, and I’d end up with an amazing stepmother and a little sister who looked at me with stars in her eyes. It all worked out. But that night was rough, and Nana made it okay.

She would continue to make it okay. Having just barely graduated from high school, I ran wild and quickly exhausted every place I had to live. Nana and Papa took me in.

A new mantel in a different house, but that same clock ticked on. I was stuck between being a kid and an adult, trying to figure things out for myself then, which mostly meant making one terrible decision after the next. Nana didn’t seem to mind.

She fed me. She tried to get me to go to church. She even seemed to enjoy my company, as I’d sit in her office and flip through the book she’d written while she shuffled through her notes and magazine submissions. Nana was happy to share them with me, as though I were someone worth impressing.

I can only imagine what sort of burden I must have been back then. And yet, I’d usually arrive home and find a pile of washed and folded shirts on the bed. Nana left me little notes in her neat cursive handwriting. If I got home early enough, and she was still up, she would show me to the leftovers. Then she’d offer me ice cream.

Almost eleven years ago, just before the birth of my son, I started writing more seriously. I was terrible, but that didn’t stop me. I wrote short stories and flash fiction and little anecdotes from my childhood. I’d send them to Nana, who by then lived in a nursing home in Williamsburg. Like clockwork, she’d send them back with little notes, in cursive—mostly positive feedback. Usually with enough red ink to sink a ship.

Later, after I hacked away at my first manuscript, the first thing I did was mail it off to Nana, mistakes and all. A few days later, she called me up, having just finished it. She praised my writing, lauded my craftsmanship and improvement. She pointed out that I was particularly good at writing the younger point of view. She told me I was talented. I believed her. And so I kept at it.

I continued sending her novels and short stories. She became my favorite early reader. She showed my work to her friends. She reported back on what they thought. She invited me to lunch and I drove out to the nursing home, where Nana was thrilled to show me off as her writer grandson. I got a kick out of that.

We ate lunch together, amongst her new friends, as she talked about her writers’ group and book club. She told me how proud she was of me. I told her I had a good teacher.

And then we ordered ice cream.


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