18. Nana Ha Ha

18. Nana Ha Ha

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Family Matters

Nana Ha Ha

Families are about love overcoming emotional torture.

~Matt Groening

Nana Ha Ha lived with my family for nearly twenty years. She moved in after a car accident and subsequent head trauma left her unable to live alone. Physically, she pretty much made a full recovery. But mentally…

My mother said Nana was “a little off” even before the accident, but the crash definitely took its toll. I had dubbed her Nana Ha Ha when I was a toddler and couldn’t say “Nana Hall,” and the ironic suitability of this “misnomer” was revealed to me over the years she lived with us. Whatever was to blame—age, accident, personality—Nana Ha Ha was a bit loony.

She often stopped us to ask a random yet longwinded question or share some out-of-the-blue story. Growing up, my brother Jeffrey and I developed ways to avoid these encounters. Or if trapped, how to get out of them as quickly as possible. Jeffrey holds the award for The Best Getaway.

Jeffrey, my friend Kristen, and I were lounging on the couch watching TV one afternoon when we heard the telltale shuffling and throat clearing of Nana approaching. I turned to Kristen and saw a look on her face that screamed “Oh no!” We became engrossed in a commercial about the super-absorbent power of Bounty.

Nana stood right next to the couch and cleared her throat. Kristen and I stared intently at the TV and Jeffrey played dead.

Another throat clearing followed by a cough. “Not to interrupt, but…”

Kristen and I were trapped. But Jeffrey slouched on the couch, feigning sleep.

Nana started rambling about needing her wooden mixing bowl…

Jeffrey’s butt inched down the couch cushions, his head resting halfway down the back cushion and his legs bent out in front of him.

Something about the ladies at church and an event…

He slithered further down the couch, easing his body slowly off the seat. His shoulders reached the edge of the seat cushions. And with a snore-snort, he slipped his body onto the floor.

Nana continued. Kristen and I nodded. Jeffrey curled up on the carpet in a fetal position.

Something about making muffins or cookies…

Letting out a soft sleepy sigh, Jeffrey rolled over. And away from the couch.

But the last time she made cookies…

Still “asleep,” Jeffrey stretched and slowly rolled his body away.

She had bought blueberry muffin mix. Should she add blueberries…

Jeffrey rolled behind Nana and made a hasty roll right out the door!

If so, she would need to go to the store and she’d already been…

My brother grinned at us from the hallway. I shot him the Evil Eye before he bounded off to freedom.

Or she could use the sugar cookie mix instead…

I shot daggers at the back of Jeffrey’s retreating head. Traitor.

Did we know where that wooden mixing bowl was?

“I don’t know, Nana,” I finally said. “Maybe you should ask Jeffrey.”

In addition to ignoring social cues, Nana also seemed oblivious to some social norms. Like not walking around naked when you live with five other people, even if they are all family.

I was able to avoid most of these Naked Nana showings. But not all. One time, my friend’s younger sister Heather was over to babysit my four-year-old brother James. My parents were going out. Jeffrey and I had plans with friends. Nana had a church function. I was talking to my friend’s sister before I left. We heard the shower start in my grandmother’s room upstairs. But then a few moments later, we heard her shuffling down the stairs and my eyes widened in horror. Utter horror.

Nana was coming down the stairs with no pants. None. Her cotton pajama top stopped at the hip. Nana’s pale, wrinkly, droopy butt cheeks were in full view. Oh. My. God.

Heather had her back to Nana. Words of warning froze in my throat. And just as Nana was halfway down the stairs, Heather turned around. She got a full monty shot.

Unabashed, Nana walked right by us to the kitchen table and retrieved her address book.

“I was just about to get in the shower,” she loudly informed us. Nana had obviously left her hearing aids upstairs with her pants. “And I just had to hurry down to get this before I forgot. Don’t mind me.”

She grabbed her address book and proceeded back up the stairs nonchalantly.

I opened and shut my mouth a few times, gaping like a fish, in attempt to speak. To formulate some kind of explanation for Heather. She turned to me, wide-eyed.

“I… uh… I don’t even know,” I finally stammered. “I’m so very sorry. Um, at least she’ll be leaving soon.”

We stood there, silent, for a moment and shook our heads—as if our memories were Etch A Sketches and we could clear the image. I had to let out a chuckle. How could you not laugh at the absurdity?

With a chuckle herself, Heather said, “I think I’ll go find James now.”

Another time Nana caught me one morning as I was coming out of the bathroom.

“I went to see Dr. Shaw yesterday. He’s a cardiologist. Because of my dizzy spells—you know, I almost took a tumble in church last week when I stood up and your mother is always telling me to be more careful and with my blood pressure…,” Nana rambled. “Anywho, when I went to see my doctor, he sent me to Dr. Shaw. And he wants me to wear this heart monitor for twenty-four hours. I had so much trouble sleeping last night with it on. These electrodes are stuck all over my chest. I’m wired like some kind of machine, hee hee. Do you want to see?”

“No, Nana, that’s okay. I have an idea of what you’re talking about,” I said.

“No, really, you should see what this looks like,” Nana insisted and started unbuttoning her flannel shirt.

Dread hit me. She stood in front of me, blocking the doorway. There was no way to sidestep her, unless I shouldered her out of my way. As much as I wanted to avoid this show-and-tell, I couldn’t do that. So I pleaded.

“No, Nana. Really. It’s okay. You don’t have to show me.”

No luck.

Nana opened her shirt, revealing not only the heart monitor electrodes and attaching wires, but her bare breasts as well. The wires got in the way of wearing a bra, she informed me.

“All these wires attach here, do you see?” she asked, pointing to the small box strapped around her waist that held the monitor. “And these stickies hold the electrodes in place. See? They are rather itchy.”

Unfortunately, I did see. All too much.

“I go back tomorrow to have this taken off and Dr. Shaw will get the results,” Nana said as she buttoned up her shirt.

She shifted slightly to the left and I saw my escape.

“Oh. That’s good, Nana,” I said and bolted out of the bathroom.

Quite the education. And I must admit, although begrudgingly, it was helpful to know a bit about heart monitors when a cardiologist had me wear one to check a slow heartbeat (as a runner, I was just super fit). I also learned how to look like I’m politely listening to a boring story. That came in handy innumerable times as a reporter, and even at some social functions.

Plus, you have to admire a woman who was so comfortable in her own skin that she didn’t let anything inhibit her. Even clothing.

~Kristiana Glavin

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