From Chicken Soup for the Grandma's Soul


Becoming a grandmother is wonderful. One moment you’re just a mother. The next you are all-wise and prehistoric.

Pam Brown

She was a wild woman of the west. Unlike any woman you’ve met, she left an impression on you that you’d never forget. She wore crazy earrings, loved the desert and looked like she walked right out of a Louis L’Amour novel. Her name was Waneene, my husband’s grandmother, and we called her Nana.

Nana was eccentric, feisty and spicy. And at the same time she was one of the kindest, most softhearted women who ever walked this earth. Accepting everyone as they are, she loved you completely and made you feel like you were somehow more special than anyone else. It was her way, a gift with her. She never let a conversation with me end without saying, “I love you, darlin’.”

A child of the earth, Nana preferred the outdoors and hungered for it like a firefly for a summer night. The most remarkable thing about her was that she lived as she pleased and didn’t give a hoot what anyone thought. “True to herself” is the best way I can describe her. She taught me that and reminded me often to embrace life and love and to live with all my heart. “Life is short, don’t waste a second of it,” seemed to be her mantra, as she repeated it to me often and emphatically. She not only said it, but she lived it too.

When the Utah winters slowly melted away, Nana would give her landlord notice, pack up her apartment and move into a tent for the summer. She loved the mountains; she loved the desert; she loved anything and anywhere outside. Camping and hunting were as natural to her as cookie baking to most grandmothers. Swearing she had the spirit of a Native American, I could picture Nana squatting near a campfire, making an aloe medicine concoction from scratch and weaving a basket. With her own pistol and a love for jerky, venison and cold river water, she could easily have fit in during the wild days of western migration. I can visualize her winning a shooting contest with Billy the Kid and then telling him to mind his manners.

Our family spent many happy summers camping with Nana and learning the ways of nature. She personally taught me how to cook a full meal for six over a campfire with nothing more than flour and weird spices. Whenever we ate Nana’s cooking, we usually whispered discreetly to each other, “What the heck is this?”

The first summer I met her, we attended our first Mountain Man Rendezvous, where we ate fried bread dripping with honey and joined an Indian pow-wow. Nana, head thrown back in laughter, eyes sparkling as she joined in the Native American dance of friendship, her sun-catcher earrings glinting in the firelight, showed me how to really live. Over the years, Nana’s lessons in living impacted me, and I began to remember to cherish each little miracle in my own life. I remembered to say “I love you” more often, to stop and watch the clouds float by, and to accept others with a wide-open heart, always feeling Nana prompting me.

My husband told me of amazing childhood memories of living in a ghost town in Arizona with this woman who was part gypsy, part cowgirl. She taught him how to pan for gold, and together they fed wild burros that had long ago been abandoned by silver miners. They watched weekend “shoot-outs” on the dusty, dirt-covered main street of the tiny western town, a pocket of history alive in the Arizona desert. His childhood was painted with adventures with Nana, wherever she happened to be living at the time. She taught him to love God and nature, and our children were blessed to have these values passed on to them. At times I can see glimpses of the earthiness of Nana in my children’s spirits. My oldest son loves nothing more than to sleep under the stars and catch his own meals in the cold, flowing stream. Just like Nana.

“I’m here for you, honey,” she said when my sister died of a brain tumor. I didn’t know that only three weeks later I would be giving the eulogy at Nana’s own funeral.

On Mother’s Day, Nana was absent from our traditional family dinner. My gift to her lay unopened, the card sealed. She didn’t feel well enough for the one-hour drive out of the mountains where she lived. We called her that night and made plans to drive up soon for a visit. I told her how much we all loved her, and she told me that it was important to her that I understand that she knew. Her last words to me were, “I love you, darlin’.”

The following Sunday, as my family was driving home from Palm Springs, where we had spent the week, the car phone call came. Nana had died. Suddenly and without warning, she was gone.

I wish I had hugged her one last time and thanked her for teaching me to be true to myself, to love unconditionally and to live life with zest and passion. I miss Nana, but her spirit remains eternally. I see her in the sunset, in the untamed desert of the west. I see her in the mountains of Utah and the dancing fields of wildflowers. I see her in every bit of beauty that God has blessed us with, and forever I will see her in the eyes and spirits of my children.

I love you, darlin’.

Susan Farr-Fahncke

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