Nana’s Mysterious Panache

Nana’s Mysterious Panache

From Chicken Soup for the Grandparent's Soul

Nana’s Mysterious Panache

In youth we learn; in age we understand.

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She was grand! But Nana adamantly disclaimed the title, explaining, “No one is grander than your own mother.”

Picture Rosalind Russell’s portrayal of Auntie Mame and you get a glimpse of my grandmother. Strong and independent, she drove the first car in town, wore pants when that was still scandalous, and she never minded a bawdy joke. Nana vivaciously dashed through life, lighting up the lives of everyone she met. I wondered why the slings and arrows of life never seemed to overwhelm her.

Domestic chores, even the making of lard soap, were performed effortlessly and cheerfully. I’d watch as she scurried about, emptying ashtrays into the silent butler. How unique that was! Yet, upon seeing a bored child, she’d immediately drop her towel and sit down to teach a game of solitaire.

Basking in the warmth of her sunny presence, I’d watch as the last hairpin was pinned in her brightly hennaed hair.

“Want to walk to the grocer’s with me, Honeypot?”

“Oh, yes.” I was always proud to walk with her. Tall and slender, and dressed so impeccably (she was the only grandmother who wore spike-heeled shoes—an important distinction to me), Nana energetically marched along, calling out, “Hello there, Little Miss Pumpkin. Bunny Boy, how’s your lovely mama today?” as neighborhood kids waved and shouted, “Hi, Mrs. K.” They sensed here was a woman who knew—and believed—in kids.

Deliverymen and visitors always lingered at Nana’s gracious home. Laughing and chattering, she discussed politics or recipes with equal enthusiasm; her gold cigarette holder waving through the air, punctuating the discourse with grace. Framed by a strong, square jaw and prominent cheekbones, her wonderful smile—wrinkles danced as she spoke, and sparkling green eyes watched for signs of trouble. The surly became cheerful; crudeness was treated with gentility. Nana gave strength to the sorrowful, calm to the hysterical, and everyone left feeling touched by her love. Why, I pondered, did she never seem cranky?

Widowed at age fifty-two, she invited me for sleep-overs more often. Mornings, waking to her raspy voice singing in the kitchen, brought new adventures in food.

“Your breakfast is served, my queen.” Pretending to be my lady-in-waiting, Nana pulled out the chair with a flourish. Elegantly set, my place held a juicy, ripe mango and a boiled egg standing in a delicate little cup. Fine crystal and bone china were used daily, never stored away.

Some evenings, after the dinner table was cleared, Nana would throw a sweater over her shoulders and go out into the night. Finally, I asked, “Nana, where are you going . . . can I come?”

“No, darling,” she’d chuckle. “This is my alone time.” I sensed an air of mystery in this.

One evening, after Nana had slipped out, I climbed out the bedroom window and followed her—at a distance; Nancy Drew stories had taught me well. Nana walked swiftly down two lamplit blocks and went inside the neighborhood church (churches never closed back then). I hid behind a massive pillar as Nana knelt down in the pew; no prayer book in her hand. After a few moments, she bent her head. When she finally looked up, I saw, in the glimmer of dozens of candles, her face shining with tears. Nana was crying! She stared at the altar. Slowly, ever so slowly, the corners of her mouth began to curve upward. The gentle curve grew and grew. At last, that unique and wonderful smile returned. A moment longer she sat, then, as though consummating a business deal, she briskly arose, genuflected once, and bustled away.

Once back snug in bed, I contemplated what I’d just learned. Bring my sorrows to church. Leave them there. In the face of adversity, put on a smile; before long, it will be genuine. Nana had struggles just like the rest of us; she just refused to succumb to them.

Lynne Zielinski

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