My Nana

No, I’m not repeating myself, nor getting addled. I did have two nanas growing up. Or so I thought.

I realized as a adult, going through some old letters, that I had a Nanna and a Nana.

It turns out that my mother’s mother, the subject of my last post,  signed her letters to me “Nanna.” But, for years and years, I wrote to her as Nana.

Kids. So oblivious.

However, my father’s mother was Nana with one “n.”. And, she, too, was a formidable, strong, determined woman.

I grew up, however, not realizing just what a treasure she really was. She and my mother had their differences, and unfortunately, it affected my relationship with her. I was rather in awe of her (not quite fear, but close) all through my childhood. And, again, because I didn’t realize until I was an adult that she really did love me, I missed out on learning more from and about her.

She was the second wife of my grandfather; he was a young widower whose wife had passed away just over a year into their marriage. He married my grandmother in 1912 in Massachusetts about two years after his first marriage.

My grandparents had six children in all, their birthplaces spaced out across the US from Massachusetts to California. The story goes that they would travel until they ran out of money, then my grandfather would find a job until they had enough saved to carry on west.

They didn’t begin the journey alone; my grandfather’s parents joined them. In 1919, while in Illinois, my great-grandfather died two days before my father was born.  My great-grandmother continued to live with the family for many years after they arrived in California, to the distress of my Nana.

But, as I said, she was a fierce little thing. She bore that burden and many more.

My grandfather was a chef, traveling with both the railroad and shipping lines. He was gone for long stretches at a time, leaving my grandmother with their growing family (and his mother, who apparently wasn’t much for help). Nana took in the neighbors’ washing, grew and sold vegetables, and sewed their clothes. She did what ever was needed to get by.

And, from all appearances, their family thrived. All the siblings grew up close to one another, and they all loved their mother fiercely.

My grandfather died when I was only 6 months old, leaving my grandmother a widow for the last 35 years of her life. But, I never heard her complain or feel sorry for herself.

You just did what you had to do, and that was that.

Nana lived to 102. And, a half. And, all except for the last few years she lived independently.

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This is one of my favorite photos of her. Doesn’t she look fabulous? Just bit dangerous, too.

I think it’s perfect.

 

My Nanna

My mother’s mother, Vida Bula Gard Wells, known to me as Nanna, had a huge influence on me growing up.

She was a formidable woman in both body and spirit.

In body, she was a life-long corset/girdle wearer, so her hugs weren’t soft, but rather like hugging a tree trunk. In her later years, she permed and colored her hair into a curly red cap that didn’t move. I never saw her in pants; she was always in a dress with stockings and proper shoes.

In spirit, she was determined, strong, and smart. She attended normal school and became a teacher. She held a steady job through the Great Depression, while my grandfather was self-employed, and the family depended on her regular and sufficient salary. In 1935, she drove herself, her mother, and my 14 year-old mother across the country to Kansas at a time when most women didn’t have a driver license, let alone their own car.

She was born in 1896, and married my grandfather in 1920. She was 24; he was 19. I suspect this caused a bit of a stir.

She was a terrible cook, but thankfully, she often took us out to eat when we visited.

For lunch, we went to the five-and-dime, where I would get a club sandwich (Three slices of bread! Bacon! Little toothpicks with red, yellow, or green cellophane toppers! Bread cut into triangles!).

For dinner, we would all get into her big car and she would drive us to LA’s Chinatown, where we always went to the same restaurant. It was fabulous! A dozen or more different, and to this country girl, exotic, dishes arrayed out on the table. Egg drop soup. Chow mein. Little cookies with messages. Almond cookies with a single slice of nut in the middle of their crusty tops.

She was a life-long member of the Methodist church. On Saturdays, she would arrange the flowers for the next day’s service, and I often was allowed to tag along. Strangely, I don’t remember ever attending a service with her.

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I loved her, but I do wish I had loved her better. I miss her now.