Granny Nancy died nine days before I was born. She was my mother’s maternal granny, my great-granny, but she has always been Granny Nancy to all of us.
My mother was very close with her grandmother, and I imagine that must have been a terribly difficult and confusing time – to lose her beloved grandmother, while waiting for her first child to be born. My own Granny, my mother’s mother, died six weeks after my fourth child arrived. We had a close relationship too, and she had only ever seen my baby boy on Skype. So I have some sense of those very mixed-up feelings: pure joy at beholding this new life of love and potential, and impossible grief and mourning for the loss of a precious life ended.
Obviously my birthday is close to my Granny Nancy’s yahrzeit (the anniversary of the death of a loved one is commemorated in the Jewish tradition by lighting a special 24-hour candle and reciting a prayer. This day in our Gregorian calendar is not consistent from year to year, because it is observed according to the Hebrew calendar). In the 40 years since she died, her yahrzeit has not yet fallen on my birthday. This year it is two days before.
Granny Nancy did not meet her first great-grandchild. But I am named for her.
My own relationship to Granny Nancy is unique, special, fragile and very beautiful for me. She is both real and imaginary, created from photographs, mementos, stories and memories and alive in the sayings, mannerisms and hand gestures I absorbed from both my grandmother and my mother. The way we laugh. Or mutter something under our breath. The way we use our hands when telling a story.
My mother has Granny Nancy’s chair in her living room, and I have a tablecloth that belonged to her. I wore her beautiful heart pendant at my bat mitzvah and I am keeping it safe for Sage to wear at hers.
Granny Nancy’s yahrzeit is almost upon us and I know my mother is thinking about the decades that have passed without her special grandmother, and that her “baby” is turning 40 soon. I have been thinking about Granny Nancy too, but more about my own grandmother. The hours I spent with her, watching her sew, drinking tea from a saucer, helping her bake, trying to knit because she was knitting. We would laugh and laugh, do the crossword puzzle in the Fair Lady together, gossip about her friends and mine. She was always frying fish, and often had a fine dusting of flour on her cheek or down her pajamas. Before I left South Africa I bought her a red cardigan from Woolworths and she wore it all the time.
In an attempt to put technicolor pictures to my mind’s slightly fuzzy and jumbled memories, I went through old photographs. I adore this one of my Granny, my mother and me. I was her first grandchild and I am transfixed by the way she and my mom are looking at me with so much love.
And of course I noticed the old-fashioned furnishings, clothes, colors – Granny’s fabulous hot pink and white sheer shirt, the pearls, my mom’s straight dark hair. That pale pink petticoat lamp and the heavy ashtray on the nightstand. And I vividly remember the pale violet bedspread I am sitting on in my parents’ bedroom. Vintage treasures. Like my memories. And my connections to my grandmothers.
This post was written as part of the April A to Z Challenge. To read more of my A to Z posts click here.