Thursday, March 14, 2013

#Slice 2013: 14 of 31 - A Visit with Nana

For the month of March, I am participating in the #March2013 Slice of Life Challenge, hosted by Stacey Shubitz and Ruth Ayres at With many other bloggers, I am writing every day. Feel free to link up to some of the posts and add your comments.

I stopped at my grandmother’s house to visit her on my way home from a day in New York. You would think that would be a pleasant experience. I actually have deep sadness and guilt that visits to Nana are rarely pleasant. 

On my way, I stop at a Starbuck’s to get her dark decaf beans ground. Nana had fought having a Starbucks in her village—had written letters and made phone calls—but now, she prefers Pike’s Roast to the local village coffee shop, so we keep her in stock since, guess what-- her town's zoning board did not approve a Starbucks application. I picked up the bag of coffee in the city but I thought she liked to grind her own beans. Wrong. You’d think that the fact that a St Patrick's  Day Parade was going on in the town next to Nana's (which has a Starbucks) would tip me off to just head home, but I don’t. I head to her house with freshly ground beans, just later than expected, having maneuvered through a sea of green.

“Where was I?” she wants to know.

“There was a lot of traffic,” I answer. She has already repeated what a nuisance the coffee had been for me. (Picking it up in the city had been no problem, I had reassured her.) I do not want to let her know that she was remotely right about those coffee beans being a nuisance. (In fact, they were a first rate pain in the keester.) She has a propensity for being right--if she tells you how to back out of her driveway, do as she says. Otherwise, you are likely to back into the tree that has never before been in the way. If your child is running down the driveway and she says to walk, have your child walk or she is likely to fall and skin her knee. 

I finish my own latte sitting at her kitchen table and I get up to throw the cup out. Nana’s garbage can is under the sink-- one of those cool old-fashioned garbage cans where it slides out and opens up when you step on the pedal Except hers is broken so you have to tuck your fingers under the edge of the upper rim and pull it. Her garbage smells awful and I wince as I open up the lid.

“Don’t put your cup in there,” Nana says.

I look at her. “Where should I put it, Nana?” I ask. “It’s garbage.”

“It takes up too much room, “ Nana says. “Leave it on the counter. I’ll put it in the big garbage can outside. Did you see it when you walked in?”

I hadn't noticed.

“It’s so ugly,” she says, clucking her tongue.

Nana wants me to come into the dining room and look at the photo album that my cousin, Danielle, made for her a year before Danielle jumped out of the tenth floor window of her Roosevelt Island apartment building. I have already seen the pictures and I tell her. The last time I visited, we looked at them, talked about the sadness, and I spent the ride home wishing that I had done more for Danielle. I wonder how much time she spends perusing those pictures.

“Look at the picture that Lee brought,” Nana says, handing me a picture of Danielle walking away in a sunset. Lee, her former/surviving (what’s the correct terminology?) boyfriend had printed Sunrise, Sunset across the top of the picture before he sent it to Nana. I’m not sure what the right response is. I know that Lee is having a hard time and that he reached out to Nana when Danielle's parents and brother didn't want him to come and stay with them for an extended period of time.

“So sad,” I say.

“You’re my only granddaughter,” Nana says.

“Not exactly.” I wince as I respond. Am I?

 Why didn’t I drive straight home?

“Look at the picture of your wedding,” Nana says. Nana has many pictures throughout the dining room. Most are of Nana and Pa on various trips in plastic frames, but there are pictures of all of her grandchildren and their weddings clustered  on the maple chest.

“Your mother looked so tired in that picture.” Nana sighs. “She was worn out from planning your wedding. I told her that the last time she visited and I think that she was a little bothered by my saying that.”

Nana’s right about that. My mother had come home and been furious that Nana’s take-away from the picture and the wedding had been that my mother was tired. People still talk about my wedding as an ultimately fun party.

 “It’s true though.” She chuckles a little, or maybe it’s just clearing her throat.

“And then they ran out of booze at your wedding,” she continues.

I look at her and shake my head. “Funny, Nana, I don’t remember that at all,” I say.

Somehow, I get her to segue to the years that she lived on the Monticello farm. I know that she loves to tell stories about that and I have had enough of the pictures. Maybe I can at least mine some stories for my own writing.

“You should write your stories, Nana,” I say, silently predicting her response.

“I’ve tried,” she answers. (I’m correct about her response.) “But I only think of snippets.”

Perfect. “So let’s hear some,” I say.

So, she tells me about the vagrant man who is in and out of the Monticello jail. She met him and thought to herself that he would be helpful to Pa at the chicken farm with all of the extra work. She talked to the guard and left her number. A week later, the Monticello jail called and Pa drove the pick-up truck with no passenger seat down to the jail to pick him up. Somehow there was a rope that they jerry-rigged to serve as a seat, or maybe he just road in the back. The vagrant worked for them for two weeks until he must have been drunk (she has no idea how…) and stepped in a full bucket of eggs. Then, Pa drove him back to the Monticello jail.

A few more stories follow about the farm with the refrain, “We had nothing. It was the depression. We had food and each other, but really, we had nothing.”

I leave after she tells the story about her brother getting killed by a bus when she was three. I have heard that story many, many times. “It’s amazing that I remember that,” she says. “It changed my life, though.”

Maybe she remembers it because everyone told it so many times.

As I drive down Huntville Road, I wonder. Can one first memory cast a shadow on all future memories? How we remember can be so very different than what we remember. I wish I could enjoy her and have enough positive energy to combat her sadness. So many visits I come away with wishes of how I could have been kinder, nicer, gentler to such an old, lonely, sad person. Maybe next time... In the meantime, I think that stepping in a bucket of eggs has huge potential for a story. I'll have to add that character to my collection.


  1. I think it's great that you go to visit, but imagine you must be completely drained when you leave. And the egg character/ story- that was entertaining.

  2. I think your story is one point in the middle I was really laughing. I connected, I guess because my grandma was crochety also, and would have definitely said that part about about 'your mother looked really tired'. This was a great telling and finally finding a nugget for another story was awesome. xo

  3. Some people are only happy when they can pass on their misery to others. I give you credit to continue to visit your Nana. It's never all bad when you can pull a great slice from the visit. Just keep thinking kind thoughts.

  4. What a touching story, Melanie. I wonder, too, since she said that her brother's death changed her whole life. Did her parents treat her differently after that happened...was she at that age where she just took in everyone's sadness? It is difficult to spend a lot of time with those who give off negative bravo for you...a lot of grand daughters may not take the necessary energy to do so. Jackie

  5. Your post is so bittersweet. Both of my grandmothers passed away many years ago, yet I remember the same kind of frustration you felt while visiting your grandmother. When my mother's mother finally moved into a nursing home, my mother and I spent much of our visits reading to her. We read her all of the Little House books, which she had never read. They distracted her and, even though Laura was 40 years older than her, their experiences growing up on farms weren't so different. I can't wait to read about the vagrant stepping into a bucket of eggs!