When I think of Nana, I think of color. She had a way of making the ordinary full and alive, and being in Nana’s house meant color–a backyard engulfed in plants and flowers to explore for hours, crystals hanging in the window making “rainbows” on the walls, wrapping myself up in the kaleidoscopic afghans she had crocheted. Her vibrant personality even flowed into her clothing– bright hues, bold prints, and not least of all her hallmark muumuus. But I think my favorite part about Nana was the multi-faceted shades that made up her life as a wife, mother, and grandmother. Just as buttercream, lemon, saffron, and goldenrod are all yellow, love, hilarity, strength, sass, tenderness, and a hundred other nuances combined make Nana unmistakably “Nana.”
Creativity flourished when you were with Nana. She could draw anything you could dream up–which meant I had close to an entire portfolio’s worth of cat drawings–crouching! sleeping! walking! sitting! She nailed them all, and I would try my hardest to copy them. The organ was never off limits, even though I can imagine now what a ten minute rendition of “Heart and Soul” played in the synthetic accordion and harpsichord must sound like. She tried to teach me to crochet, and when my enduring abhorrence of crafting became evident, she would sit by me and work on a blanket while I ditched plans for a blanket and worked on a long braid of yarn, changing the color for me as often as I wished. Because of Nana, pancake breakfasts will always hold a special place in my heart. Partnered with Grandad, there was not a single shape of pancake you could think of that they could not make.
Nana was always ready with a story to share about my dad, and aunts and uncles, and I was especially gleeful when it had something to do with them getting into trouble. She would tell me about animals and places where she had traveled. I remember being thoroughly certain that Hawaii must smell like Nana’s perfume. I remember she would let me roll around on her water bed until I was nearly seasick. One day I went in to play on her bed and I saw one of her wigs on a mannequin’s head. Not knowing she wore a wig, it scared the bejeezus out of me. I remember watching Nana very closely the rest of the day to make sure she hadn’t been kidnapped and had an impostor in her place. She obviously passed the test, as no one could come close to imitating her.
Being with Nana meant adventures big and small–a family trip to the theater in San Francisco, or a granddaughter-grandparent escape to Disneyland via train. Nana understood the importance of one-on-one time. We would often get coupons for hugs, sleepovers, and special outings. One of my most dear memories of Nana was using one of her “coupons” for an ice cream date, just me and her. I felt so special in that ice cream parlor, just the two of us. I knew I was important to her. It made such an impression that I think of it every time I go on our traditional monthly one-on-one “dates” with our kids. I want to be able to pass on that feeling I had just sitting in Baskin Robbins with my Nana.
Along with knowing the importance of meaningful time, Nana understood the importance of embracing everyone’s individuality. As an ineradicably shy little girl (and even as an adult), Nana seemed to understand that my quiteness and introversion wasn’t something to “fix.” Nana let me be quiet, and loved me, and was proud of me, not in spite of my personality, but I think because of it. I hope I can keep making her proud.
After hearing so many stories about her life recently, many for the first time, I feel like I am just beginning to know her. I know I will think of her all the more now when Adam has a lucky fishing day, when Haley pores over jewelry catalogues for hours, or when Jane flaunts her animated personality. I needed more time to soak up her experience, knowledge, and laughter. To say that Nana loved her family and was a bedrock of love to all those who had the privilege to know her feels like such an understatement–like trying to define color, I’m not sure if there are words to really capture it.