Cathartic Ink

putting my own spin on things



This generation of Americans has a rendezvous with destiny.
– F. D. Roosevelt

Nanie as a Baby
Nanie as a baby, 1921 or 22 I believe [she was born in 1921]

Today would have been the 87th birthday of a woman I loved dearly, a woman who in just three short years made an impact on my life so deep that her passing was one of the key catalysts in a total overhaul in regards to knowing who I am.

Long before I met Nanie, I had heard stories of her from her grandson, my most beloved husband. Nanie was TheBoy’s maternal grandmother and growing up with a working mom, he had spent many many afternoons and evenings with her, eating corn and hamburgers and making chocolate pudding. She had a metal hamburger patty shaper and it was his job to press the meat into the ring to form neat, even burgers for their dinner (this ring now lives in our home, as both a precious artifact and also as useful tool).

When I moved to Oregon two short weeks before my 23rd birthday, Nanie (who I would not meet until nearly a month later) sent gifts to me via my husband’s mother. They were totally random, but clearly showed me that I had been welcomed to the family even though my relationship with her grandson was still relatively new and untested. The gifts were powerful symbols to that effect.

Nanie 1973
Nanie and my mother-in-law, 1973

When I met Nanie, I was nervous. My grandparents were either a. long passed or b. distant geographically and I had not spent much time with members of their generation. I was (and to an extent still am) unsure of how to talk to and act around the elderly. My nervousness with Nanie melted away easily and I quickly began to understood what it meant to really have a grandparent who was close both emotionally and geographically. I cannot recommend it enough, and I am truly sad that I will never again have that same type of relationship with anyone else.

Nanie was a total spitfire. A fall down the stairs a few years back had lowered her mobility so we were frequently called upon to carry things down from her upstairs for her. She continued to go for walks as many days as the weather allowed, cheerfully pushing her bright red walker around her neighborhood in all but the worst of weather, her scotty dog Reggie by her side. Unfortunately I never got to meet Reggie as he passed on just before I moved here, but I hear he was as much a spitfire as she was.

Nanie was occasionally grumpy and always stubborn. She was fiercely devoted to her family and her friends and was always there to help us along when we hit a rough patch. She loved to entertain, although in the final year or so of her life her ability to do so was starting to diminish. Our family will never forget the Sunday Dinner at her house where she insisted on serving me a pressed turkey loaf. The rest of the family was eating ham, a food I patently disliked and although my mother-in-law tried to convince her to cook me a chicken breast, or a real turkey breast, she was insistent that this turkey loaf was the best option. Well, I can tell you, it was not. It was soggy, and covered in gravy, a food I am patently revolted by. I scraped the jelly-like gravy off politely and forced myself to choke down enough to pretend that I was full. At the end of the dinner she tried to send the leftover turkey home with me. I begged off, insisting she should keep and eat it because I’d never eat it all before it spoiled. She was happy and none-the-wiser. Me? I got a hamburger on my way home.

Nanie 1982
Nanie in 1982. Taken at JC Penney, this was during the time she worked there.

Nanie was a Knitter. Somewhere during the last year of her life she lamented to me that she could no longer knit booties because the needles she needed for them were too small for her arthritic hands. She was also a talented seamstress. She was redheaded, although it had faded greatly as she aged. She had only worked outside of the home for a short time in her life, when she worked at JC Penney. She spent the early part of her life in Illinois, only moving west to please her husband (Papa). She never really liked the rain and always missed the Midwest although I’m sure the Rockford she remembers is now a much changed city. She and Papa got a divorce in the 1970s when it was still an uncommon thing to do, but she saved cards and letters he had written her while they were married (she and Papa remained friendly until he passed in 1999).

I remained mute at Nanie’s memorial service, because any words I would have liked to say would have been strangled by my tears. However, had I been able to say what I would have liked to, it would have read very similarly to this here. I am still angry that I got to spend such a short time with her but I am so thankful that it was as long as it was. I have mourned, finally, the passing of my own grandparents in my mourning for her. I know how much she loved me, and that I was never her grandson’s girlfriend/wife, I was her granddaughter. My only regret was all the questions I never thought to ask about her life, the stories she could have told me if only prompted. She apparently started to write her life story at one point, that document is being kept safely by her daughter, to be held for posterity. I am thrilled that she was able to enjoy our wedding, that she was strong and well for it, and that her end was short and pain-free.

Nanie 2007
Nanie at our wedding in 2007.

Happy birthday Nanie, your passing has left a hole in my heart that no one will ever be able to fill, and I love you.


  1. Mark

    This is a beautiful tribute to a woman you very obviously loved and respected. Very touching.

  2. T

    That was very beautiful. I now understand how you feel. My Grandmother would have been 87 in a couple of days as well… Funny…