As soon as I knew what battle ax meant, I associated it with my grandmother. It must be something that comes with being named Margaret, though most called her Peggy or Peg; to us kids, she was Nana.
She grew up in an affluent Philadelphia suburb but followed her husband to Missouri and eventually back to his home state of Florida. She was born between the Depression and World War II which showed itself in her unwillingness to let anything go to waste but truly enjoying the finer things she would allow herself to have.
She worked as an elementary school library and secretary for Westinghouse, the local school board, and an estate planner, her typing and dictation skills acquired at secretary school admired by her superiors. She was fortunate that she was such a skilled typist, as her half-cursive, half-print handwriting was nearly impossible to read.
She did not falter when my grandfather passed away suddenly, my youngest aunt still in high school. She rearranged the furniture, made basic repairs to her house, and actively managed her finances. She moved into a small duplex a bit closer to my parents when I was in elementary school, only moving out when she was convinced by her children that the big blue house was too much for a woman to live in (and take care of) alone.
By her physical form, it wasn’t surprising that she was a high school field hockey player. She was short with calves which lead straight into ankles with no discernible difference in thickness. Her hair had a slight curl, made more prominent by foam rollers each night. Between her desire for modesty, sense of practicality, and perhaps a little bit of self-conscience about her legs, she often wore wide-legged culottes though, of course, a skirt was the only appropriate attire for a woman in church on Sunday morning.
She was stubborn, holding to her belief of what was right despite all attempts to convince her otherwise. She was more politically conservative than my centrist parents though famously adored Bill Clinton, even through his sex scandal. (My mom joked that it was because she thought he was attractive.) She thought woman could work outside the home but that their most important role was to care for the home and children. She was a Christian who shared her faith with everyone she met, her answering machine message starting with a rousing off-key chorus of “This is the day that the Lord has made.”
She baked, maid freezer strawberry jam, and was famous for her spaghetti sauce, a doctored up version of Ragu. She made popcorn the old fashioned way, using a pot on the stove. She sprinkled her portion with Mrs. Dash but let us use salt from her Tupperware salt and pepper shakers.
She never learned to swim but loved to wade. Nearly every Saturday afternoon in the summer she would take my brother and I to the Bathtub beach. We’d play in the water or sand as she rested on her knees in the shallow water. After ensuring we had almost no sand clinging to our bodies, she drove us from the beach to a small convenient store to pick out whatever drink we wanted. We almost always chose Yoo-Hoo.
At her house, she was creative with how she entertained us. We were put to work but she had us competing for who could dust, scrub stained concrete, remove cobwebs, or do dishes faster than the other. We raced sticks, dropping them in a small stream on one side of a bridge then running to the other to see whose got there first. We were allowed to watch TV but the schedule was usually filled going back-and-forth between a cooky comedy variety show named Yee-Haw and old videos of Victor Borgia routines.
She traveled whenever she could. While many trips took her to see her two children who lived outside our town, I remember her trips to Brazil, Puerto Rico, Israel, and Egypt. Sometimes she went as a tourist, others times as a missionary or humanitarian worker. She was proud of her weeks spent laying cement block in the summer heat during the Brazil trip. When my dad was a child, she lead the family on a driving tour of California. She joined the Wandering Wheels trip which toured Europe by bicycle, my dad and his sisters in college or out by that time.
She passed away in the summer between my sixth and seventh grade year from glioblastoma multiforme, an especially aggressive brain cancer. She had to come back to my aunt’s house when she went ill during a trip to Egypt; she lamented not that she was ill but that she had missed seeing the Great Pyramids. She had surgery to remove the main masses but, as we were told by her neurologist, it was the tentacles spread through her brain which would grow and, eventually, kill her. I was lucky enough to be able to spend as much time I desired with her as she had come back to my hometown to be treated; I talked to her about wanting to go to the beach and wade or eat Mrs. Dash popcorn. The original prognosis was six months to a year but did not come to be true. Only six weeks after her first MRI, she was gone.
It’s becoming harder every year to remember her. The sound of her voice is gone from my memory entirely. But I remember her character, her passions, and her slightly crooked smile. She was my Nana. I refuse to let all of her be lost.
(Day 3 of Writing 101 told us to write about someone or some thing we lost. While this post was very difficult for me to respond to, I couldn’t ignore a tugging to write about my Nana.)