Sorry, that is a joke for exactly 5 of my Facebook friends. I have a habit of posting this status every International Woman’s Day:
“Tell me about the strongest woman you know” or some variation.
The first time I asked, my friend Chad wrote the most flowery things about his wife, who is a strong, amazing woman.
After that about 50% of the rest of the comments were some variation of “Chad’s Wife”.
So, when I ask every year, I get that as an answer from at least one person. It makes me giggle and I probably didn’t need to explain it to you.
But like I said, it makes me giggle and I like doing things that make me giggle.
I also like my Nana. Now, because of a combo of my poor memory, inability to visualize and my family’s proclivity to keep everything a secret (not to mention all of the stuff I’ve learned was complete and utter lies), my memories of her are quite spotty.
But here’s what I know:
She was an incredible cook. Every year for Christmas, Nana would make my bro and I Chex Mix. But, not, like, a giant bowl of it, but two entire popcorn tins full. Like, a lot of Chex Mix. Hers was the best too. No pesky pretzels or random non-Chex pieces. It was all corn. All wheat. All savory. All delicious. It was also my favorite Christmas present every year. Now I am the sole proprietor of the secret recipe.
She was an immigrant. She met my Papa in Germany when he was overseas in the military. She was a single mother, raising a child in Hessen, Germany. She married my papa and brought her kid to America, later giving birth to one other child (after many many miscarriages) who ended up giving birth to me eventually.
Here is where my memory/the stories I was told/my weird brain jumbles things all up.
I was told that my Nana was in the Hitler youth, but that doesn’t at all jive with the Nana I knew or even the stories that my Papa told about her. (Papa loved this woman more than life it-fucking-self. I will never forget the sound of the call he made to me when she passed away.)
I mean, I did some dumb shit when I was young that I don’t want people to hold me to, so my assumption is she woke up and grew, just like I have been doing.
I was also never told about the many, many miscarriages my Nana had. I didn’t learn of them until later, when I was looking through the birth and death records in our family bible.
The first food she ate in America was popcorn. I remember this clearly because she told me this story a lot. She had heard about it when living in Germany and she didn’t want to taste anything else in America until she tried popcorn.
So my papa made that happen for her. And she freaking loved it, y’all. She was delighted every time she had it, too. I loved going to the movies with her.
She learned English from reading comic books. My Nana was a voracious reader, never without a book in her hand. Every year for my birthday and Christmas she would be sure to get me a book, and she’d ask for specific things that I “wanted to get into”. She used different language that I can’t remember, but I know the important part of these books were that I was discovering something new to me. The ones I remember most were old, old version of the complete works of Shakespeare and a slim volume of ee cummings poems.
She would be sure to read them as well, so that we could talk about the things I read. That was probably the greatest part of the gift, tbh. That, and the inscriptions she wrote in every single book.
But she wouldn’t have been able to read along with me if it weren’t for comic books, lol. Her preferred genre was what she called “Crimmies!” aka True Crime books, so we bonded over a lot of serial killer books.
She loved Denzel Washington. But she could never remember his name. So now, whenever I talk about him I call him “Winchell Washington” as a nod to my Nana.
She left my Papa once. She and my Papa had kind of a tumultuous marriage. They loved each other SO MUCH, but weren’t so good on expressing it to each other. Papa was also most definitely an alcoholic looking back on things and I am sure that was a major factor in the ups and downs in the relationship.
I remember going to visit her in her one-bedroom apartment. It had lots of light and a single table and chair and Nana just looked so tiny and scared rattling around all alone in there.
I think about this a lot and I wish Nana was around to ask about it. Things must have been bad enough where she scraped together her wages from assisting at the eye doctors to rent an apartment.
And I can’t even imagine what that conversation looked like. Oof, or sounded like. I bet it was scary.
She was back within the month (based on my memory) and stayed by his side til her death. The marriage was much less tumultuous upon her return.
She rescued Cabbage Patch Kids. I grew up during the CPK craze in the 80s, so we had a lot of them around.
When she would go to the Jockey Lot (a flea market near her house), she would buy up all the naked Cabbage Patch Kids she could find. The ones all marked up with crayons and half-cut hair that have been loved so hard someone found them too ugly to keep.
My Nana would snatch them up, crochet them new outfits, clean up their faces and pile them onto the bunk bed my brother and I would share when we visited their house.
She survived a house fire. And all the rescued Cabbage Patch Kids burned up. I don’t know any details of the fire except that. When we drove up to see them after the fire, I remember picking through the rubble and finding one doll, Kara, half burned, with her hair nothing more than crispy nubs. Nana nursed her back to health and continued with her CPK rescue until she was no longer able.
She didn’t judge me when I randomly popped out a kid. It seemed like everyone else was full of judgement towards me when I gave birth. I heard “What is everyone going to say?” a lot. I honestly don’t remember much about the day I gave birth except the Bette Midler episode of Seinfeld was on in the room.
I remember feeling very small and very embarrassed and very scared. While some of my family members tried to figure out how we could best hide this (to preserve reputations of course), my dad went to the store and bought baby stuff, because we ain’t had nothin’. I could tell he was so disappointed in me though. I hated that so much.
But my Nana… didn’t. She showed up and met D and showed us both nothing but love. And for that I will be forever grateful. I’m glad they got to meet and spend time together. I just wish it had been more!
She also loved a good bath too. I guess that’s where I get it from.
p.s. When I graduated High School she presented me with a scrapbook she had made for me with, like, literally everything from my High School experience. INcluding this photograph of me and my friend Glenda singing an En Vogue song in a talent show held in the SCHS gym on pushed together cafeteria tables.