Meet My Nana

It took a long time for me to process my relationship with my maternal grandmother, or Nana, as we called her. It’s not that I didn’t love her, because I did. It’s not that we had a bad relationship, because we didn’t. It’s just that I did not really know her the way I knew my grandfather, her husband.

My grandfather, or Papa, was a talker. He told these amazing stories about growing up in the low country of South Carolina; the people, the places, the food. He made me proud of my Gullah heritage and would answer any question that I threw at him. He didn’t even bat an eye when I asked him if he had been a slave. Nana, not so much.

Nana was busy being a wife, mama and grandma. She didn’t have time for “all that talk foolishness.” She had things to do like: cook, clean, wash, ironing, church, and more. Her conversations with me were about her giving me lessons on being a woman, although I didn’t know that then. Historically, Black women, regardless of class status, had little time for leisurely activities; they were in charge. They kept their homes and their communities in order. When we did have “free time”, Nana taught me how to crochet, a skill that I still have, but seldom used.

I’d like to think that my organization skills came from my Nana. She was always on point. She had days designated for certain tasks and I would dutifully follow her around mimicking her every move. I knew that when I grew up, I wanted to be just like her; strong, sturdily built, loving, and a fierce dresser. Yes, my Nana had been stunting on folks since 1909, the year she was born.

My childhood, particularly my early childhood, was filled with my Nana’s aroma. Not just the sweet scent of her, but the aromas she manifested throughout the house: butterscotch candy in the blue glass dish on the coffee table, creamy grits on the stove, the super-heavy starch she used to make clothes stiff enough to walk by themselves, the Ivory Soap flakes she used to bathe me in their claw-foot tub.

As I got older, I learned more about who she was as a person, via things that she’d let slip out, or random things my mom would say. I found out that she had been a hairdresser to all the prominent Black preacher’s wives and had her own catering business to boot. Nana’s early 20th century formal education only went as far as the 8th grade, but she was smarter than a whip. Smart enough, in fact, to go and get her high school diploma while my mom was in middle school. Her reasoning? To be able to help my mother with math.

Today marks the 19th anniversary of my Nana’s death. I was a 17 year old barely into my spring semester of my freshman year of college. I will never forget the phone call I received from my mother. I still don’t understand where my mother got the fortitude to call her her only child to tell her that the woman she loved with all her heart had died — she probably got it from Nana.

Although I stumbled through my teen years and pretty much through my 20’s, it was the foundation that my Nana helped lay that has helped get me to where I am today. From her, I learned that I don’t have to be “perfect” for someone else, that I can infuse creativity into my daily life and not have to struggle to find it, how to use charm and wit in any situation, how to set a table, that it’s ok to start over (she and my Papa were each other’s second marriages), and most importantly, how to love.

I really miss my Nana and would give anything to have her hug me and to taste her potato salad just one more time, but I am truly grateful that I had her in my life for the time she was here.

Nana, I love you, always.