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  • Writer's pictureJessica Strike

Remembering Nana

On Tuesday I got a call from my mom as we came home from vacation in Kansas City. My Nana wasn't doing well, she had maybe days left to live. This came as a huge shock, while her health hadn't been great these last several months, she seemed stable enough. I cried most of the rest of the way home, Beaches style, with a filmstrip of memories playing in my mind's eye.

Minutes after walking in the door at home that night another call. I better come down, Nana was fading fast. I made it to her apartment with mere moments to spare. I sat at her bedside with my mom, holding her hand, smoothing her hair and telling her what a wonderful Nana she was. I saw her last breath, felt her pulse fade under my fingertips. My Nana was gone.

The next day as I was talking to our daughters about Nana being gone, we passed a flag at full mast. Melody, knowing flags fly at half mast when someone (important) dies, wondered why it was up all the way after Nana died. I explained it was mostly for famous people and that Nana was not. It gave me pause as the words tumbled from my mouth.

Nana's life was small to the world but it made a huge impact on me.

My Nana, so full of love and affection holding me as a baby, doting on me. Taking full advantage of the fact that grandparenting is so much easier, so much more relaxed than parenting. And boy did she and Papa love to spoil their grandkids! Time, love, treats, their hearts were open on every level to us!

She is the one who "rescued" me from a crying newborn sister to have some days of undivided attention with her and Papa. The one whose lap I sat on as President Reagan rolled through our town, smiling, glamorous as we waved an American flag. Every Easter an egg hunt (with real hard boiled eggs, one always was forgotten until weeks later!) and the annual picture by "Big Bunny."

The one who let pot bellied, diaper clad me waddle through her garden plucking fistfuls of juicy red raspberries from the prickly bushes. I cannot buy a pack of raspberries, let alone taste them without being transported back to that big, beautiful garden she had at her house on the lake.

On the summer breeze I still can hear her belt out the "Birdie Song" for us in an exaggerated German accent as we sat on the wooden bench swing hanging from a big shade tree. Or taste the brown and yellow sandwich cookies we'd bring on the pontoon boat to eat as we'd play cards on warm afternoons.

The simple afternoons at her house on the lake, catching frogs, playing in the water, fishing. I love the outdoors, the water, the summer because of all the time she set aside to spend with us.

The time my sister got lost in her tiny corn field in her garden and she came to her rescue and her laughing, all of us laughing, as she told the story for years after. I love gardening, the feel of my hands as they work the dirt, pull weeds and cultivate life, thanks to her. I'm no where near as gifted but I so appreciate that she instilled that love in me. And as summer rolled into fall, we'd check on our pumpkins she'd etched our names into with a needle, watched our names stretch and distort on that warm orange skin. Or "dig for gold" in the potato mounds. Even after we moved away from West Bend she'd still call us with the news the potatoes were ready and we'd make the trip, it was a special thing to do with her! And every fall when we were small, she'd dress as a black cat and we'd wear costumes into her garden to pick pumpkins and gourds, carving them all together.

As we grew we'd visit for weekends, and I know she knew we "forgot" our pajamas on purpose so we could wear her beautiful "nighties" and be figure skaters on the linoleum of her kitchen or ballet dancers as she played classical music. We'd play Uno for hours, eating snacks (this must be where my sweet tooth comes from!) and laughing until I literally would pee my pants! When I think of Nana and Papa, I think of so much laughter and happiness!

Nana loved to call occasionally to check in, to see what adventures Greg and I were up to. She was such a wonderful listener, truly present in the moment, which I feel is a dying art. I hope this is something I can practice to improve upon. It made me feel so important, so loved. And when she moved up here a few years ago, she loved to read the girls High Five magazines, and always kept a box of Teddy Grahams in her house, a favorite from when we were kids. The snack she taught us to eat the heads off of first! Nana loved to hold Melody and Vivian's plump little hands, asking for one more kiss, one more hug before we'd go.

I miss her so very much. I know she was ready to rest, to be with Papa, the half of her whole, but my heart hurts knowing the world is without such a kind soul, such a beautiful life. I'm so grateful she was in my life, that I carry so much of her in me.

I'm so grateful God put her in my life as my Nana.

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