Behind Nana, there was Granny.
Nana’s mother made it to 100. Months later, she died.
It was a hot July in a small Prairie town. Appearances were at the top of the menu, and so Granny’s children had their children – and their children’s children – line their cars up outside of town, in birth order. I still remember the logistical discussion; it went on forever.
But before we lined up, we visited Granny at the small Lutheran church. The casket was open and I stopped myself in the doorway. “That’s not Granny,” I said. And then I witnessed perhaps the most targeted and brief war of wills between my mother and Nana. “You will go up there,” declared Nana. “She doesn’t have to,” clarified my mom. And so I sat outside, while most everyone from the line-to-be spent a few moments w Granny’s body.
There is nothing like a heart wrenching hymn, a small, packed church, and a hot summer day. How Great Thou Art. Amazing Grace. I can see the sunlight on my family and smell the wood of the pews.
Granny was once a great friend to my five year old self. Her mind was elsewhere by then so we were equals of sorts. Oh how I wished I could have pull my teeth out to shock whomever had arrived in the living room for a visit. We shared the same nap schedule, as well as a sneaky ability to stay awake during. But while I found it curious, I was not privy to the conversations she had with the shapes on her light fixture.
When her life was at its end, a hospital bed was moved into Granny’s bedroom. There were questions about next steps, but I knew she would not last the night. The next morning she was gone.
And I don’t remember if it was before or after her funeral, but I can still feel the frenzy as her remaining daughters rushed through her home with cardboard grocery apple boxes, each grabbing what they could. Those same sisters once stood around their mother’s arborite kitchen table making strudel together. I sat underneath, watching their comfortable shoes move behind the dough that hung over the table’s edge. “More raisins, Elsie.” “I think it’s enough, Hedwig.”
I wish I had been one generation back, a grandchild running through the hallways of the old farm house that would burn down when my mother was a teenager. Granny would bellow to them from the bathtub, “Who’s out there? Come wash my back!”
These stories are magic. They are my people. My blood and my passing.