I remember the clematis winding up the side of the cabin, deep purple faces turning to the little bit of sun between the trees on the mountain top. Nana must have whispered charms and sprinkled Gaelic faerie dust to get them to grow there.
I remember the smell of the wood stove Nana cooked on, how the scent seeped into my clothes while we there, but I didn’t notice until I unpacked my bag at home – each time, I didn’t want to wash those clothes and lose that smell.
I remember the mouse Nana put in her hair before Sunday mass. It was her way to dress up, to tidy her auburn curls; later she would let those curls go to silver, like a shining crown.
I remember when my best friend and I visited the summer before high school and we found an aged bottle of Cover Girl liquid foundation in the medicine cabinet. We promptly “tried it” until the bottle was empty. I still love and detest the smell of Cover Girl makeup.
I remember when I started high school and Nana complimented my school uniform, including the stiff white blouse. As I left the room, Nana called out in her brogue, “But haven’t you got a braaaaaa?” where bra rhymed with ‘land’ and was three syllables long. My mother was somewhat horrified that Nana had noticed and mentioned it. Mum said, “I’ve been meaning to get her more undershirts.” Then it was my turn to be horrified; even though I didn’t “need” a bra, I wanted one, to acknowledge my grown-up-ness. Another cotton undershirt would keep me in childhood. I remember wondering why Nana could see me growing up, but my mother would not.
I remember how easy it was to do dishes, or sweep up, or help out in any of a dozen ways at Nana and Pop’s cabin.
I remember Nana’s ready laugh – one of the most glorious sounds of my childhood. She enjoyed a grandchild’s knock-knock joke as easily as a bawdy tale. Nana’s laugh could wrap me up in safety and happiness.
I remember working with Nana in her garden, pulling weeds from the summer-dusty soil or standing side-by-side picking green beans from a vine. We chatted then, and I told Nana things I shared with no one else.
I remember the sharp steam of vinegar, rising and filling the hot kitchen, as Nana made pickles from the harvest. My favourites were the cauliflower-green bean mustard pickles. They were Nana’s favourite, too. Oh, and the pickled crab-apples with cloves.
I remember Nana telling me, “Keep the boys at arm’s length,” and I would laugh back, “Of course Nana, right within my arms’ length,” making a hugging motion. At first Nana was distressed, then it became our joke.
I remember the brown + cream patterned dishes at Nana’s – how special they felt, how they were used for every meal. I have a pair of those cups-and-saucers, along with a pair of dessert dishes in my kitchen, and I cherish every cup of coffee or scoop of ice cream from them.
I remember the way Nana asked about my “darling daughter” every time we spoke, and how delighted she was to meet Kristina the first time, every time. I sent Nana photos of Kristina as she grew, and when we visited, there would be a collage of children’s photos on the refrigerator. Kristina was always delighted to see her place in this collection – her place in the family documented and secure even though we lived far away.
I remember Nana’s 90th birthday party – it was Pop’s last time leaving the care home for a family event, and he was aware and present for that celebration with Nana and family.
I remember when Nana met Ed. She could see what we were together, and said she expected the next time we met, Ed and I would be Mr. and Mrs. Less than a month later, she took a turn for the worse. A few days after that, she was gone. I’m so grateful she and Ed met each other, each so important in my life – Nana, with the stories of my past, and Ed, with the promise of my future.
Nana died six years ago. I still miss her every day.