Thursday, November 16, 2006


She was born on this day in 1917. Here, 17 other things I know about Nanny.

1. She has no fear of food that’s clearly past its expiration date: she will ferret it from the furthest reaches of the freezer or pantry and consume it without compunction, claiming that she is merely "cleaning up a bit."

2. To everyone’s madness, she refuses to subscribe to call waiting. Her legion of chatty friends ensures that her phone is frequently busy.

3. She and her little brother Milt, who lives in Skokie, watch CNBC and competitively track the stock market together. In another time and place, she used to hold his hand and walk him to Wrigley Field so they could sit in the stands, watch the Cubbies and keep score together.

4. Until he wandered off to dog heaven, she would often inquire about Muddy’s well-being before asking about her great-grandchildren.

5. A little plaque hanging in her bathroom reads: Use what talents you possess. The woods would be silent if no birds sang except those that sang best.

6. At the age of 16, she was named valedictorian of her Chicago high school. This earned her a scholarship, but her father maintained that only boys went to college. So she went to secretarial school, and her brother went to Northwestern.

7. In 1977, she and my grandfather were driving home from a Shriner convention (yes, red fez and all) when their car was struck by a drunk driver. She was left a widow, with broken legs, arms and ribs. After some time in the hospital, she briefly lived with us. Sarah and I conducted puppet shows (for her amusement) and played card games (for ours) on her massive stretcher-wheelchair-bed.

8. Every Christmas, even now, she bakes a dazzling array of cookies for friends and family. She knows that my favorites are rum balls, so she made a special off-season batch for my birthday this year.

9. I’ve never known her to watch a soap opera, but she does enjoy a good Masterpiece Theater. She also adores the BBC version of Pride and Prejudice.

10. She’s survived one bout each of endometrial cancer and lung cancer, despite having never smoked. Shortly after her diagnosis of lung cancer, Trey and I went to Rome, where I prayed for her at the Vatican. Thankfully, the cancer was contained, and removed, along with half a lung.

11. She’s a Lutheran and is an active participant in her church’s prayer chain. In addition to praying for the problems, real and imagined, of countless others, she has called on the chain to pray for things like my missing contact case. (And my wandering sanity.)

12. As I’m sure every grandmother does, she has a very specific yet indefinable smell that’s sweet but clean with a touch of dusting powder. On special occasions, when she sends packages to the house, I bury my nose in the envelope and greedily breathe it all in.

13. When I was growing up, we would await Nanny’s visits with a heaping basket of clothes that needed mending. If I was lucky, she might also weave my hair into two very long braids. One year I was unlucky, and she sewed little matching jumpsuits for Sarah and me. Bright orange terry-cloth jumpsuits. (Incriminating photos can be made available to the highest bidder.)

14. In the aftermath of some childhood Christmas long ago, I sent her an obligatory thank-you note. She edited it in red ink and returned it to me. (She claims this never happened, but whenever I tell the story, I credit her for making me a more conscientious writer.)

15. While living on base in the Philippines in the late ‘60s, she befriended neighbor Marilyn Leibovitz, who went on to be known as Annie’s mother. In a neatly labeled box among stacks and stacks of neatly labeled boxes are 30 years of Leibovitz family newsletters and holiday cards, most featuring Annie’s photographs.

16. For a while, she enjoyed taking the Sunday New York Times because she could keep up with both the crossword puzzles and the Broadway shows. But recently, she’s fallen in with a bad crowd. Now she votes Republican and receives The Wall Street Journal Weekend. My mother and I are no longer allowed to discuss politics with her.

17. When she was 22, she moved from Chicago to D.C., practically on a dare. She took a job for the government and was in the center of everything when the United States declared war on Japan. After a few years and various roommates, she sought more adventure and a pay raise, so she accepted a job that took her to the Yukon Territory. There, she lived in Watson Lake, an isolated outpost that hosted occasional visits from Mounties. She remembers seeing the Northern Lights and trying her hand (or feet) at snow-shoeing, skiing and ice-skating. At some point, she moved to Whitehorse and met my grandfather, who had been in the Yukon to help build the Al-Can Highway. They ultimately married and became proud parents to my mother, their only child.

Happy birthday, Nanny. Here's to more adventure, more madness, more cookies and more love.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow! Who knew Nanny was such .....I can't even think of the word. You go Nanny!!!!!!

Go Nanny, Go Nanny, it's your birthday...Do you think she'd know what I meant if I called her singing the 50Cent song?

(AmyHazel, you DID NOT meet her at the door with clothes that need mending!)

6:34 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My young life seems so boring and unadventuresome (is this a word?} after hearing about Irene's. She is one of life's special people. Love, Ellie

8:52 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a very cool lady!

10:05 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Amy, I love this litany. We could, all of us, fill a list like this with no overlaps - she is just one in a million (but followed closely by Uncle Milt). Remember when she wore out her "life-time" hip replacements and had to have them re-done?? They just hadn't counted on Nanny buzzing around all over the place with those new hip joints! And Nanny and Mary B. delivering "meals to the elderly" way into their 80's, I believe right up until the time Mary herself moved into Assisted Living a couple of years ago!

Shigeta, not only is it true that we would greet Nanny with our sewing emergencies, I'm afraid the practice continues into this millenium, alas! Among her many talents, that of accomplished seamstress is yet another one which has eluded the rest of us.

8:52 PM  
Anonymous Jenina said...

What an amazing tribute to your grandmother. I hope my life proves to be at least half as exciting as hers!

6:21 AM  
Blogger Sugar Photography said...

I want to be Nanny when I grow up!

7:40 AM  
Anonymous Trabilcobb said...

Happy birthday, Nanny! I always knew AHaFra must have descended from adventurous, fun-loving, take-life-by-the-horns stock.

And who is this other Tracey, who spells her name correctly and whose profile shows her to be my kind of gal?

2:16 PM  

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