Thursday, November 02, 2006


In what's shaping up to be an inadvertent weekly tradition, today was Jammie Day. A day to rest after a 24-hour sugar high, a day for runny-nosed ones to stay out of the germ pool and a day to tackle the standing number-one item on my to-do list: procure some form of child care.

This shouldn't be a difficult task: I am highly motivated and, thanks to friends who watch out for me, have a few solid leads to chase. Can't explain why I'm making so little progress. (I guess it could have something to do with the banshees who begin shrieking whenever I pick up the phone.) In any case, I did make a few baby steps today and hired babysitters for two can't-take-'em-with-us occasions. Yippee!

But tonight I'm not thinking about a nanny with a lower-case "n." Instead, I'm going to talk about someone who's been on my mind lately: Nanny, my maternal grandmother. I've been meaning to put this story down on paper for more than a year now; it won't be perfect, but here goes.


This particular Nanny story actually begins with her only child, my mother, who in the late 1970s found herself freshly divorced with two young daughters and a small but impressive collection of I-am-woman-hear-me-roar disco records. A few credits shy of a college degree, she enrolled in a local liberal arts school, where she had the great fortune of meeting another sweet young thing named Cindy.

Friendship struck, and carried them through marriages (one good, one bad), babies (four, all good), addresses (too numerous to count) and lifestages (ditto). Through ups and downs, Cindy was a constant. My siblings and I may have felt that she was our Aunt Cindy, but we knew that she really belonged to Mom.

A few years ago, we were shocked by the news that darling, irrepressible Cindy had been struck by a rare and impossible-to-pronounce cancer. For a while, things were bad. Really bad. Then she got a little better. But after a period of hope and optimism, things got much, much worse. And at last it became too awful to even think about.

Still, on March 22 of last year, we were all going about our lives in Texas without really knowing what was happening in Mississippi. I was housebound in Dallas with nine-week-old twins and a mighty unhappy two-year-old. My sister Mary, Lord love her, had put her life on hold to live with us and see us through those first surreal months.

Mary and Carter were battling cabin fever at the end of the day, so I sent them out to Target for some fresh air and a fresh supply of diapers. While they were out, Mom called from San Antonio. She told me that she was sitting in her second-grade classroom grading papers when her cell phone rang: it was a Mississippi friend calling with the sad news of Cindy’s passing. Mom and I cried together, shared some Cindy stories that made us laugh, cried some more and finally said good-bye.

Not one minute later, Mary called. When I saw her number on Caller ID, my heart sank: I knew she hadn’t yet heard the news about Aunt Cindy and I dreaded being the one to tell her. But when I answered the phone, she was already crying. My first thought was that she’d had a car accident. “Mary!” I said, with my heart in my throat. “What’s wrong?”

“Oh, Amy,” she sobbed, “I have something terrible to tell you. Nanny died this morning.”

I was stunned. Yes, Nanny was 87 years old, but she hadn’t slowed down one bit. In fact, she’d just flown to Dallas from Alabama a few days earlier to see her new great-grandbabies. She may have been a touch more cantankerous than usual, but she seemed the picture of health and longevity.

Nanny! I couldn’t breathe for a second, and when I did exhale, it was in big choking sobs. (I should add that, at this point, I was nursing, so these two itty babies were latched onto my giant bosoms as I was shaking and crying.) Now Mary’s holed up in a Target dressing room with Carter, whose eyes are the size of saucers, and I’m pinned to the couch, and we’re both sobbing and wailing things like, “Why, Lord, why?” “She called me yesterday and I didn’t call her back! Now I’ll never talk to her again! Why, why didn’t I call her back?!” and so on.

Somehow, although we’re reduced to incoherent grunting and crying, it’s decided that as eldest child, it is my job to call Mom at school and tell her that her mother has died. I won’t recreate it for you, but rest assured that it was the worst moment of my entire life. She told me later that the school janitor subsequently burst into her classroom, thinking that she had been shot. Sitting in my living room in Dallas, I’m not in much better shape; the twins are now drenched in tears (but still suckling) and Trey is holding my hand and trying to soothe me.

Mary calls back; it’s revealed that our poor brother John, who’s only 14, is the one who discovered this news when he came home from school and checked the answering machine. Mary says that he’s in pretty bad shape; I can only imagine. I call Mom, who promises to rush home to be with him if I’ll call my sister Sarah. Then we’ll figure out travel arrangements. Not one of us can believe this is happening.

I’m dialing Sarah’s number when Trey, who has been providing quiet support until now, says, “John got this from a message on the answering machine?” “Yes, isn’t it awful?” I gasp, as Sarah answers her phone and I tell her about Nanny. She’s just about to walk into the gym for a workout when she hears what I have to say, and she instantly collapses on the sidewalk in a crying heap. Inside the gym, strangers see her fall and rush from their elliptical trainers to help her.

As we’re talking and crying, Trey asks, rather absurdly, “Has anyone actually called Nanny?” “Good Lord, Trey,” I’m spitting through my tears, “she has DIED. Of course we haven’t called her! We can’t ever call her again!” Fresh sobbing. Calls are bouncing back and forth between Mom, Mary, Sarah and me. Mary is trying to drive home with Carter, who’s now rocking and sucking his thumb, but she has to keep pulling over because she can’t see through her tears.

Meanwhile, Trey gets up and checks his cell phone. He doesn’t have Nanny’s home number programmed, but by coincidence, Nanny had used his phone to call a friend in Huntsville while she was visiting. So he hits “redial” and calls the friend, who is stunned to hear that Nanny is no longer with us. In fact, the friend just spoke with her a few hours ago. Hmm. Trey is telling me this as I’m on the phone with Sarah. For the first time in more than 15 minutes, I stop crying. Sarah asks, “What's happening?” I say something like, “I’m not sure. Nanny MAY have died. I’ll call you right back.”

Trey calls Nanny, but her phone just rings busy. (It’s amazing how quickly those octogenarian Lutheran ladies mobilize.) So he calls John to determine exactly what this answering-machine message said. Through tears, John says that it was a young woman who, also through tears, said, “Nancy, your mom died this morning.” At this moment, another call clicks in; Trey asks John to hold on. I can see his face across the room as he answers it:

“Hello? Nanny! Boy, am I glad to hear your voice!”

Nanny is delighted, not only to be alive, but also to hear that we all carried on so about her. She calls each one of us to hear in detail what we said and did when we heard the news. She’s especially touched that stoic teenager John shed tears about anything at all, especially her.

Standing in our kitchen, babies put to bed and a box of Kleenex between us, Trey proposes a toast to Nanny's good health, and we drink. But we’re all plunged back into grief when we realize that the message John heard was from Cindy's daughter Deenie, who had said, “Nancy, Mom died this morning.”

It was the strangest brew of relief and elation and grief and sorrow I’ve ever experienced. Even now, I don’t think we’ve fully recovered from the exhaustion of it all.


I've always wanted to share this story with Cindy's family, but it's never seemed appropriate. I'm not entirely sure that it's okay to type it all out now. But somehow… and I don’t really know how to word this… but somehow, I just love that when we remember Cindy, it’s with more laughter than tears. It seems so fitting.

And hopefully I'll have a much more fitting tribute to Nanny in two weeks, when she turns 89.

xox Amy


Blogger Sugar Photography said...

I am ***ROLLING***

how do you write so well...I feel like I was there, nursing twins and cursing God right alongside you!


Cheers to Nanny and her longevity. Especially love the part where she called each of you to hear your tales of woe when finding out she had passed on.


9:57 PM  
Anonymous Jenina said...

How is possible for me to be so enthralled in your stories? Every morning, I get up to read your blog - and every morning I end up running late because I can't stop reading. What an amazing writer you are!

5:44 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

SHIGETA SAYS: Ok, I lived this moment hundreds of miles away in Chicago. I happened to call AmyHazel right after she and her siblings had in essence, "killed" Nanny. OH MY GOODNESS. Never have we laughed like we laughed on this day. I mean as she was telling the story I was open mouthed ...with short bursts of "Amy....Loooooorrrrd....Amy ....I mean...well why...." There were just no words. Throughout the conversation I was both horrified as well as entertained that this message had turned into such a hullabaloo. But if you know "NannyNancyAmySarahHazelMary-RobinJohn" you have to know that this is just another day in the life of this family. Whenver something that's considered HUGE happens, we always go back to "well it doesn't compare to the day you killed Nanny."

8:28 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh my god, I can't believe you have finally given into temptation to tell this sordid story!! It was definitely an Oscar-worthy moment of hysteria on all acccounts. And you will be happy to know that I actually DID complete my workout once we found out that all was well in Alabama!

Love from your loca hermana
Sarah Margaret

12:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh, Amy! I am once again reduced to hysterical laughter and near sobs as I read this perfect retelling of that momentous day. Nanny will completely adore reading this in print!!
Love, Ma :)

3:49 PM  
Blogger debelah said...

Heard the live version of this tale some time ago and am right now thanking all that is above us that you have finally written it down for the world to see. You have cheered me more than you know on a particularly wretched evening. To your family - an endless source of inspiration - and of course to Nanny's continued good health!

7:55 PM  
Anonymous sj said...

my other little sister--what an outstanding writer you have become!!! Of course I too remember the live version having gotten it second-hand immediately from Deb, but once again sweet Trey shows his amazing sense of togetherness when called upon! You have made me smile, with a few hearty chortles thrown in. witty, yet succinct--I'm so glad you wrote it down at last!!
love to you and your crew!!
ps nanny looks fantastic!

10:32 AM  

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