Today I want to share with you some memories of my great grandmother who was 99 years old when she died and lived with me from 2000 till 2003. She was and always will be one of those special people that never leave your head, your heart or your side even though they are passed on.
Nonnie, as we called her was an amazing woman. She was born in 1904, had a daughter at 16, got married at 33, and then went on to care for everyone in the families kids it seemed. She could make a baby stop crying with just the touch of her hand on its head (I kid you not.) Nonnie and Papa (my great grandfather) also raised me. I was 3 months old and my mother was 17 when she was widowed. They were 62 and 64 years of age. To me, Nonnie and Papa were Mom and Dad. Always were, always will be.
“Nonnie’s home” was the phrase we said when something would happen in the house. Shortly after she died, I converted the room she passed away in into my home office. My son Brian vehemently did not want to move back into the room so he took the downstairs office and I switched things around. I painted and had new carpet installed. A couple days after the carpet went in, I started noticing spots. Black oily looking stains that popped up out of nowhere. I called the carpet place and they sent a guy out to inspect it. He professionally cleaned the spots and left. Two days later, more spots in different locations. Back he came, again he cleaned. This went on for probably three weeks. It was getting ridiculous. I started joking that Nonnie was upset that I made the room my office.
One day I was sitting on the floor in “Nonnie’s room” and started talking out loud. I asked if she had a problem with my taking over the room. No answer. Not that I expected one, but you never know. I think I babbled on for probably thirty minutes, not sure exactly what I said, then I walked out of the room. To this day, we have never had another spot on the carpet in there. I don’t know if I got through to her or what, but seriously no more spots have ever appeared on the carpet. Ok, that’s not entirely true. Occasionally, the cat will share a hairball with me.
Other times it can be dead silent in the house and all of a sudden you will hear the front door open and close. Then dead silence again. This happened when I was home alone and thought my hubby had come in from work. I yelled out his name, nothing. I went downstairs to find no one in the house but me and the dogs. This happened to my daughter. She was freaked out. It was 11:00 p.m. and she (was 18 at the time) was alone with the two dogs and was talking to a friend on the phone. The door opens and then closes. The dog’s race to the living room and it’s no one. Amanda kept her friend on the cell phone, grabbed the house phone and called me to ask when we would be home. I asked why. She said “Nonnie’s home.” After a while, it got to be old hat and is now just a laugh when it happens.
There were times near the end of Nonnie’s life that also stick in my brain. She was amazing right to the end. She would tell stories of her life; her sister’s, her family from the late 1800’s on. She could tell you what someone was wearing on April 22, 1907 but couldn’t tell me what she had for breakfast. When she was still able to get around, she was sitting in the arm chair in her room and called my name. It was summer and I was in shorts, a t-shirt and bare feet. She asked me to get my son Brian upstairs with a broom because a rat had just run under her bed. I gotta tell you for a brief minute my mind went to the dark side and I literally scrambled atop her bed. Then I realized there was no rat in my house. But first I called downstairs to Brian to bring a broom up. He does, and once in the doorway asks why. I calmly tell him, “Nonnie saw a rat run under her bed. Bend down and smack it.” The kid looked at me like I lost my mind. I smiled and said “Do it.” Nice child that he is, literally got on his hands and knees and made sure the rat was gone. Of course he now thinks his mother is on her way to the looney bin.
Another time Nonnie called me into the room to ask me what the workmen were doing to Amanda’s bedroom, which was next door to hers. After a few stammered um’s, I answered cleaning it. Nonnie said okay, and said they were very nice men who had taken the time to talk to her and tell her that her housedress was pretty. I smiled. Okey dokey. That same night after the workmen left, a little girl walked through a hole in the bedroom wall and stood by Nonnie’s bed crying. Nonnie told me the little girl was lost and could I find her mother. Then all of sudden Nonnie stops talking to me, cocked her head to one side and stated talking to the little girl. I guess the little girl left because Nonnie closed her eyes and went back to sleep.
Sometimes the adventures made me laugh, other times they scared the crap out of me. Near the end I never knew what was going to happen. Nonnie had Hospice nurses that came and went daily to check on us, and apparently this was all very normal they told us. One day comes to mind and it always cracks me up. I literally handled the day to day care of Nonnie from the minute she got up till the minute she went to bed. She had a bedside commode in the bedroom and she was using it (to put things politely). She was swinging her legs back and forth, talking to me while on the commode. It reminded me of a young child who was potty training. She was smiling and decided to tell me the story of when she went to Washington, DC to visit my great Aunt Florence, her sister.
“Aunt Florence and I decided to pop downtown and have drinks with JFK,” she announced. Ok, that got my attention. And it grabbed Amanda who was just passing by the room. My great Aunt was a mover and shaker in Washington, as well as Detroit. She knew everyone and everyone knew her.
“Really, you and Aunt Florence went out with JFK?”
“Oh yes, quite a few times, you know. They were so nice, those Kennedy boys. Such lookers. And Ted was there too. We had highballs.” Ok, now Amanda is sitting on the floor in the hallway.
“Where was Jackie Kennedy?” I ask, not so confident this wasn’t a tall tale. But if it is, it’s a good one.
“She was home with the children. She never liked to go out on the town.” Nonnie is still swinging her legs. Now every story Nonnie ever told had men in it. She was a happily married woman, but men, men, men came out of the woodwork (not literally) in her tales.
“It was such a lovely evening. We were in Georgetown. But those Secret Service men, you just couldn’t shake them. They were like ticks on a hound dog.”
Ok, now I’m beginning to wonder. If she really is delusional and 99 years old, would she remember cities and things? Amanda is in the hall demanding to know more. Then as fast as the story had begun, it ended. Nonnie got very quiet, clammed up and nothing more was said.
BUT, the very next day the news broke on television that JFK had had a mistress in the White House. Amanda and I both looked at each other upon hearing the news and said “Nonnie!” But of course it wasn’t Nonnie, she would have been in her 60’s when JFK had his mistress. But it makes you wonder. (Cue the Twilight Zone music)
I still talk to Nonnie. Don’t think I will ever be able to break myself of the habit. I talked to her every day when I was going through chemo for colon cancer two years ago. I told her about each and every book I had sold. And when I’m just sitting here like I was today, I tell her about what goofy (for lack of a decidedly stronger word) things her great-great grandchildren have done. Like the new tattoo I just learned about today that the son has on his arm, or the new dog that the daughter adopted (ok that one happened a year ago, but still). She was the only mother I knew, and the only mother I really ever had, and I miss her dreadfully. So to those of you out there who still have your mom’s, I envy you with all my heart and soul.
Till next time.