Things will be quiet this week over at Red & Brown. Red’s beloved Nana has passed away after a long struggle with Alzheimers and as we struggle with our grief, Red would like to write a little tribute to her.
When I think of my Nana, I think of home. She was my grandmother, my mother, my biggest fan, teacher and “chef”. From the day that I was born, the first granddaughter among a gaggle of boys, I was always her precious Lauren. Before the time I could fully read or write, we were pen pals and she’d write me once a week, at least, telling me what she was up to: swimming on the beach, taking long walks, meeting up with friends, how warm the weather was, etc. and sending me along a dollar for some treats with a countdown of how many days until we’d be back together again and all the fun things we’d do once we were.
She was just the most elegant woman I had ever encountered. As a little girl, I wanted to be just like Nana. She had these walk-in closets filled with trinkets and shoes and photos and beautiful clothes and purses that she’d take me in to pick through. No matter whether she was going to the grocery store, a black tie event or if she had her nightgown on, she just was the epitome of old school beauty. I remember specifically going into her pink bathroom and finding the powder that she’d use to powder herself with and just going to town with it all over my face (without realizing it was for powdering somewhere else) or sitting at her vanity and seeing all the photos of us kids surrounding it, just to catch a glimpse of what it must be like to be her.
I spent a lot of time with my grandparents growing up. Many Sundays were spent at their house for Sunday Supper, filled with her most delicious recipes. It was family time and it was something I always loved. I waited for our sleepovers… we always had our annual 4th of July one and before a big BBQ at their house, we’d sneak out to iHop in the morning to grab some pancakes.
When I was 5, a fiercely independent child from the start, I jumped on a plane down to Florida and stayed a week with them alone. I think that was one of my best vacations. I had no worries about being away from my family and basked in every moment with them– from shopping with my Nannie, to enjoying some of the best restaurants in the area, to exploring the beach and playing in the ocean with Papa.
She was always singing and dancing. She’d croon Frank Sinatra or Patsy Cline (Crazy was her favorite song), whisk my grandfather around their kitchen singing to each other in an impromptu dance, and would always wake us up with her singing Good Mornin’, Gooood Morrrnin’! Good Mornin’ to YOU! and a face full of kisses.
Her phrase in life for her children and grandchildren was always “No One is Better Than You”. It’s something she always told my dad as a kid and what has been told to me. Not so much of a “you’re flawless”, because we all had our flaws, but more so as a marching chant not to let the world get you down.
She didn’t live a life without worries, doubts, or hardships. In fact, it was just the opposite. She grew up in a home where she was forbidden to date my grandfather, was mistreated by her controlling father, basically written out of any will or family; lost her first child, Tommy, due to SIDS, and had a debilitating medical condition her whole life, just to name a few. But, she always was happy. She saw the love and good and beauty in everything and everyone and she let it radiate through her. She loved her family, she loved children and she loved life.
She was there for everything everyone ever did. Graduations, weeknight baseball games, stepping up ceremonies, dance recitals, pre-school shows and the first day of school. She loved her grandkids and was their greatest supporter- standing up, yelling and clapping the loudest in the audience. Proud was always an understatement.
Most of all, she taught me how to cook and how to cook with love. I attribute my career path to her and my Papa. We’d go pick berries out back and she’d sit me on the counter, maybe only 3 or 4 at the time, and I’d watch her make homemade jam, just throughly amazed. She’d make batch by batch by batch of the labor-intensive knot cookies for Christmas like it was nothing and would sneak a few to us at the table while we waited through dinner. And I could always count on her to be holding out her wooden spoon of some of her Sunday sauce to kiss my mouth.
As I got older and waited to enjoy her company as a tween/teenager where we could really shop and cook and laugh together, she became sick. Diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in the early 2000s, she progressed. As memories faded and things were forgotten, she’d try her hardest to overcome it all, never letting it get her down. Right before we all took a family vacation, we celebrated with roman candles on the beach one night and she sat in her lounge chair laughing and yelling “Wooopie!”. Even on her 75th birthday, when her beautiful golden curls had faded to gray and her face began to look sunken (and we all became strangers. Strangers she loved, no less, but strangers), she still sang right along to her happy birthday with her arms waving to direct the chorus.
I selfishly feel sad that I did not have more time to enjoy her in all of her beauty. I feel like as I got older, she’d be my confidant. The person I’d go out to lunch with at the mall or call when things got rough. When I met Brown, that she would be the first one yelling and screaming and popping champagne and kissing him all over his face after we broke the news that he’d proposed.
On my wedding day, I was the first grandchild to get married in our family without either of my grandparents there. I looked out in the audience, half hoping that she would suddenly show up escorted by my Papa in his baby-blue tuxedo in some beautiful gown right in the front row clapping as she always did. Instead, I filled the room up with her photo on her wedding day, wore her jewelry, their wedding topper was used as ours, and her beautiful cream-colored mink coat was my jacket to keep me warm in the cold. I remember warming myself up and holding it close; it smelled just like her and for a moment, it felt like she was there giving me the biggest, tightest hug.
She died last night, tired, breathless and gaunt, after a long struggle with Alzheimers. She looked so tiny in that hospice bed, breathing in and out. We all knew she would have killed my grandfather and died a thousand deaths had she known what she had become; she never wanted to live like that– just alone that she was bound to her bed, couldn’t tell those she loved how much she loved them and that her hair was not done up.
She had a profound effect on me and my life. I hope I can be 1/8th the wife, mother and nana she was to us. And although my heart is broken, I can never forget the memories and know she is smiling down on us with her token glass of champagne in a fabulous pant suit, clapping and singing and laughing. -Red.
Wedding Photo Courtesy of Keira Lemonis Photography- 2015.