February 27th is my Nannie's birthday.
Nannie is my Dad's Mother. I called her Nannie because I was told later she did not want to be called Grannie. I was the firstborn on both sides. And my folks married very young. If my math is correct, Nannie was 43 years old when I was born. I am now Nannie's age when I remember her a lot. In other words, when Nannie was my age that I am now, I would have been about ten years old---young and impressionable, and fully aware that she loved me.
Born Atha Swartz in 1913, she was the only child to Pearl Pike Swartz and Ross C. Swartz. I remember my great-grandparents and their house in Farmer City, Illinois. It was a huge house with a wrap around porch, and fourteen foot ceilings---at least. I watched my Nannie care for her mother after her father died. They lived within a few blocks of each other in Farmer City for years, and yet Nannie always drove over to check on her. She had a thunderbird and I remember riding with her to pick up cream from area farmers, or fresh sweet corn. Or she would pick us up or drop us off at the other grandparents on their farm in Mansfield, not too many miles away.
Nannie had only had two sons, so she delighted in dressing my sister and I and our younger cousin. And I remember how she would take us shopping to buy a new dress. And she encouraged us to be ladies---a struggle since I enjoyed pal-ling with my grandpas in the barn and in the Culligan plant.
Nannie died when my son was only four years old. Nannie so enjoyed her great-grandson, and blessed us with Christmas ornaments for him. Christmas was her favorite holiday. She had the most modern tree and lights and loved all the presents and food. When she lay dying, she asked me to play Christmas carols on her organ.
My Mother's Mom was a farmer's wife---a great cook, and she kept the cleanest house, and always made us feel loved, and warm and welcome. She was a church going lady, who studied her Bible, and desired us to be good and kind to each other. Nannie, also desired us to be good and kind, and would take us to church---but hers was a wilder past. And she was an alcoholic. And she loved to dance.
I watched my Dad battle with his Mother, and I watched my Uncle take her into his home and care for her while she was dying. At age 72, the drinking had caught up with her. Or was it the Camel cigarrettes? Was it a race between lung cancer and cirrossis of the liver?
For twenty-nine years she was a part of my life. Growing up, my sister and I spent many an over night at her house. When I got married, she was there. And when my son was born, she was excited for us. And when my son was three---the little ski boots she bought and sent are still a precious memory.
I watched Nannie and Poppy build their dream house in Farmer City. And I remember her rose bushes, and patch of rubarb for rubarb pie or rubarb relish (applesauce in consistency) and I remember how she peeled potatoes, and how she loved the new invention of an in sink disposal.
When I was thirteen years old, and away at Summer Bible Church Camp, my Poppy was working on the second story shutters and slipped and fell backwards off the roof and fell head down onto the top step on the front of their house. I watched Nannie become a widow. And oh, how she grieved, for years and years. Poppy had been her best friend, and husband, and partner in crime---that wild living and dancing that scandalized their parents. My Dad tried shocking us with the stories and my Dad even hinted that he is not convinced Poppy is his father, but anyone who looks at my brother, Jay, will see images of Poppy. And my Dad had the same shoulder ticks that his Dad, and my sister's sons have inherited.
Happy Birthday Nannie. Thank you for being a great Nannie to me and my sister and brothers and cousins, Tera and Todd. Tera looks just like Nannie did when she was younger. (I have been told I look like the other Howe grandmother---my Dad's grandmother. Can you imagine your little girl growing up to look like your grandmother? At a Grandpa James' funeral a few years ago, one of Dad's cousins looked at me in shock---and thought he was seeing his and my Dad's grandmother Howe.)
Nannie loved getting dressed up, and she loved having parties, and watching TV. Nannie loved her sons, and her daughters-in-law, and her grandchildren, and her cousin. Romona. And I remember Nannie's good friend, who used to be my great-grandpa's secretary. Lilia? Nannie showed me how to be a good grannie, and a good friend, and a good hostess, and a longsuffering mom.
I don't think my Dad has ever forgiven her for questionable doctors or cures but there were the voice lessons. And I saw Nannie and Poppy help my folks with meals, and babysitting, and money, and gifts and time. And she was not my Mother. She was my grannie, always called, Nannie.
In the British culture, a nannie means something completely different. A nannie is the hired help that cares for and raises the baby through toddlerhood.
I am embarrassed to admit that I don't know her favorite color or favorite perfume. And I have probably asked Uncle Jim or Tera and I have forgotten what they told me.
I can remember my other Grandma's powder, and certain colors remind me of her, and I have a candle holder that I bought because it reminded me of her crystal. But, Nannie's tastes were so rich, so over-the-top, so austentacious, that I have nothing of hers. I did not want to be responsible. So much of it is garish, and needing of a china cabinet. I remember how she loved the newest, fanciest of plumbing fixtures. I lean more toward the practical and easiest to clean because I am lazy and lean much more toward the comfortable even in dress and housekeeping. In her later years, Nannie had a cleaning lady, and when we were young, she kept a closet of dress up clothes and shoes so that we would leave her stuff alone.
Thank you, Nannie for the great memories. And while it grieves me how my Dad treated you---all will be reconciled in heaven, where we will all treat each other with love and respect. You were always civil and friendly with my Mother's folks, and while I often saw Christmas celebrated in such stark contrast, you taught me that differences were okay. Thank you for flying down from Illinois to Houston to my wedding. My only wedding announcement in newsprint is a hoot because it chronicles your trip from Illinois to Houston for the event in the Farmer City Journal.
I would like to ask my Dad, tell me ten good things about your Mom. Or, Uncle Jim. or Tera. We moved away from Illinois when I was a sophomore in high school, so Uncle Jim and his daughter, Tera remember she so much better.
I wonder if my grandchild will only know me for twenty-nine years? And will they be good memories? My Mother's father lived to be almost 100, so I knew him for fifty of my years. And Grandma James almost forty. I think all four of them---my Mother's folks and my Dad's grew up in the same community, attended the same school in their small town, and both of my grandfathers even served for a time on the school board. I have seen the picture. Marshall Howe and Wilbur James. Did they know they would share grandchildren?
Happy Birthday, Nannie.