Just Like NanaJust Like Nana
by brenda maas
When I grow up I want to be just like Nana—that’s one of my new mantras.
“Nana,” as she affectionately known to many, is my husband’s maternal grandmother. Although she hates to share her age (says “the same age as Jack Benny” but that got lost a generation or so ago), I will note that she’s pushing 98 and once again living alone in her own home. Although she gave us a huge scare this summer when her tired body kept retaining water, which in turn stressed and slowed most of her organs, she bounced back. One night the doctor was concerned that the end was near, and the next day she turned the corner.
Our Aunt Cindy called and said, “You know, if it was anyone else, I would not believe it. But, she’s stubborn and that’s just Nana.”
Now, almost two months, one nursing home and many, many therapy sessions later, Nana is once again in her own home. In fact, the day that she was removed from Medicare is the day that she arranged a ride and an appointment to have her hair cut, washed, colored and set—a sign that all is well in her world.
That’s just one of the many reasons I want to be like her.
One of my favorite tales from my husband’s youth also involves Nana. Each summer his parents would drop Brett and his sister at Nana’s house and head out for some couple-only time. (Oh, the envy!) They would stand in the drive, waving good-bye and as soon as the car went around the corner, Nana would say “Hop in, kids. We’re going to the store.” She proceeded to buy them sugary cereal, Twinkies, candy, ice cream and whatever junk their little gluttonous stomachs desired. I love her just for that.
About a dozen or so years ago, Nana went on a road trip across Minnesota with her elder sister (now over 100 years old) and a younger sister (then mid-70s), who drove. I joined them for a short two-hour jaunt of their meandering trip from lakes to woods to lakes again. While I was waiting outside a gas station bathroom, I heard Nana’s contagious laugh (the one my youngest son has inherited). She was giggling about her younger sister, who survived bladder cancer and used a urinary drainage bag, “Oh Mary, you stand up and pee like a man!”
Only humor laced with unconditional love can make that work—that’s yet another Nana attribute I wish to emulate. Of course as I re-told the tale to my three sisters, I insisted that as one of the “younger” sisters, I would drive when we embark on a similar trip decades from now.
Several years ago, when I was trying to comfort my cranky, youngest baby (a feat Nana always managed well with experienced patience), she told me in her steady voice, “Ach, Brenda….kids. They are cute, you love them to death, and they make you want to pull you hair out.”
How simply eloquent she was in describing my life! Then with sudden, vivid clarity, I realized that was her life, too. Born to German immigrants before World War I and marrying during the Depression, she certainly did not have an easy life. But it was her life and she lived it honestly, selflessly and happily—with much gratitude for what she had, not remorse or distain for what she didn’t.
As I walk down the aisles of stores that display endless Christmas decorations a good two weeks before Halloween, I know what I am truly thankful for—and that’s Nana. Her life, in my eyes, is a testament to what I as parent, and as a person, strive for. And I know that I really, truly, honestly want to be like Nana when I grow up.
Now, please pass the turkey.
Brenda Maas and her husband, Brett, live in Billings where they raise three of Nana's seven great-grandsons (and none of her four great-granddaughters).