We Still Have Time
My Great Nana passed away last week and I’ve been hesitant to post about it. Nan was older, had more than her share of health issues and a body that’s endured more physical and emotional trauma than some know. It feels disingenuous accepting condolences for a woman whose story I never made time to learn. Yet somehow, I feel compelled to pay my respects the best and only way I know how.
My memories of Nan are all from the handful of times I went to her house on Norwood Street. I was either passing through with my parents and stopped because we saw her on the porch, or during those summer days I spent with my Grandparents and Nanny (my Father’s Mom) would stop there for a few hours after her morning errands.
The cousins, a few around my own age, would be there on the porch, somewhere in or around the house, or minding their business elsewhere around the neighborhood. I never made much of an effort in getting to know them, nor they me. We simply existed in a space for a shared couple of moments.
Thinking back, I never felt bad about not having a relationship with them. They’ve always had each other and to be honest, I felt like an awkward outsider without an invitation to the party. Growing up, with the exception of my close cousin, I spent most of my “free time” around people that were much older which made it a bit of a challenge to connect with my peers.
I was always too serious, too safe, and I guess reminded them too much of the parental figures they wanted a break from. In hindsight, I can see why some felt that way. So on those days I would visit, I’d likely have a book in hand, seated uncomfortably on those brown steps between my younger self on the ground and my wiser self on the porch.
There isn’t really much for me to tell you about Nan. We didn’t share any special moments on birthdays or holidays. I don’t have any memories of her cooking or stories about her childhood that she might have told me as I sat at her feet, if I ever made time to visit. Most of what I know about my Nan came from my Nana. Nanny told me once that Nan said we had roots back in Africa, but none of us really knew where exactly.
She told me how when she was girl, she used to pick cotton with Nan (her mother) because our people were sharecroppers. My Nana told me tales of the not so great men and the many, many children my Nan birthed and even buried. It was in these moments she pleaded with my younger cousin and I about breaking what she called the family curse – us young women bearing babies before we had a real chance to make something of ourselves in the world. From what I’m told, my great-great Nana, my Great Nan, my Nana and my Aunt were all teenage mothers.
Whenever I happened to see Nan, she would say how proud of me she was after hearing updates from my Nana about graduating college, going back and graduating again, traveling to Africa, working a “good job” and such. Her southern drawl still lingers in my head.
The last time we saw each other was about a year or so ago. In the car with my parents, we noticed an ambulance in front of her house so we stopped by to check in. EMT workers were there for another reason, so we moved passed them and went upstairs just to check on Nan and stayed for a short while to chat with her. She had stitches in her face and teeth missing from her mouth as a result of a nasty fall down the stairs of her basement a few weeks prior. Still, she sat firmly and asked each of us how we’d been doing.
She told me about the woman in the photo on the wall in her livingroom. I believe it was Ruth Gosier, my Great-Great Nana. During the colder months that followed, we received a call late night / early morning that she was in the hospital and wasn’t expected to make it through the night. So we gathered.
To our surprise, Nan kept holding on. “Our girl still has some fight left in her,” my Nana would say when I asked for updates. And while that statement remained true, Nan wouldn’t ever fully recover from being found unconscious that night. She spent time in the hospital and would later be transferred to a sketchy nursing home in a neighboring city. Just as the sun rises and sets each and every day, so did my Nana with her mom. Nanny spent every single day with her mother, rain or shine, come hell or high water.
Late November, Nanny asked me to come to the nursing home. I saw Nan but she didn’t see me. She was heavily sedated and I realized that I had missed too many moments over the years to try and make up for them now. The time to tell tales of her yesteryears were far behind us. And the only words to be spoken now were silent prayers of comfort.
Today our family will offer up farewells in an unconventional way during these unfamiliar times. I will pay my respects with words, the best and only way I know how. And I’ll remember not the time we didn’t spend, but the stories I inherited of her strength. I’ll keep in mind the strength of my Nana whom I’ve witnessed tend to every person except herself over the years.
I’ll use my time more wisely and make calls, and ask questions, and sit in person with her to sip french vanilla coffee and munch on blueberry cake donuts. And while this isn’t a story about my Nana, it somehow is. It wasn’t supposed to be a story about me, yet that’s what it’s become. It was not my intent to have these words serve as a call of action to you, but they will.
I just want you to know that we still have time, despite how crazy things are in the world right now. We’re still here with enough time (despite distance) to know and be known.
– Yolanda Danae’