Now that I am a Nana, (to a beautiful boy who will be 1 soon!) I totally get how the vowels work in our family names for our moms. When I was a baby, we had Nanee, My mother’s grandmother. I don’t remember her but her larger than life place in the family folklore had her (all 4 foot something of her) climbing into my playpen to entertain me. Since I was born able to “talk”, I’m sure I was good company for her, yammering away and at times, leaving my mother crying for some peace.
We had some 16mm and super-8 footage, just a snippet, and all I remember of her is watching family movies and being told who she was. There was the brief (all black and white) scene of her dancing with a beer in her hand. The last time I saw the movies they were melting under the heat of the projector’s ember of a light-bulb; we stopped watching to preserve what little glimpse of the moment remained. We saved them so they could rot in the hot attic, exposed to the extreme humidity of summers at the Jersey shore.
Her daughter was my beloved grandmother. The one with the bottle of Occur! on her dresser, the one that took me shopping at Two Guys every Saturday, the one I lived with on weekends and in summers for much of my childhood and adolescence. MY NANA.
By the time my mother’s grand-children started to arrive, this woman, my mom’s mom, would be called “Nanny’s Apartment.” We always thought my nephew was saying he was going to Nanny’s Apartment. Turns out, he thought that was her name, and it stuck. My mother became “Nanny’s House.” We used these elongated names all through the elder women’s lives.
My first personalized gift when my daughter announced her pregnancy last year was a mug that declared me Nana. Predominantly pink (and we got a grandSON), it reads “My favorite people call me Nana”.) It seemed right to me, my Nana was my favorite people.
My mother called her mother “Momma.” Momma/Nana/Nannies’ Apartment claimed to be 4’10 but this is doubtful. I outgrew her in grammar school. She had such colorful use of language, one had to think twice before bringing the Reverend over for a spot of tea.
“Oh look at these damned ants everywhere. Can’t even keep a fucking sugar bowl around with these goddamned ants everywhere.”
Besides her decorative cuss word usage, she also gave me one little sound bite to chew on for the rest of my life. A “flashbulb memory”, I distinctly remember my mom giving me the dreaded pixie haircut (I wanted to grow it out). I was under a cape, soaking wet and she had sharp scissors in her hand: there was no escape.
I have no idea what prompted her, I was busy mourning my lost locks hitting the floor. In the middle of conversation ears perked up when I heard her say:
“Her mother was nothing but a goddamned whore.”
My mother (Bernice) took a long drag on her menthol cigarette and said “Momma, please.” She said this with about as much angst as I had ever heard from her, in a tone generally reserved for my father.
I never thought this meant a specific woman who was my original (birth) mother was a whore in my mother’s eyes. Instead, I thought it meant that an unplanned pregnancy made someone a whore in my grandmother’s eyes. Years later, I became less sure.
I would tuck this away for quite some years but bring it out now and then, in the quiet of my lovely pink bedroom, Johnny Cash playing in the background on my shiny new Panasonic cassette deck.
I thought long and hard when my daughter asked me what I wanted to be called. I kinda figure the kid will call me what he calls me…some of my friends have names that stuck like “Yodel” and “Lil’ bit.” Nobody could have chosen such personal names without getting to know the person they would become.
For now I need a handle so I know how to sign my name on holiday greeting cards.
I will be happy to be Nana for now. Perhaps one day I might be “Nanny’s House” or “Nanny’s Apartment,” “Nanny’s Condo” or simply “the home.”
It’s good to be the baby. It’s excellent to be the Nana.