On this day

On February 20, 1940 my grandmother was born. (The older child in the photograph is her) She would have been 70 this year. I miss her very much and I’ve been thinking of her all day.

She died on August 16, 2009, a Sunday. I saw her for the last time four days before. If I had known that was going to be the last time – I maybe would have said more, something different. Thanked her for all she did for me over all the years. To be honest, I can’t remember if I told her that I loved her. I hope that she knew. I’m sure she did, but I just wish I could remember saying the words to her and seeing her smile.

I wrote the following on August 18th, it is the best tribute I can think of right now:

My grandmother died on Sunday morning just before the sun came up. All day I could hardly speak. I found out around 10am as we drove to church. The church where I got married and where our son was baptized. My grandmother had been there, walked on those same wooden floors and sat in that pew just a few back from the front. I tried to sing during the service, but I couldn’t push out enough air.

Everything fell upon me in waves – little bits of her essence – the way she looked, her voice and her all-knowing blue eyes. Old memories kept colliding with the cold, hard truth of her absence. I can feel the absence, the palpable sense of her missing in the world.

And the tears make it hard to see, like looking underwater all day long. Everything is sensation – pain – in my eyes, my skull and swollen stabbing itch in my gut.

There were things I should have asked her. Things I should have known about who she was.

Edith Marie Moses McCall. It is hard for me to think of her that way – she was just my Nanners. That strange amalgam of a name, the unique moniker I always used with her – even as an adult. She wore the name proudly. It suited her. Nanners. The word itself draws me to her and whispering it is a mantra now.

My Nanners. Some people work in paint, drawing, pottery or textiles. Her art was food. All her food contained careful consideration, the right balance – love and offering. She kneaded, dredged, chopped and added a dash of just the right thing. Always working herself into the process so conscientious, joyful and full of purpose. She tried to teach me how to make fried chicken. We stood together in her cramped kitchen and maneuvered floppy, fleshy chicken into something succulent, crispy and golden. Her face would consider my questions, “How much salt and pepper do you add to the flour?” and tried to find an answer. She didn’t really know. Her ingredients and their amount were the natural extension of herself. There was no measuring, just adding until the balance struck the right color or smell or taste. This is a hard thing to learn.

I called her once, after a particularly disastrous attempt to make fried chicken in my apartment, for advice as the blackened chicken still smoldered in the pan and the haze of acrid smoke layered the air. I may have cried when I talked to her that day, about my chicken failure. She assured me that with time and practice it would get better. Then she asked me, “How were you feeling when you made the chicken?” I thought about it. About how all week I’d been barely keeping myself afloat what with my menial job answering phones, a jerk of a boyfriend and a broken down car. I didn’t say those things to her, just thought how they had frayed me apart. “Why?” was what I asked back. She told me – your feelings get absorbed by the food. Anxious and the food gets cooked too fast, sad and the seasonings are off kilter. You have to fill the food with love is what she told me. Hope. I laughed at her. But now I know, that was really her secret. I will never be able to make her dishes the way she did because she always put in a part of herself.

I am happy to report that I have successfully made fried chicken. I hope she would have been proud. I love you, Nanners.

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