Wednesday, April 11, 2012

My Nonnie


My Nonnie died today.

She wasn't a Grandma, or a Nana, or a Granny.
She was a Nonnie.
To the core.

My mom called to give me the news.
I stood in shock.
It wouldn't settle in.

The kids were screaming. The dog was spinning. Baseball was on. It wouldn't compute.

But tonight, as I settled into a hot bath after the kids were in bed and the house was quiet.
Then it set in.

I couldn't stop the tears.

Memories of her flooded me.

The way she clenched her eyes tightly closed and tilted her head back when she told a story.
How she'd do it again when she told the story the second time. Because she always did.

Then the third.

I thought of her soft fingertips tap, tap, tapping on the dining room table as she did this in a way that belonged only to her.

I thought of her walls so covered in pictures of family and nail holes from HANGING the pictures of family that you could barely see the wallpaper.
It looked like had a woodpecker for a roommate.

I thought of her love of a good republican president.
How she'd dedicated the only walls that didn't have pictures of family - The main bathroom walls - to be a place to hang THEIR pictures.

It was always strange to me to be sitting there, doing what business people do in a bathroom, and looking up to see Ronald Regan smiling down on me.
But she was proud to be an American and it showed. All over.

Nonnie loved cats.
Pictures of cats.
Cards with cats.
Clothes with cats.
Statues of cats.
But most of all - STRAY cats.
It took an entire family intervention to convince her that cats really, truly did not require a casserole sized pan of biscuits and turkey gravy every day to survive.
She was never convinced.

Nonnie was an early riser.
And she wanted everyone else to be.
We'd go to visit, drugged by jet-lag, and still she'd be banging on our doors telling us we needed to get up and eat breakfast because it was already 7:00 am - which was only 4:00am to our tired bodies.
I think she was positive that if people waited past 8:00 for breakfast they'd surely die of starvation.

If the banging on the doors didn't wake you, though, the banging of the pots and pans would.
We'd stumble out, not the slightest bit hungry, and before long would be having our mouths crammed with an 18 course breakfast.
As we gulped that down, she'd start making lunch.

No person on the face of this earth was louder (or more efficient) than Nonnie in the kitchen.

Even now, If I'm clanging around looking for a lid to a pot, Justin will say, "Hey Nonnie, do you need help?"

But she could clang and bang all she wanted because that woman could COOK.
You have never tasted a biscuit so flaky and perfect.
You've never had corn bread like Nonnie's.

I once mentioned that I liked these cookies she'd made when I was little out of ritz crackers, peanut butter and icing, and then returned later after taking a nap to see that while I'd slept she'd made literally hundreds of them.
There were pans on the counters, pans on the table....Even pans on top of the refrigerator.

Over the years she'd fed more people than you could even believe.
It was her call to fame.
She could whip up a pone of corn bread with her eyes closed.
What she couldn't do is give you the recipe, though, because she didn't have one.

I once asked her how she made her world famous hot fudge and she said,
"Oh. I don't know. I just do it"
Like it was part cocoa, part sugar, part magic.

I sometimes wondered if she REALLY didn't know, or if she just didn't want to tell because she wanted it to be something all her own.
Something no one took from her.

I thought of how many times in my life she told me she'd been praying for me.
How I knew that she had.
And hard.
How every page of her Bible had parts underlined. How the pages were bent and you knew that they'd each been read over and over.
And not just read, but LIVED.

I thought of how she rooted for me.
How she'd find ads in the Reader's Digest for becoming an illustrator and she'd cut them out and mail them to me.
The same ad every time.
Dozens of times.
No note.
No commentary.
Just an envelope and a clipping that said ,without actually SAYING, that she believed in me.

I remembered sitting at her table trembling and dreading to ask.
Just she and I in her kitchen as she stirred the soup she was cooking.
I was a single mom and I was struggling HARD to survive at the time.
Something had come up and I desperately needed money.
I didn't know who else to turn to.
"Nonnie....I need to ask you something. I hate to ask, but is there any way you can help me. I need to borrow some money...."
I held my breath waiting to see what she'd say.
Feeling ashamed for even having to ask.

She turned around with her wooden spoon still in hand, clenched here eyes, tilted her head, and said something I'll never forget.
Something that summed up my relationship with her, and the relationship I hope to have with my own grandchildren one day.

"Honey, Of course I'll help you. I'd jump in a runnin' saw mill to help save you."

Then she turned around and kept stirring.

I could go on and on.

About how she re-laminated her own kitchen floor when she was in her 80's.

About the stories I've heard of a fight between her and her second husband that involved something about burying a gun in the yard.
Something that was probably a good thing, because she had a true Irish, Murphy temper.

I'd tell about the way her skin smelled when she'd kiss you goodnight right before bed.

How as a kid I'd beg her to take her teeth out and she'd spit them out and suck them in in a way that would make me laugh and laugh and beg her to do it again.

I see her puffy permed hair and feel her soft, perfect-for-hugging body.

All my life, as my musical family has gathered, there's always been singing.
Every time, all the kids get together, with her in the middle and they sing about the River Jordan.

Nonnie sang the bass.

We'd all laugh as the low tones echoed in the room. A sound you didn't expect from an old, shrunken woman.
We younger cousins would give each other sideways glances and smiles.

Now, I know her voice will always echo in the room,
bigger than you'd ever expect,
in the empty space that will be left here that only she could fill.

Because no one will ever be able to sing Nonnie's part.

Today Heaven welcomes one of the truest saints it ever knew.
Norah Hitte-Hammonds.

She will be so VERY missed by us all.

My Nonnie, my fan, and my friend.