I have been exceedingly blessed in my life to have had the influence of two remarkable grandmothers. Nana, my mother’s mother lived most of her life in small towns or settlements with limited access to stores and other amenities. Nana exhibited a remarkable work ethic, a tremendous “can do” attitude and a full range of talents she used to enhance her modest home, sew her own clothes and those of her family, and pleasantly go about the innumerable chores, small and large, that constituted “homemaking” at the beginning of the 20th century.
Nana had a touch of Scottish Royalty in her genealogy, which was evident in the photos taken of her when she was a young woman, with her big hats, riding crops and bracelets.
She had chosen to marry a good looking dirt farmer – my Papaw, who, through circumstance and sickness, though his intentions were something else, didn’t provide for Nana the things she could have had otherwise. My Nana and Papaw loved and supported each other in all things and at all times. They were there for each other – not in a showy way, but as a quiet team, moving through life and circumstances in their unruffled, almost regimented way; a way not really noticeable to many people.
Being more well-to-do than most other people in rural Arkansas in the late 1800s did not shield Nana from hard work. Although her mother had the only piano in that part of Arkansas in that era, still, growing up, she had cleaned, cooked, washed and ironed for seven brothers, plus worked the fields, being the only daughter in the household.
Nana was a pretty little woman with a sense of, not regality, but a sense of nobility about her – a touch of “noblesse oblige”, if you will. She went about her roster of chores with a pleasant air, a ready smile, and a genuine good word for everyone. I never saw her rattled, hurried or harried. I never saw her do anything half way because she didn’t have time. From placing a fresh ironed doily on her dining room table to painting the screens on the windows of the house, Nana exhibited (and taught me) a real pride of ownership.
I learned from Nana by helping her wash with her wringer washer and putting the “bluing” in the machine at the exact time to whiten the clothes. I learned from Nana when she hung her beautifully washed clothes on the clothes line and hoisted the pole which raised the wash high into the air “to catch the sunshine”. I learned from Nana each time she looked at that wash, stepped back a little and said, “Now, isn’t that pretty?” I learned by helping her make jelly, pick the greens, weed the flower beds, can, mend, and all those things a young girl used to do with her grandmother when they were together.
The beauty that Nana saw in life was evident to me. Everything she did, no matter how humble, she did with a quiet pride, a great respect for her things and her own efforts, and a habit of finding beauty and good in everything. Her garden was meticulous, her flower beds glorious, the yard mowed, raked and mulched perfectly, her floors mopped on schedule, her dishes always finished, dried and put away, her wash done on a certain day, ironing on a certain day – she seemed always in control of her life and never was at a loss. It had appeared to me all my life that surely she had somehow managed to build for herself a beautiful and full life — despite the chores and hardships.
Nana’s Favorite Thing
Nana had four grandchildren, me being the oldest granddaughter. She and Papaw helped raise me and my older brother after our Dad died shortly before I was born. We were a tiny, but very loyal family group. When Nana died I was heartbroken. She left me too early and her death was totally unnecessary and the result of medical circumstances. My grandfather was still living and family members spent much time at his home caring for him and helping him adjust.
I remember she died in May and her flowers were in full-riot. I was sitting on their small back stoop, talking with Mom and reveling in Nana’s flowers and the results of her life’s work and caring, when I happened to glance at the wash house and garage from the odd vantage point I had at that time and spied a long cane fishing pole carefully placed on the wall just above the door frame at the wash house entrance. I didn’t remember seeing that pole before since at a standing position it was not noticeable. I asked Mom, “Whose fishing pole is that?” Mom replied, “Why, that’s Mama’s”. I said in a surprised voice, “Nana’s? I never saw Nana fish. I never knew of her going fishing. I didn’t know she fished!” Mom replied, “That was your Nana’s favorite thing to do — above all else.”
Those words were like a knife through my heart. Nana had taken care of that cane fishing pole all those years and not once did I know of her getting to go fishing – her favorite thing to do. Not once did she complain of never getting to go fishing. Not once did I know she even enjoyed fishing. I was in my 30s when Nana died and I had never known of her going fishing in all my life.
I cried inside. The pain, remorse, guilt and shame were too great to share with anyone else – even my Mom. Although Nana had driven many a team of horses and mules in her day, Nana didn’t drive a car. In her day, that was unnecessary. How many times had I sat with her, on her porch, supremely able to load her in my car and taken her any place she wanted to go, not knowing she wanted to go anywhere. I cried for my Nana – who had shared her life with me — and I knew nothing about her.
Nana wove happiness, beauty, and fulfillment into her life, entwined into the duty that she was called to do. But, the shocking reality to me (and one I haven’t gotten over yet) is that, throughout all the years that I knew Nana and saw her happiness with taking care of her things and the joy she got from doing everyday chores the very best she could do them; what would have made her the happiest she could have ever been was to simply go fishing.
I remember that during the time when Mom and Dad were making plans to take care of Mom’s parents when that time came, Mom had voiced a plan that included Nana fishing at the pond on their farm. When I heard Mom mention that, I couldn’t make it fit what I knew about Nana and brushed it off as just part of a mental list of possible activities that could be enjoyed if and when Nana came to live with Mom and Dad.
At some point in her life – earlier than I could remember — she put her fishing pole away because duty won out. And what I had thought had been a full life had been partly a substitute of finding fulfillment where she could – all the while not receiving simple pleasures that were her favorites. Nana’s ‘favorite thing’ to do had gone undone, had been quietly set aside – a dream on hold.
Nana was waiting to go fishing – her absolute favorite thing – when all the chores were done.
I wonder many times; who else do I know who is waiting to go fishing? – when all the chores are done. Am I waiting? Are you?
Copyright 2016, DannaGrace, LLC
Editor’s Notes: Danna G. Hallmark is a concept and training materials developer, philosopher, author, and writer, who has had a long career of “out of the box” thinking, guiding, and counseling in many venues. More of her writings can be found at www.dannagrace.com,www.globaltanetwork.com, www.yourjewelryguide.com, www.t-foh.com. Danna is also published by Academia.edu, and has several books on the market, both in digital and hard copy. You can reach Danna by asking to connect on Skype dannagrace1, or at email@example.com.