Wednesday, April 16, 2014
NIFTY NEWS: N IS FOR NANA
I have two fantastic pieces of news for you, dear readers: (1) I'm going to get the night off from writing an A to Z Challenge post (great news for me, anyway; I hope it's not quite as great for you), because (2) my dear friend Michele Granger is doing a guest post tonight, and it's terrific!
It all started when Michele read my "D IS FOR DOLLHOUSE" post, and its followup photos of the actual dollhouse. In response, she emailed me to tell me that it all reminded her of the dollhouse that her Nana had made for her when she was a little girl. Michele and I have been in a critique group together for umpteen years, so I've heard other Nana stories, but the one she told me in this email was so lovely that I asked her whether she'd be willing to develop it a little more so that I could post it on my blog for N night. Reader: she did it. So here, without further ado, is N is for Nana!
My Nana was a chain smoking, fun loving, French Canadian woman who sold bathtub gin out the back door of her apartment during prohibition, or that’s the story, anyway. The family lore, which sadly was discovered to be untrue when a cousin did a genealogy search, was that we were part Iroquois Indian on my grandfather’s side. In fact, I believe a princess was involved. That discovery makes me wonder about the bathtub gin story. Sigh. When Pepere would tease Nana or untie the strings on her apron while she was cooking, she would say (with a cigarette dangling from the side of her mouth), "Leave me alone, you God damned Indian!" Pepere was also a wonderful guy. I would give anything to hear that laugh of his again.
Nana was the best grandmother a child could imagine. She would drop whatever she was doing to help my cousin, Bobby and me set up a lemonade stand in front of her house or sew up costumes for our latest fantasy play on her machine. She made a Parcheesi board on the back of an oilcloth table covering and would spend an afternoon playing with us at the kitchen table, using buttons for markers. My sister and I were fascinated at how long Nana would let her cigarette ash get and how she could use her bottom lip to tilt it up at just the right angle to save the ash from falling. She’d be busy with something that she didn’t want to interrupt to flick it off in an ashtray and would squint around the smoke as it got in her eyes. It’s like a mortal sin to smoke in front of kids, now, but this was in the fifties and early sixties before our consciousness about such things had been raised. After Pepere died, many Friday afternoons, I would walk a mile to the bus stop with my little suitcase and take two buses to get to Nana’s to stay for the weekend. I thought she might be lonely, or maybe it was me who missed Pepere so much and needed the comfort. I was only twelve, but no one seemed to worry. Did I mention that this was another time? Long before ‘helicopter parents’ were the norm.
But I need to get to the reason that I wrote to Susan about Nana to begin with. It was her dollhouse blog entry that got me started. Nana made me one out of a stack of fruit crates that she’d fastened together somehow. They might have already been in use as a homemade shelving unit when she got the idea, or I might have seen it and asked if I could use it as a dollhouse. I can’t remember. Anyway, it was a totally vertical dollhouse, unlike the adorable one that Susan’s husband made from a kit and yet, I loved it so much. I papered each room using wrapping paper that seemed to suit each one. The top room was the kitchen, the next one down, was Jill’s room (a blonde teenage doll, pre-Barbie), the next down was baby, Ginette’s room, then Ginny’s room (I was totally crazy about my Ginny doll) and the bottom room was the living room. Nana made living room furniture for the house out of the plastic crates that four pink, tasteless, uniformly sized tomatoes used to come in. The full size was for the couch (in fact, I think she wired two together –one upside down) and then she cut down two for the chairs and one for the coffee table. Each had a hand sewn matching cushion on it with tiny buttons to make them look tufted. The coffee table had a thimble attached to its center with tiny fake flowers in it. Nana had a collection of salt and pepper shakers and one was a small plastic TV. When one turned the knob (remember when the knobs were only for on and off?), the shakers popped up. It was the perfect size for the living room. I played with that doll house for many hours over several years. If only I could see it again. Thank you, Nana.
p.s. The photo above is not of Michele's Nana. It's from Google Images. But it's what I imagine Michele's Nana might have looked liked, cigarette and all.