Today’s post is by team writer Laura LaVoie:
I had a Nana. Often this is an alternate name for Grandmother, but my Nana wasn’t my grandmother. She was my grandmother’s sister. That made her my mom’s aunt and my great aunt. I was the youngest in my family, and by the time I was born, only one grandparent was still alive; my grandmother. She was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s when I was only 7. She died when I was 15.
That’s Nana on the right, in 1921. She’s posing with her sister, my grandmother. I look just like my grandmother, yet I didn’t have a relationship with her. Not the same one that my sister and brother had at any rate. Instead, I had Nana.
Nana, whose given name was Mary Beatrice but went by Sally for some unexplained reason, was an interesting woman. She was born in 1903 in Canada and moved to the U.S. when she married a man from the island of Malta. She and her husband, Sam, were married until his death in 1957 (I think). They never had children and she never remarried.
I never asked her why she didn’t have kids. It wasn’t important to me. She was always on her own and I admired her a great deal. She was very important to me when I was growing up because I didn’t have a traditional grandparent relationship. At the same time, my relationship with Nana was very different than I imagine a relationship with a grandmother.
Nana represented a lot of things to me. She was independent. She was confident. She was smart. Certainly, I understand these attributes are not exclusive to childfree women, but because she didn’t have children, those traits represented something else. It was extremely rare for people in her generation to remain childfree, whether by choice or by chance, and that was almost exotic. As exotic as the way she said “Zed” instead of “Zee” and “Aught” instead of “Zero.”
Nana died when I was 18. She was 90. I remember some of the strangest things about her. I remember the smell of her apartment; which turns out were mothballs, but I just thought it was the way her house smelled. I remember how she was always dressed in a skirt and hose and her hair was always done whether she was sitting around her apartment or going to the grocery store. I remember the skin on her hands being the softest skin I had ever felt.
I am really happy that I had a strong childfree role model in my life. I didn’t make the choice not to have kids because of Nana, but I think about her often when I think about the decision I did make. If I can be as strong and as independent as she was I might be doing it right and that makes me feel good about myself.