Last week, we said goodbye to someone who was very important to us. My husband’s favorite aunt passed away at the age of 85. She was someone who was very important to our family and we will miss her terribly. Her name was Oletha, but “down home”, they called her Nance and we always called her Nanny along with most of the rest of the family. I can’t even think of how many kids she had a hand in raising, at least three generations worth that I can remember, including all three of ours.
My husband used to go to their small farm in Oklahoma every summer when he was growing up, to help with the hay harvest and help with the cows. They never did farming in a serious way, but Uncle Joe loved his cows and he had enough of a garden to take a few truckloads of melons and other produce into “town” and sell it. We figure mostly it just gave him a chance to get out of the house and visit with the folks around their small town.
Later, we made visits with our children and I found her as warm and welcoming as the grandparents I never really had. My parents were older when I was born, so I only have a few memories of my grandparents and they all had died before I was out of elementary school. Nanny didn’t mind and she always made me feel as welcome as all the rest of the family. This picture is of us celebrating my birthday on one of our trips, with a cake she had baked especially for me.
She was my mother-in-law’s oldest sister and here is a picture of the two of them – she’s the one sitting behind the chair. I tried to find a picture just by herself, but I wasn’t too surprised that I couldn’t find one. She wasn’t someone to stand out or be made a fuss over. She was just always calm and sweet and loving.
It’s interesting to see how different they were. My MIL was a good person, but she definitely had a sharp tongue and strong opinions. I remember the first time she visited us in our new house. I knew she was a perfectionist, so I had worked myself silly to get the house “mother-in-law” clean and looking it’s best, but she started in criticizing before she even got in the door. And it just broke my heart because she was pointing out things I’d never even noticed or thought to do anything about and taking no notice at all of the other things I’d worked so hard over.
A few weeks later, Nanny came over for a visit too. Same house and it wasn’t even as fancied up, and all she had to say was how wonderful everything looked and what a lovely job we had done fixing it up so nice. That was an important life lesson for me about the power of words. I never forgot what a difference a few sharp words could make and what a benefit a few kind words could bring.
She had a pretty rough life. She survived a brain tumor, lost her daughter and daughter-in-law to cancer, lost half a dozen sisters and brothers to cancer and other causes, and finally lost her husband of 63 years to old age and diabetes. Never had much money, especially in those last few years, but with a little help from the family, she managed to keep things going and I never heard her complain.
Her faith was always strong and she just trusted everything to work out for the best. I think when she came down with pneumonia a couple of weeks ago, she just decided that she was too tired to carry on, and requested that she not be kept going with tubes and machines. So they sent her home with a hospice team and she passed quietly with her family around her. It was sad, but we felt good that she was able to make her own decision.
I think of the lessons she has left behind for her whole family and her community too, and I wonder when this older generation dies off, what kinds of examples our children and grandchildren will have to live up to? They literally just do not make them like this any more and that’s a shame. I don’t think I ever heard her say a bad thing against any one. She might not agree with their actions, but she always trusted that they were good people at heart and they maybe just strayed from the path a little and that’s a great way to look at it.
I used to love to sit and look at her hands. I would wonder how many meals had been lovingly prepared for her family. How many sick children and ailing relatives had they nursed. How many kind deeds had they done for the members of her church. Now that those hands are stilled, I guess it is up to us to step in and take over the chores, but it will be hard enough to do them in the same loving way.
I hope when I am 85, my family will look on me with the same amount of respect and love as people did for her. I think that’s about the best legacy we can leave our family and I hope we can live up to your example, Nanny. We love you and we will miss you forever.
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