A Letter to My Nana

Nana. Nan. Virginia. Vee. Ma.

You went by many names, but the one I feel luckiest to have called you is “friend.”

Lots of people are close with their grandparents, but it feels like a rare privilege that I was able to call my grandmother my friend, too. 

Nowadays, people in my generation seem to talk a lot about “twin flames.” While I didn’t know the term while I was growing up, I see now that it describes us perfectly: “two people who have a deep soul connection and seem to mirror one another.”

For as long as I can remember, you and I have had that connection. I’ve always felt like your mini me—for better or, at times, for worse! I have you to thank for my sense of style, my fierce sass, my penchant for staying up way too late for no reason, my love for baking, and my bargain hunting abilities, to name a few.

Up until your final day, you were still worried about making sure your hair was curled just so, you had the right shade of lipstick on, and your earrings matched your outfit. You hated when the polish started growing out on your long nails, and you would order silly diet products because you wanted to “lose your stomach.” A freaking queen, if you ask me.

When I think of my childhood, many of my favorite memories revolve around sleepovers with you. You would start the weekend by taking me shopping. You knew about all of the sales at Macy’s and would convince the cashiers that you could, in fact, combine coupons—you knew all the secrets from your time working there to pay for the endless outfits you bought for me and your other grandkids. 

I have a very specific memory of one of those days. I had somehow become obsessed with the Pillsbury Doughboy, and one of us must have seen that there was a doll of him in existence. He chuckled when his stomach was pressed—needless to say, we agreed that I had to have him! We spent the entire day going from store to store, then calling the number on the back of Pillsbury boxes when the stores failed us. By the time I came for our next sleepover, you had him waiting for me.

Whenever we finished with our shopping sprees, we would pull up to your house in Medford, and you would beep the horn. That was Grampy’s signal to come down and help us carry the bags in, and he never missed a beat—or in this case, a honk. 

Then, of course, came time to try on all of our purchases. You would dress me up in a combination of clothes my size and your own dresses and jewels. I’m pretty sure you invented the top knot hairstyle and statement jewelry. You’d take glamour shots of me, your life-sized doll, on your disposable camera. I’d parade into the den at your direction, interrupt Grampy’s viewing of Unsolved Mysteries or JAG, and give him a fashion show in my new outfits. He would “ooh” and “ahh” despite likely wanting to focus on the TV behind me—but he always had time for his girls. 

For dinner, you would always pick up steak tips from Dino’s in Medford because they were my favorite. That’s another thing about you: when someone mentioned that they liked something, you would make it or buy it for them over and over. While you and Grampy barely ate the single order you shared, I would always demolish mine on my own. You’d both assure me that “old age makes you eat like a bird.” I’d eat in the living room where the movie you’d let me pick out at Blockbuster played. If there’s a limit on how many times one kid can watch Grease over and over, I surely wasn’t aware of it. 

Once my movie ended and Grampy went to bed, it was time for us girls to take over the den. You’d make me one of your famous lemon waters (yes, it was literally just water with lemon in it, but it tasted so much better when you made it) so I could feel like a grown up alongside you. Then we’d watch figure skating. To this day, I remember the name Oksana Baiul like she was my own family member. We’d talk about their costumes and rate their moves. We’d gush over how sweet Michelle Kwan seemed. I felt like I was your peer, and it was the best feeling in the world.

In the mornings, I’d wake to a huge, sugar-coated blueberry muffin that Grampy bought me at the local store. Then it was off to bowling, where your teammates would act like I was the best thing since sliced bread. You’d give me money for the arcade, and if I wanted a specific prize but couldn’t seem to win it, you would convince the teenager behind the counter to let you buy it. I’d bowl a few rounds and watch you play like a pro. We’d finish up by having lunch out with the girls. If there was no bowling that day, you would bring me into your arts and crafts room and teach me how to make something you had seen in one of your magazines.

Speaking of arts and crafts, I’d be remiss not to mention the time you made me a couch for my Lunette and Molly dolls from the show “The Big Comfy Couch.” Despite being the girliest child of all time, I was set on my favorite color being black as a kid. Even though it wasn’t your style, you went out and bought black fabric for me.

And how could I talk about dolls without mentioning the doll? I was the first of my friends—and one of the only ones in general—to have a “My American Girl” doll. You and Grampy sent in a photo of me and had a doll made that looked exactly like me—down to what you always called my beauty mark. But having an identical doll wasn’t enough. Every single holiday, you ordered fancy matching outfits for me and my twin. 

See, you were always going above and beyond to show me how much you loved me. You always loved to bake, and I’ve always had a sweet tooth. When I was diagnosed with diabetes nearly fifteen years ago, you cried…and then immediately stocked up on ginormous bags of Splenda and made changes to your recipes.

Cooking was one of your love languages, and to this day, I still have pieces of your handmade quiche in my freezer. I would always tease you for being an environmental nightmare because of how many layers of plastic wrap and tinfoil you used on each individual slice, but I like to think that just means there was extra love wrapped in there. Now it’s safe to say I’ll never have the heart to throw those slices of quiche away. 

It’s only been a week since we last spoke, and I already miss our phone calls.

“Hey Nan,” I’d always greet you. “Hey Hale,” you’d mimic back.

We’d swap recommendations for shows to watch during our late-night TV binges, share easy recipes to make ahead when we didn’t feel like cooking for one, and you’d tell me about the latest gadget you had ordered from those infomercials I didn’t think anyone actually fell for. We also often talked about politics, and we were on the same page. You were one woke 83-year-old, Nan. You were never afraid to stand up for what you felt was right, even if it meant making your bowling friends uncomfortable. You wouldn’t even give Trump the satisfaction of using his name—to you, he was just “that asshole.” Not to be confused with your favorite phrase “you little shit,” which you only directed toward those you loved.

I can’t even put into words how grateful I am that we got to speak less than two hours before you passed. I like to think that Grampy knew your time was coming to an end and made sure to put the idea into my head for me to call at that very moment. I will never forget our final conversation. You sounded great and were so positive about how much better you were feeling. We talked, as usual, about our shows—you were watching American Crime Story: Impeachment with Mom, and we talked about Bill Clinton’s antics. Despite my misgivings, you were adamant that he’s faithful to Hilary these days, which I found oddly sweet. 

When we hung up, I said I was so glad to hear you sounding so good and that I’d talk to you soon. I told you I loved you, and you ended the way you always did:

“I love you too, doll.”

I’ll love you forever, Nana.

Xoxo,

Your doll

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