I only had one like her. She was so special, that after grandpa died and they sold the old farm, there was a continuing argument among her children as to who would get to have her stay with them next. Nano was just a kind-hearted, tender old woman who always had a smile, a kind word, and never once did I hear her say anything bad about anyone at all.
As I recall my childhood days when I would get to visit that old farm, I can remember that the upstairs sleeping porch vividly impressed my mind. Big rooms with papered walls, but no heat. You just piled on more quilts until you were immobilized by the weight of them. Then I would lay on my bed and look at the wall and see a particular picture with seven separate photos of seven sisters, all hers. They all were in black and white and were taken in the 1800s. Everyone of them looked alike, with their hair in buns and high-collared blouses. I wondered what it might have been like in those times and what happened to all those girls.
Nano was most contented when she had a needle and thread and a tack hammer in her hand. I completely wore out the little vanity set she made for me. It was a chair and a little table lovingly covered in pink. It was constructed from an old apple crate. She taught me how to crochet, braid a rug out of old rags, and every blanket in our house was hand-stitched by her hands.
She was a woman who "made do". In those days, there was no social security, and for a long time no telephone or electricity as well. As far as cooking goes, no one could make turkey dressing like her...except me. (For I watched her until the recipe was burned into my mind. The secret was the stale crackers.) And whenever I visited the farm in earlier years, I would wake up to the smell of made-from-scratch cinnamon rolls. She would let me help her make them the night before. I got to put on the sugar and cinnamon and place the raisins just so. How I remember that big kitchen...the only place in the house that was warm that time of the day. She would get up early and fire up the coal oil stove and put on a big pot of coffee and bake the rolls. No need to call me downstairs, even once. The smell was heavenly.
In the summertime when chores were done, she and I would head down across the lower grain field to the creek. There we walked among the lovely pecan trees to our favorite fishing hole to catch some perch for supper. And we always did. When fall came, we would return there to fill up sacks with the nuts and before long we'd have a luscious pecan pie for desert.
Harvest time was the busiest. There were the farm hands to feed after the threshing was done, bushels of peaches, beans, tomatoes had to be canned for the winter months ahead and stored in the cellar. Laundry took an entire day, and it was done on a rub board by hand. We used the soap we had made from pig lard and lye. Then you "rung 'em out" and "hung 'em out" on the clothesline to dry, after which you must starch and iron everything during the next two days.
When day was done and things began to get dark, we would sit out on the porch watching fireflies and falling stars. Occasionally we might hear a wolf far off in the distance. But my, how clear was that night sky and there was never the sound of a passing car. My ears had to adjust to the silence. It was such a simple, precious time I had with her. She would read to me, and sometimes we would play dominos with grandpa under the light of a kerosene lantern.
That was my Nano.
She's been gone a long, long time now. But so much seemed to disappear with her passing. We didn't see it that way right then...for as each new convenience came along, we abandoned things that took away our time. As I became older, times got so much easier. Though mothers still loved their children and grandchildren, they began to buy little vanity sets at Walmarts and blankets and quilts from department stores in the big malls. No one sat down to peel peaches and snap beans anymore. Cinnamon rolls were now bought from the bakery at the supermarket, and there was no time or need to head for the creek to pick up pecans or catch fish...they were there too. Television would now baby-sit the kids until time for bed.
What child now goes to sleep snuggled close to a warm breast, listening to its favorite story anymore? Or little fingers get to struggle with a crochet hook as a larger hand guides them until they've mastered the first loops? Where are the laughing children, still thrilled at such a thing as to be chosen to put the raisins in cinnamon rolls or sit with the grownups playing dominos in the late evenings after the supper dishes are done? Or knows how awesome are the heavens at night? Or catches fireflies in a quart jar?
Like anyone else, I can get fish on my plate anytime at Catfish Charlie's restaurant. I can drink coffee at Starbucks or get it at a drive-up on the way to work. I can eat a cinnamon roll at Cinnabons and turkey dinner comes frozen at the supermarket.
But now I sit here thinking of my Nano. I miss Nano. Because Nano was my childhood. And my childhood was Nano. She represents something more precious than I can explain. For like the sands in an hourglass, she left some of her precious grains of time on my beach for my small little wiggly toes to feel, instead of coveteouslessly bottling them all inside for herself.
Someone had time for me....just me.
MARY ELIZABETH ADAMS