Saturday, November 27, 2010

Memories and the Water Tower

Usually I come to the ol' laptop with something I feel is profound enough to be shared.  Usually I have something I need to get off my chest, or something has been burning a hole in my heart.  At times I've even been frustrated to tears, like the first time I wrote on this particular blog.  Before that, I started on Captain Leela's Ravings, too scared to even put my name on what I wrote, angry and wanting to scratch and claw to make a better place for my children to live... in other words, to be a better mother, wife, daughter, and of course, child of God.  Whatever the circumstances I leave feeling a bit relieved, and at peace with what I've said and how I've said it.  I've proofread (although I'm sure sometimes it's hard to tell) and double checked any scripture references to make sure I don't offend.  I've dressed up what I had to say with the freshest words possible (thanks, Mrs. Westfall) and shared my heart with you in a way that I truly hope will bring you closer to the throne of God.  Funny part is, when it's all said and published, I'm the one a little closer to God, but that's beside the point. 
This time, I'm not even sure what I'll say.  Maybe I just need the tactile feeling of the keys and the sound of my own thoughts being ticked out key by key.  Maybe I'm hoping I'll have some great revelation that will make the past few weeks okay in my heart, and that I won't hurt quite as much after clicking on "publish".  This time, what's burning a hole in my heart is the memory of my Nanny. 
When I was born on the morning of June 15, 1978, there was a little argument.  My Daddy wanted to name me Toi-Marie (I KNOW!  How horrible!) Dawn, my dear Mama wanted to name me Aspen Dawn (ok, not as bad, but kids could really be ugly with that one), and as I remember it, Nanny won.  Mama's second choice became Nanny's first choice, and she had her first grandchild.  I went home from the hospital to what is now 804 Morris Creek Road in Heavener, Oklahoma.  Not in the flat, sandy part of Oklahoma (which is beautiful in its own way), but the moutainous, beautiful part of Oklahoma.  There are pictures of my first smile, with my Mama holding me in the breakfast room of that house.  My mother and daddy were married in the front room, and though that marriage was rough at best, that's still significant.  My first birthday party was at Nanny's, and when it was time to dry out my daddy who would only go to rehab if Mama went too, I stayed with Nanny.  When their marriage ended, my Mama stayed in Oklahoma City where they'd been living because she'd worked too hard to leave her position at the hospital there, and I'd spend summers in Heavener.  We'd hook their travel trailer to the old Ford F-150 and go all over the place, Nanny, Grandad and I.  They were members of "Good Sam", a camping club, and at the lake all the trailers would park next to each other with a little wooden board with the family name hanging from the front of each one.  There were card tables between them, and plenty of lawn chairs.  All the men would sit and play cards or dominoes, and the ladies would sit and work on their afghans or scarves or little covers for appliances or whatever they were into.  As one of the few little kids who got to go, I'd sit in my little-girl lawn chair and take out my Cabbage Patch Kid sewing cards and pretend to be one of them.  It was there that George Stevens taught us all every now and again that "a domino laid is a domino played".  There are rumors that I "danced a jig" on one of their little trailer doorsteps (I know, I'd never do anything silly) and I can remember loving to go swimming and fishing and loved helping Nanny cook in the camper when it came time for meals.  
We couldn't camp all the time, though.  Nanny and Grandad owned and ran a store called "The Appliance Center" in downtown Heavener in the "big, blue building".  Seriously.  It was big.  And blue.  And that's all the directions you needed in Heavener.  As a little girl I'd tumble out of bed on a work morning, run down the crazy-long hall as fast as I possibly could (rumor has it something might jump out and scare me... thanks a lot, uncle Steve!), and find Nanny and Grandad sitting at the breakfast table having their morning coffee.  If there was time before going to the store for work, Nanny would make me some pancakes complete with peanut butter and strawberry syrup.  Then I HAD to ride to work with NANNY... I loved Grandad too, but c'mon.  Girl time is girl time.  Then there was the store.  Oh my WORD did they have a lot of kitchen gadgets on this one wall.  I'd stand there forever... looking, not touching, mind you.  There were always donuts!  Nanny would have yummy glazed donuts for the staff sometimes, and Ruby Willhite, one of their friends/employees, would help me reach them.  I've thanked her several times for that over the years.  I even met a friend at the Appliance Center.  Our new pastor of the First Christian Church, where Nanny and Grandad had been very involved, had come by to say hello and brought his daughter, Jennifer.  Being a shy five year old who was much more comfortable around adults, I hid under a display of Corelle diningware on a card table, mercifully hidden behind a long tablecloth (Nanny was big on tablecloths).  Jennifer even crawled under the table to say hi.  How cool was she?!  I did love that church when Nanny went, too.  I remember sitting in the pew almost to the back on the right side, right behind George and Ava Stevens (domino rule guy and his WONDERFUL wife... they were actually both very sweet and I loved them).  Ava was like Nanny's best buddy.  She was one of the ladies who used to sit and crochet and knit with Nanny when we went camping, and she had a daughter with the coolest bedroom door... it was COMPLETELY covered in stickers.  Ava's life ended way too soon, and I remember crying with Nanny at the breakfast room table when she passed.  But I digress.
Then there was Granny's.  Granny was Nanny's mother, and if I could do no wrong for Nanny, that went times a bajillion for Granny.  I was her only great-grandchild at the time, and she'd make me all the homemade fries and catsup I could eat.  And I could eat a lot.  She'd also let me eat strawberry preserves out of the jar with a teaspoon.  Granny was COOL!  Many times I'd stay with Granny if Nanny had something to do and I couldn't go.  I even got my first spank from Nanny (and likely my last) at Granny's.  I deserved it, but Granny cried and I remember feeling so bad that I got Nanny in trouble with her mama! 
But time went on, life went on as it does, and my Daddy decided it was time for me to stay with him in the summers and at holidays.  Talk about heartbreaking... I did NOT want to give up my time with Nanny.  But I had to, and that's a whole other book of a blog post.  So from then on, the time I had at Nanny's and when she'd come to see us in Oklahoma City was so much more cherished.  The only place I wanted to be, other than with my Mama, was with Nanny.  Daddy had moved to Kansas, which made him six whole hours away from Nanny's.  No quick escapes, and I sure wished there were.
But oh, did I look forward to time at Nanny and Grandad's.  But things started to get a little different.  Something happened, and they didn't quite get along the way they used to.  Again, another blog post.  Nanny still did things for me, with me, and made sure she saw Mama and I.  Took us shopping, cooked for us, played games with me, cooked for us, helped me *ahem* clean my room, cooked for us... tee-hee!
After fourth grade, my Mama got very nervous at the thought of having me go to a junior high in the city.  She heard that I'd have to be drug-tested to enroll, and that really freaked her out.  So we moved back to Heavener. 
The plan was for us to live in one of Nanny and Grandad's rent houses, and Mama would go back to college at Northeastern State in Tahlequah.  Nanny and Grandad moved us while I was in Kansas one summer to the red house across from the high school in Heavener.  It was the house that they'd moved to when Holt Telephone Co. moved them to Heavener in the 50's.  They had since moved to the house Mama grew up in and where she lives now, and moved to the house on the hill on Morris Creek Road.  It needed work but Mama was up to it, and so was Nanny.  I loved being back with them!  We lived with them for a few months while they finised sprucing up the red house, and I was in hog-heaven.  Mama took me to the General Store (can I get a WOOT for penny candy, Heavener peeps?!) to buy school supplies, complete with my first Heavener Wolves t-shirt.  I spent my evenings when Mama was at school with Nanny and Grandad, who had sold the store at that point.  Nanny had been selling Tupperware for years at this point.  No more Good Sam, no more crocheting and driving all over the place sitting between Nanny and Grandad on a stack of Dr. Seuss books in the white F-150.  My Uncle Steve had been out of the house for years, married to my Aunt Teresa, who was my best birthday present that year (they were married on my birthday).  They eventually moved back, too... into the house they grew up in, but they also eventually moved back out.  Not Mama... Mama met Bucky, and then there was Bree. 
Up until now, you see, Mama and I were a dynamic duo.  The true picture of a tough, single 80's woman working hard and caring for her little girl.  As good as Dad was to us at the time, I couldn't get over losing that sidekick status.  As much as I wanted my sweet, beautiful, amazing, yet lonely Mama to find the right man, I wanted her all to myself too.  And Dad was good to us!  When they went out, I went too.  That usually meant a date to the lake, but hey, that's cool!  But it wasn't the same,  and I naturally got closer and closer to my Nanny.  Nanny and I ran all over the place delivering Tupperware and holding parties in the Dodge Caravan she worked to earn.  That woman could sell ice to the eskimos... no, she could sell Tupperware to Mr. Ziploc!  We went everywhere together.  I'd do my homework in the van if I had to.  There were many times that we'd go to Fort Smith shopping or (Tupperware) partying and be so tired we'd just stay in the travel trailer that now stood parked in Barling, just outside Fort Smith.  She'd take me to pick out some snack food, maybe get a movie, but usually we'd sit and visit about everything.  I loved hearing about her childhood, her past, growing up, everything.  She listened to me and never passed judgement.  She supported and loved, but never judged.  She ALWAYS had time for me, no matter what.  She no longer attended church at this time, but still showed Jesus' love to me and so many others.  We had so many wonderful times over some Doritos and diet Coke and whatever else we'd decided we needed to try. Had to have something sweet too, you know. 
Eventually, when I was in high school, my father tried to corner me into moving to be with he and his wife and mother in Kansas by telling me I had to either move in with him (six hours away, mind you), move in with Nanny, or he'd report my mother to DHS and have me and my sister removed.  Now, he had no basis in any of this to make anything work... it was all manipulation and he thought he knew what I'd choose.  So I called Nanny one humid summer night in Kansas and asked if I could live with her. 
No questions asked, of course, she agreed.
When I went home, Nanny met Daddy and Judi in Siloam Springs, Arkansas at the McDonald's.  The thought of that place gave me indigestion for years because that was our usual meeting place.  Nanny kept me at her house for about a week till Mama couldn't take it and wanted to know why I didn't come home.  I don't remember what I told her, but I know I didn't tell her the truth.  In my mind, that was the closest I could stay to her without losing her completely.  So whatever I told her, I told her on Nanny's bed, crying my eyes out.  And Nanny stood by my decision.  No thought of what it would cost her, no second thoughts at all.  No questions, just the one answer I needed, and that was to stay close to my Mama.  As a girl going into her sophomore year of high school, I had decided that the best thing was for my heart to absorb all the hurt it possibly could for the sake of everyone else.  After all, if I was the only one hurting then no one else would have to.   Then my sophomore year of high school happened.  Nanny's Dad, Pop, came to live with us when he got colon cancer, and passed away in the fall.  Some incredibly difficult things happened to me that year, and I lost a friendship that I never thought I would... and during that time, when things were at their worst and I told her I didn't know if I could go back to church, Nanny looked me straight in the eye and asked the most probing, pivotal question anyone had asked or has ever asked me.  "Well, who do you go for?"  And from that moment on, I decided who I went to church for and why I went.  Nanny held me together through so much that year. 
Again, time passed and this time it was time for college.  I had planned (ok, I realize how stupid this was now) with all my eggs in one big, fat crimson and cream basket to go to OU.  Wanted to major in music.  Of course.  After she'd already paid fees to get me into the dorm at OU, I wasn't accepted into the school of music.  My wonderful band director at the time and his sweet wife (who my baby girl's middle name comes from) helped me find a place in Texas... Abilene, to be exact.  Nearly eight hours away from home, yes ma'am.  So after telling me no, I was NOT going so far from home to go to school by myself, and a week of steaming and very few words, we found ourselves on our way to Hardin-Simmons University for me to play a scholarship audition.  All went well, I was accepted with open arms, and not knowing about how student aid works, Nanny went to the bank and made sure that I got that first year of education.  Later we learned about loans, but that first year was all on Nanny and anyone who needed something to keep their food fresh... or who could be convinced that they did. 
In the years since, every time I needed anything, she was there.  Soon as she got wind of it, she was there.  When I wanted to go to Europe my senior year in high school, she matched what I made and even helped us do some fundraisers.  She bought me my first set of matching luggage (with the help of her sweet sisters, if I remember correctly) for the trip.  She shopped for every Easter dress, every prom dress, all the shoes, all the clothes.  She took my friend Christine and I all the way across the state to an All-State clinic before we got a band director who did his job (or realized what it was).  I cannot begin to tell you what Nanny means... or meant... to me.  All I can tell you are the wonderful things she did, and I can't even begin to scratch the surface of the things she did for me. 
As I drove with my precious family and amazing husband around the bend to the lake in Wister on my way home to see Nanny for the last time, the leaves were absolutely gorgeous.  The tears spilled over and ran down my cheeks as I drove past the places where we camped, swam, ate, and just lived.  Past the places where we drove countless times together to deliver Tupperware, or just to watch the water come over the spillway when it'd rained way too much in the spring.  Drove past places on 271 where we'd done parties, delivered, and visited over coffee with her friends.  Past Wilma's house, and I can still taste the friend peach pies.  As our van made its way into the valley, the trees in their reds, ambers, and bright orange leaves acted as God's sympathy bouquet to our family and all who loved Nanny.  Everything in town hold memories, like the first parade I watched.  It was from the porch of the big blue building, and it was raining, so Nanny made me stay on the porch but Grandad ran out to get the candy the parade participants threw.  Or how the building across the street housed Tate's, the department store their friends Martin and Georgia ran.  All my cute, girly, ruffled-cuff socks came with "Tate's" stamped on the bottom, which I remember simply from being a little girl bored in church, wanting something to stare at through the sermon after I'd cleaned all the "velamints" from Nanny's purse, and shortly before leaning over and sleeping in her lap.  As we drove up the road that leads to Morris Creek Road from the Old Pike Road the last time we went to the house as a family, I noticed the water tower on the hill.  When I was in high school, they painted over the plain "HEAVENER WOLVES" and put a big, cartoonish mascot-wolf picture in purple and gold on the white background.  Through the years, the elements eroded the paint so that the plain "HEAVENER WOLVES" lettering is peeking through.  I sat a little too long at the stop sign (which fortunately doesn't matter right there), and thought how that's so much like life.  No matter what we pile on top of memories... no matter the years, the pain, the joys... the things that matter will come back to the surface.   It's too bad that it takes the loss of someone to erode the layers of daily life and make us remember what we were, and who helped make us who we are. 
So just as we sat and cried on Nanny's bed the day I decided I had to not go home to stay home, Mama and I sat and cried by her bed as we waited for Nanny's tough but too tired little body to finally give in to the cancer that she'd fought for years.  She was more than amazing, and even more than the recipes she taught me in her kitchen... the conversation, the way she threw her head back when she laughed, and all the hours she spent taking care of everyone win over in my mind. She was beautiful, tough, fragile, sweet, giving, and more than any of that, she was my Nanny and my friend, and although I am happy that she is with our Saviour, my heart is broken.  I wish I could have a piece of pie and a cup of coffee with her just one more time, but instead I'll close the computer, get up, dry my eyes, and peek in on my babies who she loved, and then I'll spend time with my husband.  Because just like she said when I wanted her to do something with me, the work I have to do will be here when they're long gone.  
I miss you so much, Nanny.
In Memory of Carlene A. Holt, daughter of Carl Aldrich and Mae VanVranken, sister to my aunts Dixie and Gladys Mae, wife to my Grandad, Nanny to us, and friend to all of us. 
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