Nana and Mama

I’ve been told that I had an unique childhood. Always hard to feel unique when you’ve never known any different, but statistically speaking, not many people are raised by their great-grandmothers. Even fewer were raised by both their great-grandmother and their great-great grandmother. And even fewer had a childhood lacking in any consistent adult figure under the age of 60. But that was my childhood.

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To say that there was a generation gap is a vast understatement. Perhaps ‘generational chasm’ is a more appropriate phrase. I grew up playing Dominoes and Gin Rummy and Old Maid with women who knitted winter scarves and potholders and men who returned their empty Coke bottles to the corner store for the 5 cent refund. If I wanted pecan pie (and I always wanted pecan pie), I was told to go out back with a bucket and grab all the fallen pecans…we’d sit on the back steps and shell them. Well, Nana would crack the shells with her strong, calloused hands and I’d separate the nut out with my tiny fingers.

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On school days, I would ride the bus to Mama’s house where I would stay for a few hours until Nana got off work and could take me home. Every single day (there are no bad weather days in my memories of her house) we would grab an empty trash bag and set off for our walk. We would walk up and down streets and pick up aluminum cans that people had carelessly discarded. Mama was a collector of oddities and, if she saw something worth having (and practically everything was worth having to her), she’d send me running down into the ditch or between the trees to grab it. We found many dolls missing limbs and toy cars missing wheels in this way. These prized possessions would get cleaned and then displayed in her garden. She had the best garden. I drove past her house a few weekends ago and the new owners don’t share her penchant for oddities. Or gravel driveways. Or fruit trees. Or porch swings. Or anything worth a damn, apparently.

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There’s a separate story about the aluminum cans we would collect. Unbeknownst to me, there was a purpose apart from picking up litter. Mama died when I was 17 and when I graduated high school at 18, Nana gave me access to a bank account that Mama had opened for me when I was born and was only to be given to me upon graduating. It was approximately $3,000, and there wasn’t a cent in there that hadn’t come from selling those cans. There’s a Greek proverb that says “A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.” I’m not sure my society is great, but hers sure was.

And so I was raised by the two most beautiful women on earth, because any vestiges of physical beauty had left them long ago and all that was left were their souls. They were strong southern women who would be unable to comprehend the modern concept of a “struggle to find oneself” because how the hell did you lose yourself in the first place? They would never have proudly declared Pinteresque sayings like “find someone you can be yourself with” or “find your happiness” because, in the first instance, who would you not ‘be yourself’ with, and in the second, happiness isn’t something you find, it’s something that lives in your skin (or, it doesn’t).

And so in this no nonsense way I was raised. And modernity has had its way with me because I do not know joy the way that they knew joy. I chase happiness but am jealous and suspicious of it once I get it. Is this true happiness I’m feeling, or will it be gone as soon as an angry driver flips me the bird? I question and dissect it and misunderstand it constantly. I say ‘to be truly happy you have to do things that make you happy’ but when I think about what made Nana and Mama happy, I think of everyday things. Their lives were mundane by my standards, but big whoop. They were fucking joyful creatures and I am finally starting to understand why. And it goes against everything I have built the last 12 or so years of my life on, so that accepting it as a fundamental truth requires some element of demolition. And this, of course, means that moving forward with this truth as a central tenet of my life requires some element of building anew. But there are only two outcomes when you bury something: (1) you toil and sweat until you dig it back out again; or, (2) you never find it. I guess there’s also a third: (3) you forget that you should even be looking.

So today, I’m committing myself to Outcome #1. And here is what I am going to start digging up…the crux of the joy that Nana and Mama had in their lives:

They never sought to understand where the source of their happiness came from, because they were too busy enjoying it.

Here’s to not trying to understand. Here’s to living happiness instead of searching for it. Here’s to Nana and Mama.

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6 thoughts on “Nana and Mama

  1. That was written really well Misty. It reminds me of my own recent re-discovery.

    Since my mid-20s, I liked to repeat an idea that sounded something like, “Don’t search for happiness because happiness is something that just happens while living your life.” Somewhere between here and there though, I forgot to live my life. I chose to push my life aside doing things I thought were important for my new family never once thinking that it was something they neither wanted, nor needed. It’s amazing how quick one can get sucked into the “Jones'” life. More money, bigger house, cool tech toys, new cars, etc.

    Sometimes, life forces you to re-examine your priorities whether you want to or not. Here’s what I did when that happened – I thought about the happiest times of my life, and chose to seek out the parts of it that made it the happiest times of my life.

    Here’s the funny part that your reminiscing brought to mind – all those things you were raised doing, and that generation’s perspective have a lot to do with my happiest times. I have actually begun feeling a little sorry for the younger generations because they aren’t likely to have those amazing experiences that we did. Thanks for the memories, Misty.

    • Elysha, I so understand your thoughts. I loathe how far we’ve fallen when happiness has become a consumer good one can buy like a package of Skittles or something. Happiness isn’t a smile or even a positive outlook. Sometimes shit just sucks, and you can put lipstick on a pig but it just looks weird so why not just accept that creatures that root around in the dirt exist and things aren’t always great and stop trying to smile reality away? Life is all-encompassing: it is everything between mundane and magical. And that’s how it always has been and it always will be. There were never halcyon days of yore when people had more exciting lives or less stressful lives or whatever. They just knew what life was and accepted it as such and didn’t question every damn thing. We are biological creatures and that means that the vast majority of our time will be spent doing things that keep us alive: working so we can eat, eating so that we can shit, shitting so that we can eat again. In that way, life is mundane if you compare it to, say, skydiving or running with the bulls or whatever and tell yourself that only a life filled with the latter is a life worth living and all else is just wasted breath…well, one recipe for deep-rooted unhappiness, coming right up!

      I think what ultimately made Nana and Mama the happiest was the fact that they knew that were doing the best they could do. They were both hemmed in by social strictures and instead of lamenting it they just their best within the bubble they could operate within. And I understand that there will always be those people who defy the social strictures, that see boundaries as obstacles in their paths instead of borderlines that just don’t get crossed, and thank god for those people. But those people, let’s be honest…the artists and movement leaders and inventors…most unhappy, burdened people on earth. They sacrifice themselves for their cause. And that’s respectable. But if your cause is to be happy, there is nothing there to sacrifice. You just have to…be.

      • Misty, this is an amazing piece of work directly from the center of your soul. It brought me to tears and made me laugh all at the same time. As I have told you before, you are an amazing writer and I could picture you in the ditch with Mama picking up your new found prizes. I know that during your young life you wondered and cried about where your mother was and, for that matter, where your grandmother (me) was. The pain was very real. But now you know that you had the very best people in your life and you would not be who you are today without them. Please keep writing, please keep sharing…..you touch many souls.

  2. Great stuff…loved reading ti and it had a melancholy feel for me as i thought my own two aunts who raised me and were like grangparents I never had. Thanks for writing this so well!!!
    Ro

  3. “They were strong southern women who would be unable to comprehend the modern concept of a “struggle to find oneself” because how the hell did you lose yourself in the first place?”

    greatness…

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