The Memory of My Nana

My beloved Nana Rose Mace would have been 102 years old today.

Nana, as I remember her.

And, perhaps in honor of the occasion, she visited me this Saturday. At a yard sale.

Nana died of stroke complications when I was 12 years old. Looking back, her death was a bit of a blessing in disguise, since she was in the midst of the second stage of Alzheimer’s disease. I was glad to know the kind and slightly forgetful woman over the combative, abusive, or catatonic Alzheimer’s sufferers I encountered early in my career in home health and long term care settings.

She was so sweet in her forgetfulness, like she was sweet in life. She forgot to eat lunch, so we ordered her Meals-on-Wheels as a daily reminder. She confused her pills and forgot to eat dinner, so my Mum visited her each evening after work to organize her medications and make sure she had something to eat. She tried to pay her rent three times in one month, so Mum took over balancing her checkbook. She could no longer read books, because she would forget what happened in the previous chapters that led to the content on the current page.

Nana as a young woman.
Nana as a young woman.

When Nana asked the same questions over and over again, my brothers and I were taught to treat each instance as if it were the first time we heard the question. Visits with her were very pleasant due to this. Nana was never embarrassed by being called out for asking the same question twice. (I’ve seen family members of Alzheimer’s sufferers do this, and it ALWAYS made me cringe.)

What I remember most about Nana was her shy, serene smile. She was truly a saint, who went to church regularly and truly lived the Bible. She had kind words to say about everyone, even the  most unlikable people.

Each time Mum and I would take the elevator up to the 4th floor of 17 Mill Street, the doors would open and I would catch a glimpse of Nana’s perfect white curls and lovely face peeking out of her apartment door at the end of the hallway. And she always had that beautiful smile that reflected God’s love.

And when I saw her down that hallway, I would run to her. And I would hug her. And I would exclaim, “Hi Nana!” And she would greet me back, her blue eyes twinkling with the joy of the Lord.

Nana had a collection of music boxes in her apartment that I personally treasured. Whenever I visited, I would take the music boxes off the shelves, one by one, and wind them up to play them. I had to be careful, since some of them were delicate porcelain.

They sounded so beautiful.

After Nana died 20 years ago, I couldn’t listen to music boxes much. I still have trouble listening to them. They always make me cry, because I miss her so much. And I miss the last time in my life where I knew true innocence, bliss, and comfort.

Me, about 12 years old.

The one music box I loved in particular that was shaped like a piano. It wasn’t as delicate as the others, but it sang more sweetly than the rest in my memory.

I found this EXACT music box at the yard sale I attended on Saturday. And when I saw it sitting there so ordinarily, marked at 50 cents, my emotions completely took over.

I called my mother over. “Mum!” I said, and showed her the music box. “Didn’t Nana have this exact one?”

Mum gasped. “Yes, she did.”

“This is the one I always wanted when she died,” I said.

“I know. I thought I gave that to you,” she said.

My Dad with Nana. He says she was the best mother-in-law ever.

The reason I didn’t inherit this music box when Nana died is up for debate. The way I remember it is that my cousin Anita took it, along with a few others. When Nana passed, Anita expressed that she wished to have a few of Nana’s music boxes to remember her by. So she took a few home to North Carolina with her.

“I thought Anita took a bunch of Nana’s music boxes after she died,” I said to Mum.

“If she did, I didn’t know of it,” Mum said.

Anita could be very manipulative and sneaky. In fact, after my Uncle Walt (her father) died, my Mum and Aunt Betty (Anita’s stepmother) felt like they couldn’t leave Betty’s house for fear that Walt’s kids would steal his prized possessions – some of which were worth good money (that they could sell to buy drugs with. Yes, this offshoot of my family is stereotypical “southern white trash”). Anita couldn’t be bothered to send my Uncle a birthday card when he was living, but she sure wanted his things after he died. It was the same with Nana.

The thing about people who want stuff after loved ones die? It’s because that’s ALL THEY HAVE. They don’t have as many memories with the person who died, or they’re just plain greedy.

Mum, Uncle Larry, Nana, and Uncle Walt.

For years, I hated Anita for taking the piano music box that I loved most, and some of the other music boxes I loved. We fell out of touch after that, and there was no way I could get them back from her. But I found comfort in the fact that I had wonderful memories with my Nana that Anita would never have.

And then, 20 years later, only a few days away from my Nana’s 102nd birthday, that piano music box I longed to have for years was sitting there at a yard sale. Marked at 50 cents.

Nana’s music box.

I held it in my hands tightly, careful not to drop it, trying to process it all.

I felt as thought the universe and my Nana in Heaven wanted this music box to come back to me.

Another strange coincidence occurred this week. The other day, while meditating, I had a vision that I met my Nana in Heaven. She was a young woman again, with longer, curly brown hair styled neatly. So beautiful. And she gave me that kind, serene smile she always beamed with. Her sense of peace and tranquility always made her my hero (perhaps because I have such a long way to go to achieve that).


I wanted to ask her so many questions. But we seemed to both understand each other, so verbal questions weren’t really necessary. I wondered where my grandfather was. I wondered how much she loved him, even though he drank so much and eventually died from cirrhosis. I wondered how she felt when he died. I wondered how she finished raising four children all by herself. I wondered if she would take me to see Uncle Walt. But in some strange way, I understood all the answers when she looked at me. And then she hugged me.

My grandfather and my Nana, as I saw her in my vision.

And I knew that one day she would lead me to Jesus.

At the yard sale, I thought of that vision again. Then I mustered up the courage to wind up the music box, and opened the little plastic piano cover to hear its sweet tune.

The song was from the musical Cats.

It played “Memory.”

Nana and I.

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