My dear, sweet Nanie passed away this morning, Sunday, December 14, 2008, at the remarkable age of 97. That's her (R) and Mom (L) last year, June 3rdish.
Mildred Grace Lyons was born on July 18, 1911. The younger of two girls, Nanie enjoyed a fairly average, middle class upbringing by devout Irish Catholic parents in Norwalk, CT. Her parents were something like 2nd generation Irish-American and came from sturdy stock; Nana Grace herself lived to be 96ish. Her older sister Alice, married David McGrath and had 2 girls and a boy before succumbing too young to cancer. Nanie married Cornelius (Neil) Lyons and had 4 boys; the third in line was my dad.
We lived in CT from my birth to my age 15. Weekends more often than not were spent traveling down to Norwalk for day trips to visit relatives. Nanie would get a rotisserie chicken in a bag from a place that my faint memories place near Stew Leonard (probably wrong), make mashed potatoes...which is not to say she didn't cook much. I don't think she ever had a career (correction: she met Popie while working at either CVCO or Nash as a stenographer/clerk); she was a stay-at-home mom and I remember some terrific food in her kitchen. Cyril (Lil Bro) and I would pull out the basket of old toys that she had left over from her boys and busy ourselves while the adults visited. Her backyard was great for running around, had a big rock that was fun to climb.
Popie, her husband, passed in 1980 after lingering for 18ish months after a major stroke. Nanie did what women in grief do; she tried to move far away from the hurt. She bought a condo in Kent, CT, where she found herself desperately lonely for Norwalk; she lasted only a year or two there. She inquired to the new owners of her old house, found they were planning to move, and she grabbed her old house back, where she stayed until her finances dictated different digs. Her later years were spent in 2 different houses until her age dictated she move in with her eldest son. A couple of years ago, she began to wander, her memory began to fade, and she was more unsteady on her feet. It had always been her plan to go into Notre Dame Convalescent if necessary, so that's where she's been for the last what, 2+ years? When we visited last year at Dad's memorial, she never really clued into who we were, though part of that was because we were all carefully avoiding the thing that would've sparked her memory (she hadn't yet been told about Dad).
I remember lots of parties at her house, christenings, funeral wakes, family gatherings. Cheek-pinchers and cool adults alike. Man, we Irish can party when someone kicks. The Lyons were a name in Norwalk back then, probably still are. We (Cyril and I - Meara arrived on the scene in '83) were quite a bit younger than our cousins on that side and gravitated toward the adults, where we were praised for being so well-behaved. Nanie enjoyed us, babysat for us occasionally...she was my first pen pal. I couldn't have been more than 6. I would write her little notes and mail them and she'd write back. She enjoyed brushing and braiding my hair, and she told me once that while she certainly loved her boys, she'd always dreamed of having a girl that she could name Mary Jane and encourage to have long hair. So I was her Mary Jane, and her little pussycat. She also credited me with getting her to stop smoking...when I was an infant, she came over to babysit me once and realized she didn't want to smoke anywhere near me, so she stopped right then and there.
She was felled by depression in her later years, but she always retained a quick wit; and before the senility kicked in, her mind was bright. She held her Catholicism inside her like her own spine, constant, never failing, and I'm sure she kept her original thoughts to herself mostly, given her generation, but she was fun to talk to when she was younger. Hell, you have to have a sense of humor to raise 4 boys in the era of children being seen and not heard...like that's possible.
When I saw her in 2002, she was still with us mentally and we had a lovely visit that I'm grateful for now, because the visit last year...well, it wasn't a negative for me either, come to think of it. We spent the visit going around the table reintroducing ourselves. I sat right next to her and held her hand, and when she let lines slip like, "I'm not much use now," I told her that wasn't true, that her strength was a testament to all of us. Likely, I've fashioned my memory to something positive that I can take from that whole numb visit; we were all in so much pain after losing Dad. But I know where I get my strength now, and my love of life. Dad may have had the weak heart, but his soul and moral compass helped create the solid, bright individual you're listening to now...if you've hung on that long :)
I'm aching hard today, and this week and holiday season will be a bit difficult now. We're waiting for word on arrangements, but the only way I can afford to go to the funeral is if a) they are in fact giving out Christmas bonuses this year, like they have the past 5 years, economy notwithstanding, and b) I can manage to get it early so I can buy a plane ticket. I really want that to happen, so I'm talking to one of my bosses tomorrow. If I can get the money early, Les will try and borrow from his grandma so he can come with me this time. He's never met Dad's side, we couldn't afford to bring him with last year, and I was too numb to realize we should've borrowed from Grandma then. I pray this comes together, and I pray for strength to keep the weepies at bay. I know it's natural and healthy, but between the lackolithium and the hormones, the weepies sneak up on me. Adding insult to injury, I'm in the middle of the 2ww (2 week wait), so I won't be able to drink. Imagine attending an Irish wake and not being able to drink. The gods are testing me.
Godspeed, my dear Nanie! Take care of Dad and Popie and Neil Boy, and take Meara's advice and learn how to swim while you're up there; it's a blast!