Nana, nonie, gramma, nonna, grandma, nanny, gran, we all have one, and in some instances with enough time and never enough wisdom, become one. During the course of a lifetime some of us aid in the creation of Nana’s. We do this by producing little images of our self—our mothers really. Once this happens your hard earned independence, and knowing a thing or two about life evaporates in an inhale or the instant your mother cross the threshold of your home.
Our little dears are an open invitation for the grandmother to visit, to storm the gates and to take refuge. Some take over, others are subtle in their tactics. I come from Latin stock and there is nothing subtle about my mom or nana as my kids call her. Of course their love for her is deep; it’s tall and wide like of one of Yosemite’s Sequoia’s. Their arms open wide, their smiles wider, jubilation untold as she enters my sanctuary. I, on the other hand consider a spa retreat or the FBI Witness Relocation and Protection Program and a new identity.
In our case Nana travels by plane to reach us because we don’t share the same zip code. Our family, as our nana, is not typical. Norman Rockwell we are not. But as Barney, the purple Dinosaur sings “families come in different shapes and sizes.” She is reminiscent of a different time, age having nothing to do with who she is. If she were not a grandmother she would likely run a clip joint called Tallulah’s on the docks somewhere. Her patrons, mostly thugs and long shore men, would affectionately call her Knuckles. Yanni definitely would not be found on the jukebox at Tallulah’s.
I picked Mom at the airport. She walked through baggage claim looking neat and compact in her Chico’s Jean ensemble, matching and coordinated. A ray of hope peeks through my gloom, perhaps I think to myself, she has left her rubber gloves and assorted cleaning paraphernalia at home and is here only to visit. She looks good, shiny even, not a hair out of place nor does it move despite the winds blowing a gale.
“Aqua Net, Mom?” Extra Super Hold she tells me and begins to fill me on the latest family gossip. This is my favorite part of the visit, the catching up. Tallulah or not, she spins a good story. Spinning is what she does. Rather than serve up the facts cold, she recreates events until the tale in question is borderline fiction. Over the years my sister and I devised the cut and paste method of assembling the facts, used only when we suspect action or intervention on our part is required.
We arrive at my house. Mine for few minutes more, at least until she enters and assumes control. She wraps up the tale of my sister and niece’s recent adoption of a two pound, Yorkshire terrier they carry around in a Paris Hilton pooch-pouch bag. Gigi, the latest installment of havoc in her otherwise calm life now entails babysitting for the dog Nana calls Rat Dog. She confesses amusement watching Gizmo drag the puppy training papers all over the house only to end up taking care of business on one of the carpets.
All this time we are laughing, there were a couple moments of seriousness as we talk about dad, who passed earlier in the year, but on the whole she looks good for which I am glad. I am almost gleeful. I am glad to see her as are the kids but secretly worried about the underlying reason for her visit. Mom has had an emotionally challenging year and I had considered the reason for a weeklong visit involved mother and daughter therapy. Misery loves company. Until leaving for college I was subjected to therapy without question. For me writing is a cure all, for her, cleaning is the solution to everything. Whenever she had to work through one of life’s challenges, cleaning of some sort would transpire. It was not odd for us to hear the vacuum cleaner humming before sunrise, her deep in conversation with that trusty Hoover. Others buy shoes or see therapists, my mom vacuums.
Recruits were not required but she sought them anyway. The usual suspects included me and my sister. I argued the point when I figured her out, I wasn’t sure if it was fearlessness or stupidity on my part. My sister maintains it was a loose screw. My point was we hadn’t been around long enough, our young years was surely evidence we were healthy and well adjusted and not in need of mental cleansing. Arguing only meant double duty. The size of ‘issue’ she had to work through directly correlated to the magnitude effort and length of indentured servitude. On any given Saturday morning I could be found washing the windows, both inside and out, or organizing every dresser drawer in every room. There were no socks in our house without a mate. My least favorite was washing her two generation collection of crystal from all three of her china cabinets. As a kid I couldn’t understand the need for ten different sets of wine glasses. Wine, is wine is wine. I know better now.
I had my doubts that she wanted to visit just because. In my naiveté I thought if she was looking this settled, happy and chatting non-stop l might be spared the deep clean which usually accompanies her visits. Normally it involves me scrubbing bathroom base boards, vacuuming the deepest, darkest corners, tooth brushing the space between the tiles in the bathrooms or worse, entering my teen daughter’s bedroom. Or jumping up every three seconds to locate the case of Comet she packed or the barrel of Clorox she had delivered. I am young and still believe in Santa and the Tooth Fairy and held out for something shiny, not a toilet brush.
In the olden days, back when I had my first place, I picked up and straightened out before she visited, later I spent a week preparing. Later still I hired cleaning crews to come in before her arrival. All proved futile. We still clean every nook, every cranny, she complains about my dust collectors, all the little things acquired over the years and travels. She asked me on day two why I had blue plates everywhere, to which I replied, “those are rare pieces of Spode, don’t touch them.” They survived the dishwasher, who knew.
I returned her to the airport in a different Chico’s matching ensemble, refreshed. Whatever it was she had to work out is resolved now. My house is without grime, there are no cobwebs in the corners, the sixty-year-old cast iron tub is sporting a Hollywood starlet’s bleached white smile and I can actually see my daughter sitting on her bed and don’t have to look around the piles.
I love you Mom, despite appearances, my dreams of a new identify, and the number of dust bunny communes you sucked up this week.