The Nan Diaries: The Story of 86 Years of Life and Home in America

There is this realization that comes about sometime in your late 20’s or early 30’s in which you realize your parents and grandparents are no longer super heroes, but people. Yeah, it sucks. The foray into adulthood is kind of shit.  But hey, this gives way to a sweet season of conversation and learning in which you get to see these people who are so dear in an entirely new light. With 2017 ushering in news of cancer and challenges ahead, I decided to take a moment and embrace the sweetness of the people I have this very moment. So, I called my grandma; she mothered, cooked and thrived in a time so unlike ours today and I wanted to know what home life was for her.

What was your first home like? Well, it was after the war, I think 1946. I had met daddy (my grandfather) when he came to visit my brother. They had been on the same ship during the war. Of course, we hit it off and ran off and got married. I was a teenager so we came home and didn’t tell anyone, but once you are pregnant it’s hard to hide those things. In that time, you didn’t talk about it. But we were young and dumb and I didn’t know my ass from a hole in the ground (her words not mine). During that time, there was nothing for veterans and we had no money so we rented a room in an old building that shared a bath with three other families and somehow we made it work. Once we got on our feet, we rented an upper flat that had its own bathroom. We had no furniture but we had a young child so we looked on the bright side, he had room to play. We were able to buy a tricycle for Chris and he rode that thing all over our empty flat and drove the neighbors crazy.

What was the first home you ever purchased? It was in a community specifically developed for families of veterans and was a 2 bedroom, 1 bathroom home with a basement and a whole kitchen. It was a nice place for us. Your daddy was born when we lived there (baby #2). We would have never been able to afford it but after the war we could get mortgages with no money down and only 4% interest. The house cost us $8,550 and when we sold it in 1954 we made a great profit; $3,000.00.

Tell me about a memory at home… When we finally settled, it was in Allen Park. Daddy would bartend on the weekends for weddings or events to make extra money. When he had an event, we would go over to Canada to buy the liquor since it was cheaper. Our neighbor Bob would often bartend with him. His wife Grace was over and we decided to help out the guys and go down to the docks together and pick up the cases of booze. We got the bright idea when we got home to look through the stash and found a bottle of ouzo. I had never really drank much of anything so we decided to pour ourselves a few glasses before the boys got home from school. Well I was drunk as a skunk in no time. Most of the neighbors had come by and had a drink since all the men were at work, we finished off the bottle and to have a party like this was so out of the ordinary. It was really something. Needless to say the boys came home to us blaring records and doing the twist. Grace, went home to make dinner and thankfully took my kids and fed them as I spent the rest of the night with my head in the toilet. Your grandfather had some choice words for me that evening.

Tell me about a typical weeknight dinner in the 50’s. Oh honey, you are going to laugh at me but I loved to make Spam Roast. You know back then in the winter we didn’t have fresh vegetables but mostly canned. If you were on a budget we would open a can of spam, open a can of sliced pineapple rings and press these into the spam and roast it for 45 minutes. Then you would make any sort of vegetable side like corn, green beans, mashes potatoes during the winter. If it was summer, we would occasionally have salad but it was just a wedge of iceberg lettuce with oil and vinegar. The boys also liked roast chicken and then the next day id pick the bird clean and cook it down with Rice o Roni. I’d chop up some onion, celery and carrots and cook those down with the Rice o Roni and add in some more noodles to make it go further. The left-over meat on the bird was protein and then that was dinner with some vegetables or maybe a piece of fruit.

What was a typical day for you? When the boys were young. I would set an alarm for 5 am and get up smoke, have coffee and read. It was 2 hours of quiet time for me before the chaos started. The boys would get up about 7 and get ready for school and be out the door by 8:00 or 8:15. Most days the best I could do was get carnation instant breakfast in them since they were always rushed but cereal, toast, eggs would all make it to the table depending on the day. On weekends, daddy would love eggs, bacon and potatoes. After everyone was out the door, I’d have another cup of coffee and make all the beds and then sit down to read for a bit or watch some television. Occasionally a neighbor would stop by and we would chat. I never ate breakfast or lunch; it was really more brunch and always cereal or oatmeal. You know they didn’t have instant oatmeal back then so you had to cook it. But then would start all the chores to keep the house up, laundry, vacuuming, grocery shopping, prepping meals. It was so different; we just didn’t have all the things we have now.  Dinner was always about 5:00 pm and me and the boys would all eat together and then when Daddy got home around 9:00 he would eat and the boys would be getting ready for bed and picking at left overs.

What was one of your favorite things to do as a couple or a family? We loved going to the movies. It was one of the things we could afford. It was 12 cents for a ticket and we could bring in whatever you wanted to eat or you could buy concessions. You know, now you have to sneak your snacks in and they look like they are going to pat you down… it’s terrible. When we would take the kids, we would pop our own popcorn and bring Kool Aid. If it was me and daddy, he would always bring a pomegranate. Do you know he never soiled his clothes either.

In a time before plastic bags, no one in my family can figure out how he did this. How do you eat a pomegranate in a movie theater?

Grandmas are awesome. They always have snacks and fluffy hair and are sweet and lovely. Occasionally they surprise us. Mine has some choice language; turd and tittie pink top the list, and if you’re really lucky you may even occasionally have them drop knowledge on you. For instance, my grandma told me what a merkin is, mind blown.

Do yourself a favor and stop, carve out some time in your schedule and talk with the people in your life. Really talk. One of the greatest gifts you can give to anyone is your time and attention, and often what you receive is a gift in itself.

To Grandmas everywhere, you inspire us and are loved beyond measure.