by Marguerite K.A. Petersen

I can still see her walking from the bus stop, green waitress uniform showing as the wind flapped her ever present black coat open, wide black shoes with laces and the low heels she preferred. Old lady shoes, I called them. She would hand out candy to all the children who made a daily ritual of running up to her calling "Nana, Nana". It was just penny candy from the corner store where the bus let her off but the children loved it anyway. She would dip into her coat pockets and give one to each child smiling in a way that made each child feel special.

She wasn't a fashionably attractive woman and her clothes always seemed old fashioned to me, mostly simple shapeless, black or flowerprint dresses. She did, however, have a smile that extended all the way to her gray eyes. Her gray hair, tinged with the blue color I always associated with old ladies, was always meticulously permed into tight curls. I often wondered how she managed to afford it with her meager wages, but afford it she did. The big floppy black hat that she wore hid the unbecoming hairnet that was required for her work as a waitress in a bank cafeteria. She was a large woman, amply rounded, over-curved but always smiling. I never saw her sad.

A chorus of "Thank-you Nana" and kisses blown from small fat and now quite sticky hands, echoed up and down the street as she walked home. Home, to where I awaited her with eagerness. She might be liked by the neighborhood children, but she was adored by me.

She was always there. Right from the very beginning til the year I was fifteen, she was there. I never knew why she moved out that year, an argument with my Mother perhaps, but she did move out; out of the house and out of my life. At least for a while.

When my parents had first gone looking for a house to buy I was six. The main reason they were looking was because they wanted to find a house close to a school. I can well imagine they were also tired of living with Nana in her small two bedroom apartment. Not tired of living with her, just tired of the lack of space. My mother had moved back in with her mother during the war when I was 9 months old and Daddy went overseas. During that time my brother was born and I spent a lot of time with Nana while my mother tended to her new baby.

Most of my earliest memories are of Nana's place. It had originally been a store but when the store went out of business, it had been converted into an apartment. The big front room ran across the entire front of the apartment and was our living room. The carpet was threadbare and worn and the big, old potbellied stove provided the only heat at that end of the apartment. Off the livingroom, two doors opened into two separate rooms, side by side. These were the bedrooms. My Nana and my uncle, who was thirteen when we moved in, shared one bedroom. My mother, brother and I shared the other.

At the far end of each bedroom there was another door that led to the kitchen. I don't remember much of that room except for the torn up linoleum and the big electric stove. Off the kitchen was the bathroom on one side and a pantry on the other. An old scarred wooden table and the stove were the dominant furniture in the kitchen, sharing the space with wood chairs painted white. There was an old fashioned hutch against one wall that held all the dishes and cups and saucers that belonged to my Nana. I used to like to sit in my wooden highchair and stare at the beautiful patterns of the dishes in the hutch. With the light shining in from the back kitchen window, the flowers took on a life of their own.

When Daddy came back from Europe, I was two and we all lived there for what seemed like a very long time. Nana had one bedroom and my parents had the other. My uncle left to join the Air Force when he was seventeen and I have no memory of him, just a few faded pictures of him and me as a small child. My brother and I slept in what had once been a closet just off our parents' bedroom and separated by a hanging curtain. I don't remember much about the sleeping space but I do remember being able to throw things at him across the narrow space that separated our two cribs.

There was no bathtub in the apartment and my mother, my brother and I would frequently take baths together in a large washtub set up in the middle of the kitchen floor. At least it seemed large to me at the time. Years later I would discover it hanging in my parents' basement and with amazement wonder just how we managed. There was also no hot water in the apartment and I can still remember Nana at the stove boiling pots and pots of water to add to our bath. She was always laughing and smiling as she tended to the chore, the kitchen steamy and smelling of soap.

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© Copyright 1993 - Marguerite K.A. Petersen. All rights reserved.