Ninety-nine years ago today,
January 11, 1913,
Frances Litzenberger Krum,
My nana taught me to watch Wheel of Fortune (though my heart belongs to Jeopardy) and how to cheat at pinochle. She loves to read; my first Harlequin romances were thanks to the collection on her bookshelf in the middle room of the Philadelphia row house where she raised her family. To this day, I can't think of her old phone number without the Ivy Ridge code in place of the first two numbers. She wrote short stories for many years until her hands and eyes began to fail. Some of my earliest memories are singing K-K-K-Katie with Nana.
When I moved back to New Jersey in the late 90s, I would go down to Philadelphia to have lunch with my grandparents and dinner with Nana, (combined visits ended with my parents' divorce) sometimes only hours apart. We would order cheese steaks from Fiesta Steaks (it was always Fiesta) and sit around the kitchen table and talk. For all her concern about my weight, Nana was always trying to feed me; if nothing else, peanut butter crackers could always be found in her old breadbox. In the fall, I would try to take her on a long drive back up through Slatington where she was born to Walnutport where she grew up in a house alongside the Erie Canal, a stone's throw from the Lehigh River. Those trips became more difficult when she moved into assisted living, but her will to move and do and live continues to outlive her body's ability to do the same.
Our last big trip was during one of my sister's rare fall visits when drove down from Jersey, picked up Nana and drove out to Jim Thorpe, PA. As we wound our way up the turnpike and through the mountains, Nana started singing "She'll Be Coming 'Round the Mountain." Always game for a song, I threw in the echo and joined her in the tag. There was a pause as she settled into contented silence. After another quiet beat, I sang "She'll be riding six white horses when she comes" and from the front passenger seat came the laughing echo "when she comes". We sang our way up into the mountains, shifting to hymns and arguing about word choice and laughing, always laughing.
In 2008, when my own mother was so very ill, I took a solo trip down to Philadelphia, a beautiful spring day. Nana and I drove down East River Drive, the sun sparkling off the swollen Schuylkill River. For once, Nana was eager to park and walk along the river, or at least as far as we could before the flooded walkway stopped us. We sat on a stone wall and soaked up the sun, a rare moment alone when we could talk uninhibited (this was the time she told me about the dream she had where she was abducted by aliens, another post entirely) and simply enjoy each others' company.
Halloween 2010. I had picked up some holiday headbands at Target for my mother and I; a witch's hat for her (Freudian much?) and cat's ears for myself (natch). We went to Philadelphia that Halloween weekend and as per our system, took my Nana to her local Target where she likes to sit in the cafe and watch the people as we talk. Mom put her witchy headband on Nana and I wore my cat ears and Nana and I wandered through the store together so decorated, earning smiles and laughter from strangers along the way.
Last year, Nana suffered the latest in a series of strokes, the residual effects enough to require her move into the full on nursing home in her facility. It's been hard to see her since then, to watch the women she is struggle to come to the surface in the prison of her failing form.
Since she turned 80, Nana has claimed she didn't want to live to 100 - her own mother, my Granny Litz, was 104 when she passed away - but, fortunately for us, God has so far had other plans. But she's not done yet. In the six months since her stroke, she has improved greatly. I saw her over Christmas, and naturally her first words to me were "you've gained weight" to which I replied, "yes, thank you for pointing it out. Really, you're too kind." She chuckled, "yeah, yeah" and there she was again, my Nana. She may not lead with trump again or sing a full chorus, but she's not done yet.
Not by a long shot.
Happy Birthday Nana.
You've had one hell of a ride.