My Tiny Little Nana

Online bible study “A Confident Heart” by Renee Swope posed the question: “Think back to your childhood.What are your earliest memories of God?”

Having been baptized and nothing else my earliest memories of God were provided by the colorful interpretation of my Tiny Little Nana. She visited about once a month and without fail some sort of stir would be created and the back ground tension between my mother and her would simmer continuously threatening to erupt at any moment. Occasionally she’d be whisked off to the train station and summarily booted out or suffer the indignity of  my mother slamming doors and giving her the finger behind her back for three long contemptuous days.

That didn’t deter my Tiny Little Nana from pursuing me. She built a relationship with me that had nothing to do with the socialite in her, or the bitterness of her failed marriage. She would endure a world of accusation and strife and meet me in my room and close the door behind her to teach me to pray.

When I was little she took me to church. Since my parents could give a hoot about church and Nana was a city dweller and didn’t drive, we’d walk to church with the promise of a big bowl of farina if I came with her. We get dressed up and walk seven blocks over to the church. I remember clapping after the choir finished singing and she sternly grabbed my hands hissing “We never clap in church!” She taught me how to genuflect and make the sign of the cross. I have no recollection of sermons, or going with her for communion just a warm sugary bowl of farina I could never finish.

When I got older she would give me pamphlets with prayers from the dozens of charities she sent money too. She wrote the Lord’s prayer for me on loose leaf paper with a gold pen, so I could memorize it. She gave me rosary beads, and crosses. She also gave me the Native American prayer which I still remember begins, “Oh Great Spirit, whose voice I hear in the wind, whose breath gives life to all the world, hear me for I am small and weak and need your strength and wisdom…..” so it must have made some impression on me to remember a hundred years later.

Oddly enough, my parents never interfered with her teaching me. If I asked them a religious question they said it was a “crutch for weak people”. They had survived Catholic school and that was enough for them.

When we moved further out on the island my Tiny Little Nana thought we were in the country. I remember her sitting in the backyard on a green webbed lawn chair, her sweater draped over her shoulders and her sun hat tipped to the back of her head. She would chatter to the birds and squirrels telling them how beautiful they were, how precious they were and encourage them to sit with her a spell.

She would find me alone in my room brooding over some injustice and tell me how the Lord loves me. God was always near to me. I could just tell him everything and he would hear me. I should just say the Lord’s Prayer and God would come to me. “If you ever see a ghost, just say the Lord’s Prayer and tell the ghost to go away,” she was of a different time and place. She was very superstitious and gullible, her people were locked in the Victorian era when everyone else was in the Edwardian era, and so she lagged behind in certain ways.

She would go through spells of eating only garlic as a cure-all or oranges and the next week she’d be on to the next thing. Edgar Cayce, or peanut oil. Tiny Little Nana lived in posh digs in NYC but would let anyone into her life, and was once convinced by con artists to accompany them to the bank and empty her account. She never complained about aches or pains, only once made a rude comment to the woman with whom her husband had another entire family replete with children, unbeknownst to her.

When she died on an Easter Sunday 25 years ago, she left God with me. She poured what she knew of him into me. My sisters never received those lessons from her; though for some reason they actually made their communion and confirmation’s.  God made sure that there was someone who I could trust in my life to reveal His nature to me. I can think of many times when He has done that. Remarkably everyone else would drop away so His truth could be entrusted to me without distraction. Phones would stop ringing, co-workers would vanish, my mother would stop giving my Tiny Little Nana the business, and for how ever long it took God made sure I heard about Him.

In my twenties I could call upon Him and feel the mattress sag down with the weight of Him sitting patiently at the foot of the bed. I felt like His back was turned to me, but He was listening. Funny how that sits with scripture I would read 20 years later. He was patient and quiet, like a psychologist, listening, not judging.

When I had my first child Tiny Little Nana was in a very metaphysical place in her life. She believed in aliens and claimed to have had one help her through a closed door when her arms were weighed down with groceries. When she told the story standing in my aunt’s kitchen to dramatize it, I thought, “O boy, she’s going to tell me of an angel!” But when she said alien I was so disappointed!

She even called me once to tell me that when the alien ship landed not to be afraid to just go with “Max and the baby” she could never remember my husbands’s name, and just get on board and not to be afraid. God got all mixed up with the spirit world and aliens for her as she aged.

My Tiny Little Nana would have been thrilled to see the birds I was feeding from my hands this past weekend. Black capped Chick-a-dees, and Woodpeckers, even a Chipmunk and a wild Turkey. But more than that, She would have thrilled to know how much I love the Lord, how He made it possible for me to really know Him. But I’m sure she already knows that.

Father God?

Thank you for the many people you placed in my life to guide me on this path. The ones who really knew me then, who cherished me for me, are all gone now. But you made sure that You would be there to replace them. I can’t thank you enough for your love and mercy.


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