A Tribute to My Nanny
On Monday my precious Nanny passed away. Nanny was an amazing storyteller, and the number one subject we grandkids wanted to hear about was her own life. Nanny grew up in London, England in the 1930s, and when World War Two began she, along with her brother and sister, were evacuated to Devon. She has incredible stories of watching dogfights in the sky above her, finding shrapnel from a bomb in a crater, and hilarious personal stories about the antics of her and her brother. She told us of how beautiful the countryside was in Devon, and would show us pictures from This England magazine.
When she’d finished telling several stories we all knew what was next: an imaginary trip to Devon. We’d grab the kitchen chairs and face them in one direction in rows of two. Sometimes we would cut out the pictures from This England and hang them around the kitchen, and sometimes we’d hang the whole book on the walls if it was a copy Nanny hadn’t read yet, or particularly liked.
She’d yell, “All Aboard!” and we’d clamber into our seats. We’d all have pieces of paper to be our tickets, and we’d hand them to my sister, the ticket collector, as she walked down the row saying, “Tickets, please! Tickets!” and hole-punching our tickets.
Nanny would point out the different pictures and say things like, “Look at the beautiful fields!”
Or she’d say, “We’ve got to stop the train! There are cows on the track! Move over cows! Thank you. Okay, here we go!”
Once we had looked at all the pictures on our journey she’d tell us that the train had reached the station, and the tea shop was just up the way. We’d all disembark and head to the kitchen table…well, the other kids would. I would head with Nanny to the Kitchen. Nanny would start baking scones with Bisquick while I grabbed her restaurant-esque tray, a pad of paper and a pen, and headed back to the table to take orders.
Everyone had their “tea bisc” (as Nanny called it) the way they like it. I always had just butter. And we always used her special tea cups and saucers; they were never just on display, but always there for us to use, no matter how little we were.
On Tuesday night my kids really seemed to have realized what it meant that Nanny had died, especially, my son, who is ten. They were sobbing and couldn’t fall asleep, so we all snuggled in my bed, and I told them stories of Nanny, and what we used to do together. I told them, as I had in the past, about our train rides to Devon, and they asked if we could do it tomorrow. And so we did.
We set up the chairs, printed pictures of Devon from Google Images, made tickets and used Nanny’s teacups. It was so much fun. We all loved it. We even turned it into our lunch, rather than just our snack. It was so delightful to immerse ourselves in Nanny.
But, it was surprisingly difficult for me to take them to Devon. We had played “Devon” before, but that was when Nanny was just an hour and a quarter away. I had called her after and told her that I had just taken the kids to Devon. She laughed, and wanted to know all about it.
But on Wednesday I played Nanny. I conducted the train and pointed out all the beautiful scenery. I punched the tickets and made the tea bisc. I poured the tea into the teacups that once belonged to her. And we listened to some of the war songs that she used to sing to us (this one and this one). And I cried, and missed my Nan so badly. For all that day I kept thinking, “I should call Nan and tell her that we went to Devon,” before remembering that I can’t.
My Nanny gave me such a huge gift. She gave me herself. She was always available for me. She was always willing to do anything for me. She made me costumes, played endless games (“lucky at cards unlucky in love, Jessie!” she’d always say when I won), she had my siblings and I for countless sleepovers, trips to the park, afternoons at Nan’s, Birthday dinners at Swiss Chalet with the girl cousins. I could go on and on. She was a constant present in my life, even when I moved an hour and a quarter away from home. I always knew that she was praying for me. She taught me about Jesus. I am so grateful for the time I had with Nanny. I will continue to miss her, and be sad. I will teach my kids her songs and tell them her stories. And we’ll go to Devon. Again and again.