Nanna's Handkerchiefs

It's been a while since we've updated, but I wrote this a few weeks back. Please forgive me!

While I was home on vacation in Maryland, my mom let me pick out some of my Nanna’s handkerchiefs that she got when she moved Nanna into a nursing home. They are beautiful, vintage, colorfully embroidered handkerchiefs that are still in pristine condition. My Nanna was always a well-taken care of lady. She always had to have her hair “just so” and if anyone ever inquired about her age, she would coyly answer, “I’m 39-plus”. She still gave this answer even when her face began to sag and her hands began to shrivel.

When we were kids, we’d visit our Nanna and Bompa in their house in San Francisco. Although it was a small house, we never tired of all the nooks and crannies that begged to be investigated. Nanna was old school. She never owned a clothes dryer or dishwasher and fought with all her might against getting a microwave or garage door opener. Nanna and Bompa owned just about every National Geographic magazine ever printed and we would go down into the basement to crack open the crusted, yellowed pages to see the monkeys of Burma, or the hill-tribe people of Thailand. My favorite discovery that I made in Nanna’s basement was the Re-Gift Cupboard. I am pretty sure that any time Nanna and Bompa received a present that they didn’t want or need, they’d put the object into this cupboard and stock up until a holiday or birthday came around. From this cupboard, we received very strange presents, definitely not intended for children. Letter openers, a pen, monogrammed handkerchiefs, and a thick-handled magnifying glass were some of the gifts we received from this cupboard. I would visit the cupboard from time to time, just to check on the inventory. Nanna also had an assortment of plants throughout her neat little house. I always noticed that they seemed much shinier than my mom’s plants and I asked her about it one time. She beckoned me over to her and whispered her secret into my ear. “I smear a touch of mayonnaise around each leaf and that really makes them shine!”

I saw Nanna the day before Aaron and I left for Taiwan and she was a little bit tired looking, but she was her old self-funny as ever, stubborn, warm and loving. While we were gone for a year, she had a series of mini-strokes and dementia slowly took over her mind. After many trips to California, tears, conversations with family, and tough decisions, Bompa informed my mom and uncles that they needed to be taken care of full-time in a nursing home.

Every time I visit Nanna I almost don’t recognize her. I never thought my own grandma would be one of those sad old ladies in the nursing home who doesn’t know where they are or why they’re there. Her decline has taken a toll on all of us, but especially Bompa. He is in his mid-90’s and although he’s very tired, he’s very much mentally there. Bompa worries about Nanna all the time, and he is heartbroken that he’s slowly losing the love of his life. Nanna lost a lot of weight and her formerly wavy hairdo has fallen to her shoulders in a straight, limp mess. Because their stages of health are so different, Nanna and Bompa have rooms on different floors of the facilities and Bompa tries to see Nanna every day but admits that it’s hard to see her declining so rapidly. When The Notebook came out, I thought it was a nice story but I never thought I’d be witnessing a love like that with my own grandparents.

Although Nanna was confused and a little delusional when we visited for Thanksgiving, she never failed to offer me food or something to drink. Taking care of people is so innate for her that I don’t think she’ll ever lose that instinct.

I think it’s strange that ladies used to keep handkerchiefs in their purses to blow their noses and stuff, but when my mom gave them to me, she said that they were to catch the tears. I think there are about six in all, each one so different and varying in color and pattern. As many weaknesses as Nanna had (she was so stubborn and maybe a little spoiled), no one that knew her could argue that she is possibly one of the most colorful people they’d ever known. Nanna had a big heart and always yearned to take care of people all around her, from the gays on Stockton Street in downtown San Francisco when she volunteered with the health van, to my ragged high school friends when we spent a long weekend at her house, to the ducks that knew where to get the good crumbs on her back porch. I will keep a couple ‘kerchiefs in my purse, just to remind me of Nanna and just in case someone around me gets a little weepy.


Erica said...

you got me crying with this one Rika... i'm so sorry for your grandpa.. i'll be praying that god gives you all strength...

Miss Jehle said...

This is beautiful. Thanks for sharing.

Nicholas said...

Hey. Your family is really cool. When my grandma died this past October, one of the things all her kids wanted was a few of her hand-embroidered handkerchiefs.

kessia reyne said...

Um, pass one of those handkerchiefs over here please! I got a little teary-eyed reading that.
I wish I had known my grandmothers like that. You sound like a very lucky granddaughter.

Anonymous said...

Rika, today I and the hospice nurse cut her fingernails and bathed her. That is a beautiful piece you wrote. Our family is blessed, but there has also been much pain. I will think of that now when I use one of the handkerchiefs. I'm lucky to be old enough to treasure the lessons and you are lucky to be young enough.

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