Saturday, January 31, 2009

Tante Nana

Tante Nana lived a quiet life in a town in Northern Germany
. It's a beautiful town, small and charming, with a university there. She had an older sister who died a few years ago, and they occupied two very large, nice homes, sharing a huge backyard between them, on the canals in that city. Those canals led to the North Sea. The two sisters kept a sailboat on a lake nearby their city and took it out together until they were both in their early eighties!

Tante Nana was married once, to a distant cousin, and had two children, a girl and a boy. The thing about her life that intrigued me enough to write about it here is that she was so SOLID. She was born and lived her whole life within one city block. The large house on the canal was the house she was born into. When she married, she made the 'big move' into the huge house on the main street in town..... just around the corner from the canal house. There, she raised her two children and lost her husband at a very early age. She continued living there, downstairs in this very old home with her two children, while her husband's brother lived upstairs with his wife and two daughters. It was that family upstairs who welcomed Mr. Z into their home when his mother died. He had lost his father when he was 2 years old, so this family meant a lot to him. When his aunt died two years after his mother, Tante Nana became the female figurehead of the whole family and was always loved and respected for all she did. By the time I met her, twenty year ago, she'd moved back into the house she'd been born in and left the house on the main street to her son's family.

We once went to Germany and surprised her at a birthday party the family held for her. It might have been her eightieth. She couldn't stop saying Mr. Z's name because she was so pleased to see him! It felt so right to be there for her and it felt so good that she'd been so pleased with our surprise! The year before that, we had spent half our honeymoon in Hamburg and visited Tante Nana, in her town not too far away, on one of those nights. She had a fabulous little wedding party for us with about ten relatives and amazing food! Even Los Angeles hadn't yet caught on to serving delicious individual hors d'oeurvres off the end of large silver soup spoons but Tante Nana's caterer in that small town had! Elaborately garnished bite-sized delicacies on silver platters were served and we had a terrific time. When we went to pay the bill the next morning at our hotel, after one of those delicious German inn breakfasts of sliced meats, soft boiled eggs, warm breads, sweet butter and jams, we were told it had been taken care of. Tante Nana's generosity knew no bounds.

Tante Nana was always interested in hearing what we were all doing and I got to thinking today about what she did. She started traveling when she was older, mostly to spas throughout Germany, but I wondered what she did all those earlier years of her long life. I guess she did what women did in those days; she shopped and cooked and kept a home. She helped her children with their school work, she was there for whatever extended family needed, she arranged birthday celebrations, she lived a quiet life in which the days passed without much excitement but, I hope, much fulfillment. Mr. Z remembers that every single Sunday's lunch was roast veal, boiled potatoes and peas. Every single Sunday, the same lunch, served around Tante Nana's dining table for the 2 families who occupied that big house.

A favorite memory from Mr. Z's time with those families was the weekends on their motorboat, Puck. Uncle Erich, Tante Nana and her children and her sister, Uncle Erich's 2 daughters, and Mr. Z, and a guest now and again, would spend Saturday night on the boat! Tante Nana would have packed nudel (pasta!) salads, cold sausages and breads, beer, and water for the kids. In the harbor in Bremerhaven, they'd see big ships, like a ship called The United States, the second largest passenger ship after the QE II at that time. Uncle Erich would always make sure they'd moor next to a big tugboat, with people on them he knew, and Mr. Z and he'd play cards with the captains late into the night.

Tante Nana took her position as matriarch of the family seriously and handled it with grace and dignity. Her solidity, that way she took life seriously, but with a smile on her face, and was always there for family, is why I loved her and why I wanted to write this today, two days after her passing. She's one of the last people, I guess, in the Western world, to have lived in one city block all her life, a phenomenon not rare at all until the last fifty years, I'd guess. With so much moving and so many more divorces and so much changing of jobs, living one's whole life in one block doesn't happen much anymore! People move on, they leave. She didn't. Who knows, maybe she always wanted to! But, this was the life she knew, this was the life that passed by quietly, and a life that leaves many people behind who'll never forget her and all she was and all she did.

Tante Nana was blessed with a long and healthy life. She'd have been 98 this coming November, and hadn't really had a sick day all her life, but she'd developed dimentia about five years ago and had been put in an old age home....about 1 block from that one city block in which she'd spent her whole giving, loving, respectable and solid life.

Mr. Z is grateful for her always being there for him and for her affection. Tante Nana's son went to University in Munich with Mr. Z and, Mr. Z tells me now that, as absurd as it sounds for 2 guys to send laundry home by post, they did! And, every time he'd open his little suitcase with the newly returned, cleaned and folded clothes, there was a delicious dry sausage in there from Tante Nana, too! These are the things people remember, these are the things that make life good. THIS is the kind of thing that filled her days. She had a good life.

We'll miss you, Tante feels nice and fitting, and even important, to share you and your life with our friends here.

z (the photos are of the boat, the PUCK, the house Mr. Z moved into after his mother died, and the street that was right across the street from his high school)



Sue said...

z - That was very nice. I enjoyed hearing about tante nana's life.

Z said...

Thanks, Sue. I think there's something to be learned from her life.

Anonymous said...

Beautifully said Z. My condolences to Mr.Z and to you.

Tante Nana was a grand lady wasn't she. She understood that it's the people we love and care for that matter. A truly giving soul.

Mr. Z was fortunate to have had her for so long in his life, and you too for having known her.

Thanks for sharing this Z.


Elmers Brother said...

Wonderful..thanks for sharing her with us and condolences to Mr. Z and to you.

christian soldier said...

Tante Nana is an inspiration-you will miss her -Thank you for sharing...

Anonymous said...

A wonderful story about a wonderful life. It's a shame that it seems to be a lifestyle that's slipping away and into the past. They say that people enjoy innovations, but there's obviously much comfort in the familiarity of tradition.

Anonymous said...

A very lovely tribute, Z. You've captured the essence of all that was good about the Old World and shared it with us the way Hans Christian Andersen might have told one of his intriguing human interest stories.

Few people today seem to have an appreciation for the beauty of a life sincerely devoted to duty and the kind of stability enjoyed and exemplified by Tante Nana.

From what you related I guess she was born c. 1910. Would that be right? That means she lived through the two world wars with the great depression in between and all that terrifying social upheaval plus early widowhood.

That she was able to maintain that wonderful-looking house through it all and did what she did with apparent grace, dignity and constant affection, is more than noteworthy --- it is important.

Thank you for this gentle, charming piece. I find it reassuring to know that such a person existed and was part of your life.

~ FreeThinke

Anonymous said...

PS: Would you mind if I shared this other friends who would appreciate it? It really is a keeper.

~ FT

CJ said...

I enjoy your family stories very much, Z, all of them. Speaking of Hans Christian Andersen (well, FT did), sometimes they make me feel a tad like The Little Match Girl outside looking into the windows of happy family times since my own family was so broken, but it's nice to know such people as Tante Nana and the rest you've written about really do live in this world.

Khaki Elephant said...

Beautiful tribute.

Thank you for sharing a meaningful life.

Incognito said...

Oh... very touching, Z. She sounds like she was quite an amazing woman. My thoughts are with you and Mr. Z. She sounds like she loved and was much loved. Not much more one can ask for.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like she had a good life and was valued by the people who came into contact with her. You can't do better than that, when all is said and done.

Z said...

What beautiful comments, everyone..
Thanks very much.

FT, of COURSE you may share this, I'm very happy you are going to; one of the reasons I wrote it and published it was that I wanted to inspire, you know? She was born in 1911....

Born on 11/11/11 !! Come to think of it..I'd forgotten..November 11, 1911!!

CJ, I have been a very lucky person in terms of family, no doubt about it. So was my husband, though he lost his Dad at 2 and his mother when he was only 15...wonderful people stepped in to fill their voids as best they could, and Tante Nana was one. Today, he showed me a picture of kids with their parents at high school graduation and there was Tante Nana and his Uncle Erich...they came because he was their nephew and because his parents weren't there. I was very moved.

Nana was a lucky woman, too...she never had want...the family seems to have been quite comfortable, but she never flaunted it, she lived modestly and beautifully. She was a very attractive young woman, too.

Z said...

I just now got home from a two hour memorial service for a 57 yr old man who'd had TERRIBLE back pain for about 30 years...every kind of morphine, wheel chairs, diapers, completely dependent, and THE most solid believer I've ever met. He knew he'd be brought to heaven; through all that EXCRUTIATING pain (and it WAS) was assuredness in his about inspiring.

It's always interesting to reflect on different lives and why some get more than others...more pain...more money.....better health...more family.....

who knows.

Brooke said...

My condolences to you and Mr. Z.

Tante Nana sounds like a rock-solid person; one who's caring touches the lives of her family and friend for long after she passed.

Thank you for the wonderful memorial.

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful tribute, Z. My deepest sympathies to you and Mr. Z on her passing. I would have loved to meet her ... and now, I think I have.

Semper Fi

Z said...

Brooke, thanks..she was wonderful!

Mustang...that's why I wrote it. I wanted people to know her.
Thanks SO much.

Deborah on the Bayside said...

My condolences on her passing, and especially to Mr. Z. Your beautiful tribute closes a blessing with a blessing -- touchdowns in her life that make tante nana come alive on the page and bring some of her humanity into our lives. Thank you for sharing.

Average American said...

Beautiful Z. You and Mr. Z were so fortunate to know someone like her. It's to bad that such people are getting so rare these days. I fear it will only get worse as time goes by. Thank you for relating her life to us.

WomanHonorThyself said...

what a beautiful tribute Z..long life full of wonderful.condolences to you all..hugs.

The Merry Widow said...

Z & Mr. Z-I'm so sorry that you have lost your living treasure, but what warm memories you have saved up!
And then you will see her she will have a bigger dining room in Heaven than you, Z!
G*D bless and MARANATHA!


Z said...

TMW...NOBODY could have a bigger dining room in heaven than me!! I HOPE! I mean, how many people pray for THAT as their 'just reward'!!? HA!

(she didn't really like to cook!!)
thanks,, though....I know she'll have a beautiful reward!

Thanks, Angel.....Mr. Z's very nostalgic these last two days; memories flooding back. I'm enjoying hearing them.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Z! I would have passed your tribute to Tante Nana on to many already, but email has gone berserk today for some odd reason.

A small question: Was "Nana" her given name or just a term of endearment? As I'm sure you know many Americans call their grandmother's "Nana," and in Britain I think it's used affectionately as a name for any woman who loves and cares for children, whether she's a family member or not. The British might think of it as a derivative of "Nanny."

Anyway your Tante Nana sounds just wonderful.

Love from,

~ FT

Z said...

FT..I was delighted others were going to know her story...sorry your email's not working. Of course, it's so frustrating that I'm mostly sorry for YOU that it's on the blink!

You are perceptive! Nana was a nickname for many, many years....I just asked Mr. Z if I could publish her real name and he said "NO"!! Apparently, she disliked it SO much she never used it and I'd hate to reveal it here and now!

Anonymous said...

Email's back on --- mysterious problems --- even more mysterious solutions. Who knows what mischief lurks in the heart of Cyberspace? ;-)

So, your beautiful remarks have JUST been passed on to many.

I had hoped to include the pictures, but somehow they wouldn't transfer satisfactorily.

I love the house. (You know I'm a house nut, anyway, but this place looks truly beautiful --- and comfortable too. Very welcoming!

Let me see if I can guess her name? Bruenhilde? Sieglinde? Waltraut? Gertrude? Berengaria?

Just kidding. Tante Nana is the perfect name for the character you describe so affectionately. She needs no other.

Really this is one of the nicest, pleasantest things I've read on the net in a long time.

Her life may prove that no matter how terrible the regime may be that you're forced to live with, as long as love, loyalty and devotion to family and friends stays alive you have the most important thing folks can give to each other in this world.

Thanks again, Z. I know I should offer condolences as many have done, but how could you do anything but rejoice and feel blest at having known a person of such great quality --- especially since she lived to age ninety-seven?

It doesn't get much better than that, does it?

~ FT

Z said...

No, doesn't get much better than that! particularly the fact that you did send this to friends. I LOVE that she'll be known by many more people ...

And, you wouldn't believe what how sweet her real name is...not at ALL any of the names you list.

By the way, there are lovely and very typical German names, Annegret, Sabine, Michaela, Suzanna, Renate...!!

But, there ARE some doozies, too!

Jan said...

z..what an absolutely sweet and touching tribute to a lovely human being.

It brings tears to my eyes..thank you so much for sharing this wonderful story.

Jungle Mom said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jungle Mom said...

I would loved to have met her.

Anonymous said...

What a lovely tribute, Z.

Condolences to you and Mr. Z, but of course, Tante Nana is experiencing LIFE beyond our widest dreams at this very moment!

I just loved reading about her life and the memories she created.

Thank you for sharing with us.