Happy Birthday, Nanny Bert!

If she were still with us, my maternal grandmother would be turning 101 today.  Her name was Bertha — not a name they trot out so often anymore, and in a weird way, I like to think that maybe the collective unconscious, or the Universe itself, is in the process of retiring it, in much the same way that a sports organization will retire the number of a truly great player that’s passed through its ranks.  She was that fantastic a lady: daughter, sister, wife, mother, grandmother, artist, gracious soul — she lived in Florida when I was a youngster, and she helped to teach me about the ocean (she and my grandfather literally lived right across the street from the Gulf of Mexico), along with foreign lands and their exotic allure (they were very accomplished world travelers), and about artistry (she was a painter, and she also made these other intriguing little pieces of art by patiently gluing together dozens, or even hundreds, of tiny shells…).

Longboat Key, FL -- not my photo, but this can't be far from where Nanny Bert first helped to introduce me to the ocean lo those many years ago...
Longboat Key, FL — not my photo, but this can’t be far from where Nanny Bert first helped to introduce me to the ocean lo those many years ago…

Last year, on what would have been her 100th birthday — a real milestone! — I got myself some new ink.  The subject matter of the tattooing wasn’t selected strictly in commemoration of Nanny Bert, but the scheduling of it definitely was.  I spent some time that morning before going under the needle just remembering her, and sending love in her general direction (which was more a conceptual direction than a spatial one…).

And today, exactly one year later, I’m thinking about that, and kind of being reminded of notions of ancestor reverence, which is a special kind of devotion practiced the world over.  I’m pretty sure you can find examples of different groups of people who practice veneration of the dead on virtually every major continent we have.  I’m not so sure I necessarily believe that long lines of our forbears queue up to watch our bungling about like it’s some zany reality show whose events they can influence, but I also can’t discount the possibility that spirits may linger on, and maintain some interest in this plane, even after they’ve largely taken their leaves of it.  It’s compelling to think of any person on Earth as being born into the world like one of those Russian dolls, with countless yet unborn potential descendants slumbering like intangible seeds inside them, one conceivably opening up to yield the next, and the next, and the next, perhaps endless floods of these being eventually born as the years and decades, centuries and millennia, and finally eons, cascade down upon the world…  In my own view, connections so vast and so directly linear in this linear reality of ours have to mean something…exactly what they mean, I can’t say for sure, and I can’t claim that Nanny Bert appears in my dreams, or speaks to me from out of my tattoos, or anything…but she does live on in my memory, and it comforts me to think back on time happily spent with her, and to rest my head on the quilt that she made when my age could be captured by a single digit, and which adorns the back of the very office chair I’m sitting in right now as I write this…

Thank you for watching over me and keeping me warm, to this very day!
Thank you for watching over me and keeping me warm, to this very day!

I can’t say that I’ve ever prayed to my own ancestors, and I can’t report that I’ve definitely received direct messages from them…but I can truthfully state that I’m aware of them having trod the Earth before me, and that I appreciate everything they did to survive to the point that they could pass along enough vitality that a chain was formed, leading all the way down from Pangaea to me, here, now.  And I can say that I still love my Nanny Bert, and think of her fondly, and feel very grateful to have descended down from such a stellar lady…

Thinking of you especially today, Nanny Bert, positive that you’re creating great art of some kind wherever you might be — Happy Birthday!!

8 comments

  1. Quite a column. Not a dry eye in Vermont.

    I was just talking to your grandfather Harold today (we speak periodically) telling him about the poor season the Yankees just had, our weather and Sara’s going to all those Giant games. He was not sad about the Yanks, reserved judgment on the weather and expressed much joy that Sara loved baseball. He and Nanny Bert are going out tonight to celebrate her birthday. Had I mentioned your column, which I hadn’t yet read at the time, I am sure that Poppi would have been greatly pleased with your love for Nanny and your thoughtfulness.

    Steve, you make us proud of you every day.

    Love.

    Dad…

    .

    • Aww, thanks, Dad! I didn’t know you held the occasional confab with Harold like that — how great!! I very much appreciate the kind post, of course, and am likewise grateful to be in those ancestor/descendant chains with you and Mom! Hope VT and this still young Autumn season are treating you right! Much love…

  2. Well, my dear Steve, I don’t often thank someone for making me cry (in fact this is the first time), but that was truly lovely. She had a huge impact on those of us fortunate to have been part of her world, and I know she would be shocked to learn this fact. I don’t think she ever thought of herself in that way, simply not in her nature. You are correct about a chain having formed when I recognize her loving selflessness, her incredible sense of humor and especially that special mischievous glint she got in her eyes in one of her family members. BTW, can’t you just hear her saying, “oh, Steve” if she knew about the tattoo story. She loved you, too.
    Love, Tante

    • Thank you so much for the warm post, my dear Aunt! I didn’t mean to make anyone cry, but I do understand that you don’t mean that it happened in a bad way here… It’s true, Nanny was so downright lovable, but way too humble to probably have ever allowed that fact to register in her conscious mind. And I can totally hear the “Oh, Steve…” 😀 She was such a terrific character, and I know she remains that way in the hearts of all of us who were connected to her…

  3. Reading your tribute to your grandmother and my mother in law warms my heart. I’m sharing it with your Uncle Jim as soon as he awakes…presently it’s 4am.

      • Steve, your title rings true of Uncle Jimmy’s (Gilbran’s) synopsis of parenting. He often said that off spring is likened to an arrow and the parents are the bow. Once the arrow is casted and in flight, you’re on your own though equipped with the special attention and expertise only a loving bow can provide.

        We love you, Steve

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