Things I learned from Nana

Sunday, December 4, 2016
My Nana would have turned 90 years old on Friday. She's been gone for five years, and oh, how I miss her. The older I get the more I remind myself of her, and the more I admire her talent, poise, warmth and kindness.

Over the weekend I have enjoyed thinking about all I learned from her - here's just a few of my favorites.

Be kind.
One of the greatest things I remember about Nana besides her talent and her glamour was her kindness.  She'd tell us that we didn't get to choose our looks or our talents but everyone could be kind. And Nana was just that. Her door was always open, her words kind, and her home full of warmth. Nana had a special place in the hearts of everyone she met and I know it was because of the kindness she extended to everyone so generously.

Put your face on. 
Nana was glamorous and never left the house without her makeup on. She would say she "needed to put her face on." She exuded that classic Hollywood glamour of the 50s and 60s - using Max Factor makeup and always donning bright red lipstick. She believed in having a sense of decorum, and told us not to go out looking 'slovenly.' Even typing this word makes me smile and think of Nana (and my mother!). I've gone out to the grocery store a few times without any makeup, wearing yoga pants, and I always think, "Oh man, Nana would not approve. I need to step it up and 'put my face on.'

Keep learning. 
When our family set up a computer in Nana and Grangran's office in the late 90s I don't think anyone expected much. But Nana got in there, and learned all that she could. She emailed us regularly and much to Grangran's dismay, she learned to buy and sell on eBay. (Emphasis on buy)

Mexican food is the best.
Visiting Nana's house always meant I could count on delicious Mexican food. Her kitchen was always full of tortilla soup and tamales, and every Christmas we had King's Ranch enchiladas, green chili rice, Nana's famous margaritas, and Mexican wedding cookies. It wasn't until I was quite a bit older that I realized most of my friends were eating turkey and mashed potatoes on Christmas. I just thought everyone garnished their Christmas plate with green chiles and guacamole.

When we out to eat it was always Mexican as well. Nana introduced me to wonderful Mexican dishes at a young age, and taught me important lessons - always choose green chili over red and there's nothing better than a warm sopapilla. Nana's favorite dish was Chile Rellenos. I remember her clicking her red nails, and placing her order - overemphasizing the Spanish words. "I'll have the Chil-lay Rey-Ah-Nooos."

As everyone knows, I too, always have an appetite for Mexican food. I would eat it everyday if I could. I plan to make Nana's traditional Christmas meal this month complete with her margaritas (oh man, do those pack a punch). I can't wait to taste all those delicious memories again.

Help others less fortunate than you.
Nana had a huge heart. I remember when one of Nana's former housekeepers who had previously been in a abusive relationship was getting remarried. Nana was so happy for her, but knew that she couldn't afford to have a wedding photographer. Nana offered to take all the wedding photos. My mother and I tagged along as Nana loaded up a bag with her cameras. She took tons of photos and although it was a fairly simple wedding, she raved about how beautiful the dresses and flowers were. I remember thinking that Nana didn't have to do any of this, but she did.

Bloom where you're planted.
I think it can be easy to question if you're in the right place in life. The right town, the right job. When I've got caught up on this my mother will remind me of the phrase, "Bloom where you're planted." Nana loved this phrase, too. Hugoton, Kansas is a great place but it's no mecca for the arts, music or culture by any means. It's just a nice little Southwest Kansas community. But Nana didn't stop that from 'blooming.'  She traveled, she painted hundreds of gorgeous watercolors, she won art competitions, she went to watercolor workshops, and she wrote for the local newspapers. She reminds me that our talents don't need to be in a specific place to be used.

Give generously.
Nana loved giving gifts - loved it! No matter the occasion she always had a gift for you.  I've definitely inherited this from her. Mike says I always have to be gifting - and will jokingly say to me, "Gifts for everyone!" Christmas at Nana and Grangran's was always over-the-top. All the daughters and granddaughters had gifts upon gifts to open until the living room was overflowing with laughter and wrapping paper. Nana face always lit up with joy watching us all open our gifts.

Nana's gift giving wasn't just for holidays. I remember when I had chicken pox in Kindergarten and Nana arriving in her Cadillac to take care of me. As she came through the door her arms were bursting with gifts. Clothing and jewelry for my mom, stuffed animals and cute outfits for me. When someone came to Nana's to visit, she always made sure they left with a gift. I vividly remember when one of her friends was over, she whispered to me to help her put together a gift from her 'gift stash' in the closet. I was instructed to go find something and put in in a gift bag with tissue. Nana presented the gift as if it was meant for the friend the entire time. She had that way of making every single person feel special.

In only the dramatic fashion that Nana could pull off, one year she wrote us all an 'ethical will' which basically was a collection of her thoughts on life and family.  I found my copy the other day and smiled at a few of my favorite lines:

"Be kind. I have always most enjoyed people who are funny and smart and kind. It has occurred to me that kindness is the only of these traits that you can easily develop."

"Every experience, good or bad changes us, makes us wiser if we learn from it."

"Surround yourself with people who absolutely love you. If someone doesn't absolutely love you, you absolutely don't have time to continue the relationship."

"Be gentle with with other's hearts. You have to treat everybody with love and respect, but remember you don't have to like everybody. You don't have to have everybody over to your house for Sunday dinner!"

"Watch only good movies and read good books. There is so much trash available that it can ruin your life."

"Change what you must in life but love what you have."

Happy birthday, Nana. Your gifts truly just keep on giving.

1 comment on "Things I learned from Nana"
  1. Oh my goodness! I laughed, I cried, I miss my mother! You captured the essence of Mother. Thank you Sasha Lee! I'm so glad you had her in your life. You remind me so much of her. Love, Mother


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