She’s woven into the fabric of my earliest memories: warmth and hugs, and a tinkling laugh that coaxed smiles from everyone around her. I’m not sure, truthfully, how many of those memories are my own or how many she made real by telling stories again and again of playing dentist with her mouthwash — we never swallowed it, according to Nan — or eating all of the Hershey kisses out of her Christmas cookies.
I do know the memories of her house are mine: leaning back on carpeted stairs and pretending to “watch a movie” on the slanted ceiling, being amazed each time her red lava lamp morphed into new shapes. I remember walking from her house to the corner store, where we purchased Swedish fish and mini jawbreakers with coins and safely tucked the candy into brown paper bags to take with us on the walk home.
Later, I remember seeing that house on Caledonia Street and being surprised at its size. I remembered it larger. My whole world fit in that house; our visits filled with aunts and uncles, cousins and friends and love, Nan always bustling in the background making sure everyone had enough to eat, the first one wiping down counters or soaping dishes. Like her home, she filled more space than you might think when you first saw her small stature. Her spirit and sparkle surrounded those in her presence and brought a sense of familiarity, unconditional love, and so much comfort.
Over the years, my family visited her in many different ways, with so many different people. We drove to her in a van filled with friends, long before car seats meant you couldn’t pile seven people into the backseat. Donnie and I visited by plane, our parents back in Michigan. We took pickup trucks and the first ever Caravan. Later, we drove to her in a rented minivan, this time with my own children tucked into car seats and awaiting her welcoming arms. No matter how we arrived or who we brought along, she hugged and kissed and fussed and made us feel so loved. “Just call me Nan,” she’d say to my friends when they’d attempt to call her “Mrs. Fiedler.” And they did, because she never made anyone feel like a stranger.
She added celebration and brightness to our lives. Holiday-themed pet beds for Maverick and my dad’s favorite dinner when we’d visit and Christmas villages that live on, in part, in my own Christmas décor. She added flowers to tables and potted violets to her windowsill, making beauty tangible and making each moment just a little more special.
Nan held babies. She cooed and rocked and swayed with them, and when she grew older and her knees didn’t permit the same mobility, she held them in her arms and whispered to them to quiet their worries. She’d rock them while holding a conversation with whomever sat on her other side, pausing to kiss a sleeping forehead or gently hush a restless squirm. Nan kept our family’s stories, and she brought those memories back to life with her love for us all. Losing the keeper of your stories breaks your heart in a million ways, knowing her voice will never laugh life into your memories. Those memories, those family ties, belong to us now, but their sweetness feels tempered without her voice.
She embodied sparkle and shine and red shoes, and she brought that with her wherever she went. Spending time with her never felt like a vacation or an escape. Whenever we left her, whether leaving the house on Caledonia, Alice Street or her cardinal-filled apartment in the Windlands, I felt like I was leaving home. Leaving someone so special hurt my heart, every single time. Leaving her hurts my heart now. We love you, and we always will.
(I read this at Nan’s memorial this weekend. I’m so grateful for the love and support of my family and friends.)