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Friday
Nov122010

My Nana (circa 1982)

I was named after my great-grandmother, my Nana... Barbara Johnston... Barbara Nichols Johnston. Her mom came to New York from Sweden. She never wore a pair of pants in her life. Never even tried them on. She always wore a girdle. She played Pinochle with her girlfriends every Tuesday night for 40 years. She gave me an original Barbie Doll. She loved me so dearly. Took me to see snow (in New York City) for the first time when I was 16-years old.

She married my great-grandfather Eddy Johnston, a really active, important part of the Klu Klux Klan in the 30's and 40's. And 50's. How I grew up never using the N-word is beyond me. When Pappy's dad came from Europe (Sweden?), his last name was Johnson, but at Ellis Island, he saw that blacks had the last name Johnson a lot, so he added a "t" in it... hence Johnston.

I remember my Nana calling little black kids "pickaninnies," a word I didn't even know was offensive until I was in high school, using it to describe a little black girl. Boy, was I smacked for that! Rightly so.

I remember my Pappy making snide comments about blacks on the tv. He hated the Flip Wilson Show; I swear Nana watched it to egg him on.

Pappy died when I was about 12 years old. Nana, at 88, when Tristan was 9 months old. I am so, so glad she got to hold her great-great grandson!

Growing up, I had three great-grandmothers and a great-grandfather in my life for a few years. It wasn't until junior high that I knew how lucky/odd I was. I wish I knew the others as well as I was able to know Nana.

In the above picture, Nana is holding two-week old Tristan. It was our first outing and I was still very, very confused about breastfeeding. I was so blind about what to do, I wore a dress. With no buttons. Or zippers. I had to sit on a toilet, dress hiked up under my chin and try to connect the new baby to my weird nipples. It wasn't fun. I didn't wear that dress again until I was pregnant the next time.

Nana hadn't spoken for a few months due to a stroke, but after she held Tristan, she started speaking a few words here and there. We were thrilled!

When my kids have babies, I want to be called Nana.