￼￼￼When I started writing this weekly feature, it was my intention that I would not only feature famous women, but forgotten women, and also the everyday hero women.
My young friend Matt Koehling wrote the following story on his blog, Something In The Wudder, www.somethinginthewudder.com, about his much loved grandmother. This is a perfect example of an everyday woman living a hero’s life.
What follows is a enchanting Valentine from a grandson to a grandmother. Every grandmother everywhere hopes to be loved this much.
98 Degrees: Words of Wisdom & Tales of Tenacity From My 98-Year-Old Nana
Ann Rhoads, better known as Mom to her six children, or Nana to her eleven grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren, turned 98 on December 8th.
This puts her in a very special “one percent” club, among the world’s citizens.
It places her just twenty-two months shy of the Century Club.
It brings her about twenty-two years short of a hand-shake/hug-and-kiss agreement that she entered into with her eldest grandson, yours truly. I continually remind her of our deal, which has her remaining with us in physical form until age 120. At that point, as I tell her, we can sit back down at the table to re-negotiate, based upon her quality of life at that time.
One of the more recent occasions I reiterated this agreement was the day after her birthday, which was spent at a local South Jersey rehabilitation center, following a spell earlier in the month at the hospital with bronchial pneumonia, where she gamely once again fought off Father Time. During this visit, Nana sprung some preliminary negotiations of her own on me. The least nagging or judgmental person I’ve been blessed to have met in this world yet, inserted a new clause of her own. The pitch? If she holds up her end of the bargain, her secretly-favorite grandchild (see what I did there cuzzes?) must give up smoking on 12/8/28 if he hasn’t previously done so.
I took the deal on the spot.
My Aunt Ellen and I wheeled her out of the rehab center the next day, while Nana rode shotgun as I drove us home.
Since then, Nana has been rehabbing and improving at a gradual pace, because nothing moves too fast when you’re 98, besides perhaps the grains of sand through time’s hour glass.
It takes a village to raise a child, as the famous phrase goes.
But it also takes a lot of love, along with the help of a bevy of family, friends, physical therapists and physicians, to keep a near-centenarian running. Or walking. Or in this case, walking with the assistance of a walker, on occasion, along with requiring a designated “lifter” for the big ups-and-downs. While Nana certainly appreciates any displays of love, which in my humble opinion despite all our combined best efforts still doesn’t quite equate to the incredible amount of it she doles out, I know that a fate my grandmother likely fears worse than dying is being a “burden” on the family she has been the long-standing matriarch of, along with the receivers and beneficiaries of so much of the love she’s given.
It might occasionally take one of these folks, particularly when it’s one of her beloved grandchildren, to remind her to snap out of it with any talk of that burden nonsense. It’s also usually while in the presence of one of them, her own personal cheering section, that Nana sets a higher bar in her physical therapy sessions of doing leg exercises, or walker exercises around the apartment.
Age, along with two artificial hips, have rendered Nana’s mobility a perpetual work in progress.
Macular degeneration, has rendered Nana’s eyesight in a perpetual state of decline.
But she still has a love of life, a fighting spirit, and the considerable faculties of her sharp mind.
It’s a mind with a level of recall, that can usually call up the names of the seemingly impossible amount of someone’s, that she’s known at some point over the course of her incredibly long life.
Nana has long had a tendency to speak fast while mumbling occasionally, as well as being prone to diversions or conversational off-roads, at times taking a circuitous route to the end of a story.
These are two traits that some who know me would say I’ve inherited, either by nature, nurture, or some combination of both. At 98, this might mean her companion will have to sometimes lean in a bit closer, to figure out what she’s saying, or where she’s going, but for those of us skilled in the practice of absorbing what Nana gives, her words consider to disperse jewels and bear fruit. I’ve learned a lot from her, just in the six months since returning from Los Angeles to the town where she raised her family and her middle daughter raised mine.
The bottom line, as we try to tell my grandmother all the time, is that we like having her around. She’s enough of a people-person to pick up on when would truly be the appropriate time to leave the party. But for now, Nana’s got more work left to do. Like getting back into her optimal 98 shape following this recent setback, getting her name announced by Al Roker on the ‘Today’ show once she reaches 100, or just making sure two decades later, that her eldest grandson has indeed smoked his last Newport 100.
“If you are a good reader. Your imagination goes along with you.”-Nana, 2017
Ann Hannigan, eventually to be known as Ann Rhoads, then Mom and now Nana, was born on a farm in Olean, New York, just outside of Buffalo. It is a North Eastern, often cold part of the United States, particularly in the winter. The above picture is the only known photo she has from the early years of her life, raised on the family farm.
“Despite the winters, we always had apples and grew our own vegetables. One Sunday when the snow was too high to get the car out, we took a sled to church, pulled by a horse.”
Nana was once the baby of the bunch. The two oldest were her two sisters, the oldest Betty, followed by Helen. After that came her brother Bud, the closest to her in age. He was her idol, as well as best friend, growing up.
“Bud always went to bat for me, he taught me how to dance when we were teenagers. He was very patient, I was a pretty good follower as a dancer, Bud was more the showman. He played the clarinet too, he could play “Sweetie Sue” very well at the dances. But if a football game started outside, he would miss practice. Bud was always polite and nice at home, but then he would sneak out the side window to go out. I never told on him. We were buddies.”