Friday, April 8, 2011

Reprint of PV News Article about Nana

This is a reprint of a commentary that I wrote on Jan. 29, 1998 and was originally published in the Palos Verdes Peninsula News.  It is one of my favorites and I wanted to share...

Passing Stories Through the Generations Keeps Nostalgia Alive

This past weekend, recovering from strep throat and suffering from cabin fever, I bundled up and ventured out into the real world to see the movie “Titanic.”  It was an exceptional film that left me feeling a bit sad – for all those poor souls who perished in 1912 – but it also caused me to miss my grandmother.

The movie’s plot line has the main character, Rose, revisit the site of the wreck of the Titanic with her granddaughter.  As the only living survivor, she weaves a tale of love and tragedy to researchers, who are searching for the wreckage for a priceless diamond necklace.  Her story brings the memory of the Titanic to life.

Her telling of this story reminded me of the rich tales that our older generations have to offer us generation X-ers.  In their minds, they keep memories of yesteryear, and it’s our responsibility to make them pass these tales of nostalgia from generation to generation.

I have had the distinct pleasure of listening to my 74-year-old Nana, who presently lives on the East Coast, tell me many exciting stories about her life.

She was born in 1924 to a Swedish immigrant in Brooklyn, N.Y., and moved to the New Jersey shore, where she spent her early years.

It was only months after my Nana graduated high school that World War II broke out.  At the time, she was working as a telephone operator at Fort Monmouth, N.J., and learned that the Army was looking for women to carry out jobs usually performed by men.

My Nana, only 18 years old, obtained a job with the U.S. Army driving tractor trailers filled with Army supplies.  As a woman, she was proud to contribute to the war effort.  Ironically, once the war was over, the role these women played in society was deemed unacceptable and it wouldn’t be until years later that women would start to receive the equality they deserve.  (But that’s another commentary for another day.)

For 18 months, Nana drove the trucks to military installations from New Jersey to anywhere east of the Mississippi River.  These trips lasted anywhere from two days to two weeks.  The women drove in convoys of five to 20 trucks, with at least two women to each truck.
After the war, Nana had some extra money in her pocket and was ready for an adventure.  Nana, along with her friend Meredith, decided to make a change and moved out West.  They settled in a small apartment in North Hollywood, and my Nana would live here in California for the next three years until she met my grandfather.

During my Nana’s yearly visit, one of our favorite things to do is visit such places as Alvaro Street, Chinatown or the Hollywood Bowl.  She loves to reminisce about these places, which existed when she lived here, and tell stories about when she lived in Southern California.

One story that I never get tired of hearing is about her roommate.  Meredith, who was an aspiring actress, had the opportunity of meeting Errol Flynn while she was an extra in a movie. Meredith and Errol dated several times.  On one occasion, Flynn picked her up for a date.  He had a miniature Doberman Pinscher with him.  My Nana said that the moment he set the dog down, he did his little doggy business right there on the carpet.

The looks of embarrassment on both Meredith and Flynn’s faces were so funny she had to leave the room because she was laughing so hard.

Not all Nana’s stories take place before I was born.  When I was 10 years old, she took me to Sweden.  Her favorite story about me revolves around the liberated ideas of Europeans.

One afternoon, Nana took me to a pool in Stockholm to get some relief from the scorching heat.  Once we found our lounge chairs and I began to disrobe, I realized that most people, young and old alike, were … naked.

I was mortified. Growing up in a conservative, small town did not prepare me for such behavior.  After a few moments (and a few coaxing remarks from Nana), I sheepishly looked up and tried really hard not to be embarrassed by what I was seeing.  Just as I was coming to terms with the freedom of nudity, I had the most awful thought – would Nana disrobe and enter the pool as naked as she was the day she was born?

In tears, I tried to conjure up the courage to ask her and, somehow, as if reading my mind, she told me the answer.  She would wear her trusty one-piece suit.  The one she wears every summer to the beach.  I was so relieved.  She always laughs when she remembers the look on my face that day.

I never get tired of listening to stories told by my grandmother or telling stories about her.  She is a very special person to me, and the relationship between the grandmother and granddaughter in the Titanic made me miss her even more.  Not just because she wasn’t there, but because she would have loved that move and I’m sure that she would have remembered some long, forgotten story to share with me.

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