I Remember You

nana nell

“Memory. It makes us human. It creates our ideas of family, history, love, friendship. Within all our minds is a narrative of our own lives and all the people who were important to us. Who were eyewitnesses to the same times and events. Who could describe us to a stranger.”
~ Roger Ebert from his essay “I Remember You”

That quote is lifted from a Blog post Roger Ebert wrote sometime in the year preceding his passing. He described attending a funeral for a relative, where a slide show of old family photos ran in heavy rotation. One photo – of a beloved Uncle who had long since died – flashed on the screen and Roger was elated to rediscover it, only to be hit with a sobering reminder that as the eldest relative in the room, he was probably the only one who had ever known the man. To honor his memory, he took to his Blog to memorialize the man; sharing some sweet anecdotes and memories of their time together.

It’s what we all yearn for in this life… that connection… those memories… simply to just be remembered.

I just returned home from a nice day spent honoring my dear Nana Nell – my last grandparent, who passed away peacefully last Friday at the age of 90. While teased with emotion throughout the day, I somehow made it through without the old “sudden onset eye allergy attack” until the long ride home from Plymouth when my thoughts returned to my grandmother.

Nana Nell hails from England. Just after hitting her 20’s – her life took a turn when she met and married the love of her life, my Grandpa Ron, as he served overseas during World War II. A year later, she boarded a ship with her new infant daughter and began a life in the United States as Mrs. Ronald Clarke. From what I can gather, while communications flowed back and forth across the pond over the years (mostly through telephone and written letters) – my grandmother only returned to her home country for one brief vacation. This land became her home – even as her elegant English accent never wavered – always tying her to her homeland.

It was that thought that sprung the water works. I know love makes people do funny things BUT I can’t fathom the courage it takes to pick up and move so far away from your loved ones… to step foot in a new world, a stranger in a strange land.

It’s here that she nurtured a family. She had four children – three girls (Regina, Di and my Mom, Claudette) and one boy, my Uncle Ron). They in turn introduced the world to my cousins Tammy, John, Elye, Jason, Jessi and my sisters Jenna and Noelle. And then, of course – me. (On that last note – now you know who to blame). 
From these grandchildren came great-grandchildren Eric, Makenna, Michael, Colin, Sophia, T.J., Anna, Aria, Zooey – and two new babies on the way in 2014.

It’s the Butterfly Effect – alter one thing back there and change the world irrevocably right here. If she hadn’t been playing piano in a London pub to entertain the troops AND if my Grandpa hadn’t been in the same pub on the same night enjoying a little R&R with his fellow troops – their paths may never have crossed and with that – 23 future lives cease to ever exist.

I know you could play that game with anything and everyone has a whole bunch of “What-Ifs” lurking in their mind – but this one is all mine – or OURS – and it’s simply staggering to see how her one act changed our world for the better. That group I listed above… all good people; not a bad one in the bunch. Sure – we’ve got flaws BUT hey – she’s only human so it’s only natural that she would give the world more humans.

I don’t think I’ve ever really thought that deeply about that selfless act of love and how much I really owe her. That was but one in a long line of selfless acts that would become her stock-in-trade. Without that, I cease to be me and I don’t know about you but I don’t want to live in that world. 

As I was reading her memorial program this morning, a few lines jumped out at me:

Nellie Louise Clarke 
1924 – 2014
Pre-deceased in life by:
Parents – Alfred and Alice Collins 
Brothers Alf, Ernie and Will Collins, Sister Edna Collins 
Ronald N. Clarke – Husband (1920 – 2010)

She wasn’t just the last of my grandparents – she was the last of her own birth family too. That’s what happens when you live a long, rich life – inevitably you end up saying goodbye to so many people perhaps quite a bit sooner than you would ever like to.

While I still have some time in me (LOTS – I hope), I’m taking a page from Ebert.

Nana Nell – I remember you.