When I was a little girl almost every grandmother I knew was called “Grandma something“. I say almost because Mama’s mother chose to be called Mom Browning by everyone, including her grandchildren. I remember asking why that was the case and being told that she didn’t want to be called “Grandma” because it made her feel old. I don’t know if that was really her reason, but I do know that it was considered unusual to not call her “Grandma”, at least in our family.
But then I met someone who widened my view of the world by letting me see a totally different way of life than my own Midwestern one, giving me many new experiences that I would remember for the rest of my life, and changing many of my notions along the way about “how things are done” … including what grandmas are called.
I was 7 or 8 years old when I met the fascinating Page who was marrying my brother. She dazzled this little Midwestern girl in many ways, not the least of which was that she was pretty … slim and tan with dark hair and eyes and a soft, husky voice that always sounded like she was smiling. (Can you hear a smile? I thought I could.) She was 19 or 20 years old when I met her and she lived with her family in a big house in California, with a swimming pool in the back yard! I had never known anyone with their own swimming pool. And I even got to swim in it!
And she took me for my first ride in a convertible on a California freeway. The combination of riding in a convertible for the first time and on a multiple lane highway with lots of cars whizzing by, all done with the (in my eyes) glamorous Page doing the driving in a very chic big straw hat with a scarf-like attachment to tie under the chin and big sunglasses (very 50’s chic, ala Audrey Hepburn), is all indelibly etched into my memory.
Even her name charmed me. To me, Page just sounded so sophisticated and so different than all the Peggy’s and Barbara’s and Susie’s I knew!
The other thing I loved about Page was that she talked to me. Remember when you were a little kid? Aren’t the people you remember the best the ones who looked you in the eye and actually talked to you, rather than at you? I remember Page was one of the people who did that with me. And in one of our conversations, she told me about her beloved “Nana”, her grandmother who had died a few years earlier. I decided right then and there that when I was a grandmother, I was going to tell my grandchildren to call me “Nana”.
Years later after Page and my brother divorced, she continued to deal with circumstances in her own unique way. She and her three girls and her new husband lived in California and my parents lived here in Indiana. After the divorce, that would have been a great excuse for Page to lessen contact with my parents, but she didn’t. She kept in contact with them herself and made sure that her girls did too. And, when she and her new husband and the girls would travel in their motor home around the country, they would always come by to see my parents. Many, many times Mama said how much she appreciated that Page made sure, even with the distance and the divorce, that her girls had as close a relationship as possible with their Indiana Grandma and Grandpa.
When Page’s daughters started having their own families, it didn’t surprise me at all that she came up with a very unique name for her grandchildren to call her, Star. I don’t remember exactly what the story was about why she picked that name, but it was certainly an original and I’m sure she never had to worry about identifying which “Star” she was, as some grandmothers have to do, ala Grandma Smith as opposed to Grandma Jones.
Since then, I have heard many names that grandmother’s have their grandchildren call them other than Grandma, like Mimi, Memaa and Mame. And DD’s Italian mother-in-law used the traditional Italian name, Noni. But there was never any question that when I had grandchildren, I wanted to be called “Nana”.
I was inspired to write this post about names for grandmothers because last Friday, Page’s oldest daughter became a grandmother for the first time, and I was wondering what she would have her new grandson call her.
But, in the end, it really doesn’t make any difference what we are called. Grandma, “Mom”, Nana, Star, Mimi, Memaa, Mame, Noni and all the other names … are all just identifiers for women in a very special “club” who have the honor of being someone special in their grandchildren’s lives.