My grandmother was a force to be reckoned with, much like all grandmothers have been and ever will be. A force housed within a fairly petite, wide-hipped frame, with short, curly, colored blonde hair and the softest skin I have ever felt in my entire life. We called her Nana — where that originated I’m unsure, but by the time I arrived as the last grandchild, it was already set in place. Grandma never fit her, anyway. Grandmas were old and un-cool and knit nasty sweaters and my Nana was awesome and bought me Kraft American singles and Eggo waffles whenever I visited. She bought me dresses and gave me cash, secretly, right before I got in the car to return home. She played whiffle ball with my father and me and let me dress up in her clothes and play Barbara’s Shoe Store with her. I’m not sure how many times I made her try on her own shoes, but she always did so very amiably and I daresay I was the greatest shoe saleswoman ever born because she bought every single pair, every single time.
I find that the older I get, I remember her not as a whole, continuous story, but in little vignettes. The black trucker hat she wore while we played Rummy tiles and Skip Bo because the overhead light was too bright. The $5 she paid me to memorize the Lord’s Prayer, which was kind of a rip off because she originally told me I’d get $10. The soft, pink blanket she made for me, using fabric markers to trace all the ridiculous things I’d drawn for her over the years (including a phonetically named munckie (monkey)). The day she discovered her 20+ year old suitcase had a little pully on it, running back and forth down the hallway. She and my grandpa belonged to a church camping group, all owners of RVs and five-wheelers, and I would tag along every summer, making mud soup and inner tubing down the creek. My childhood was the stuff of nostalgic picture books.
Her death was a surprise to me. It wasn’t that she was always in perfect health, but she was the first very close member of my family to pass away, and it was a shocking revelation: just like that, people could disappear. And I imagine there was some guilt that surfaced; wishing I’d talked to her more, visited even when I didn’t feel like it, although in looking back we were still surprisingly close given my being a teenager and her being five hours away. I suppose I had this idyllic idea in mind that she would live to see my children and there would be multi-generational family photos. I would convince her to join the Church and we’d talk about God together without argument. Life is just kind of weird without a Nana.
Of all the food she made: the meatloaf and chicken noodle soup, the cottage cheese salad and date nut pinwheels (Grandpa’s favorite), I recall the Spam sandwiches the best. They certainly weren’t my favorite; in fact, they were so salty and odd-tasting that I almost dreaded eating them. But I could never turn them down — perhaps it was concern over hurting her feelings or a strange kinship to these fairly disgusting sandwiches. After all, Nana was the only one who made Spam sandwiches and I would probably only get them once or twice a year. Sometimes, as I pass the Spam aisle in the grocery store, I very, very briefly consider buying some, but then I realize that what I actually want is her, and no amount of Spam will make up for that.
The sandwiches were as plain and basic as they could possibly be, given their filling. Two slices of Home Pride butter-top wheat bread, a thick smear of mayo on each side, and a filling made of ground up Spam, mayo, and a little saltine cracker. The saltine wasn’t technically part of the equation, but upon running the Spam through the meat grinder, my grandparents were left with a bit of a mess, so they ran a couple saltines through to clean it out before sticking the grinder in the sink/dishwasher. There is nothing about a Spam sandwich that sounds delicious, I know. First, it’s Spam, and second it’s a horrible, salty mess, not to mention a conglomerate of two pretty unhealthy items thrown between artificially healthy bread. I try to imagine how it is that she came up with the concoction in the first place, and the best explanation I have managed to find is a new take on the deviled ham salad that became popular and practically iconic in the 50s. Or perhaps she read about it in a magazine or cookbook. I wonder if my father grew up on Spam sandwiches. There’s entirely the possibility that one day I will just break down and buy some of that high sodium canned meat to make one for Husband; a small tribute to my Nana.