“The Nana Quiz,” column for April 19, 2016


I don’t know how she did it.

My mother’s mother gave birth to 12 children, all before her 35th birthday. Two died in childhood. The remaining 10 _ one timid boy and nine headstrong girls _ gave her 23 hog-wild grandchildren.  I’m pretty sure she never really knew all our names. No matter. We answered to anything she called us.

Some of us lived nearer to her than others did. More than a few, including me, lived in the shelter of her home at various times while our mothers tried to get back on their feet.

But Sundays and holidays would find most of the family _ my aunts and uncles and dozens of cousins _ swarming over my grandmother’s house likes flies on a summer road kill.

Somehow she’d manage to feed us. Her daughters helped, but she did most of the work. Fried chicken, potato salad, green beans, sliced tomatoes, cornbread, banana pudding, whatever she had on hand.

We ate in shifts: Men first, children next. Then the women kicked off their shoes, let down their hair, cranked up the gossip and finished off the leftovers.

Come sundown, the grownups sat on the porch smoking and joking, telling stories and swatting mosquitoes, while my cousins and I ran barefoot in the yard, squishing snails between our toes and trying to kill each other with sticks. To me, it was heaven on earth.

I wonder how it felt to my grandmother? I never thought to ask her until today, some 40 years too late. The question came to mind as I watched my grandsons run in circles like wind-up toy penguins that were wound a mite too tight.

Randy, age 5, led the way, followed by his brother Wiley, who is 3, and their cousin Henry, who is 4. Eleanor, at 15 months, sat in my lap, watching the action, shouting in toddler language, “Stop it, guys!”

Was it the boys’ fault if they were high on sugar? Of course not. I blamed my husband. He gave them the cookies. While their parents (my youngest, his wife, and my daughter) tried to keep things from getting completely out of hand, I sat there doing what nanas do best _ just watching my grandchildren play.

I wish you could’ve seen them.

My grandmother loved watching us play. She loved us all, but I was her favorite. She often told me so. My cousins said she told them they were her favorites, too. But she meant it mostly for me.

I don’t tell my grandchildren they’re my favorites, exactly. I just give them the Nana Quiz. Today, as their weary parents strapped them in their carseats to go home, I asked each child three questions: “How much do I love you?” And they promptly shouted the word I’ve taught them since they were born: “All!”

It’s a simple word, but it says a lot _ that I love them as much as I possibly can, and that they are all absolutely my favorites. Next I asked, “Where is your nana when you can’t see her?”

Again, they answered correctly: “In my heart!”

Finally, I said, “And where are you forever and always?”

“In your heart!” they said, pointing to my chest. Or maybe to my stomach. Close enough.

Can you believe how smart they are? Eleanor is too little to say the answers yet, but she will learn them soon. For now, she just smiles and pats my face.

My husband and I waved as they drove out of sight. Then we ate the rest of the cookies, took some Advil, put our feet up and laughed at the memories of a day we won’t soon forget.

His back was sore. My knee was swollen. Our clothes were smeared with chocolate from their cookie-smeared faces. No matter. It was heaven on earth. We’d do it again any time.

Only, maybe not tomorrow.


  1. I identify with this story. I had a great childhood and I think my children did, too. And now I have grandchildren who have more that I would have ever dreamed. When you said you and your husband ate the cookies, took Advil etc.. I am reminded of a saying my mother had. “I like to see them come and I like to see them go”. This didn’t mean she did not have a great time in between.

  2. Kate Sciacca says

    What is it about grandchildren Sharon? I don’t claim to know… Except that they are the most lovable, wonderful tykes in the world! And they bring out the best in us. And it seems my kids (the 4 of 8 who are parents) are so much BETTER parents than I was… Happy for that. Blessings on you wonderful lady and all your family ?

  3. Brenda Bryant says

    Our grands live in the same town and we are blessed to see them several times a week. From the time Aiden was born, whenever they left I told him “I love you more than peanut butter”. Every goodbye now ends with a huge hug, a kiss and me whispering “I love you more than….” and I get this reply with a huge 6 yr old grin – “Peanut butter!”
    His sister Raigen, age 3? I love her more than cupcakes. 🙂

    The ritual is ours and is precious. And an added benefit of a code word, which I hope to goodness we never need to use.

  4. Shashi Saini says

    thank you Sharon ,such a sweet column like you wrote my experiences . I spent my childhood at my mother’s mother house we say her nani .God took her long time about 30 years ago . She was so sweet like my mother is a nani for my kids . grandmothers live for their grand kids ,it is
    real truth ,I did not know till I became grandmom . thank you again for a loving column of grandbabies and their Nana .

  5. Garnett Zamboni says

    Beautiful Sharon. Just beautiful.
    Blessings abound in our hearts when you share these special moments with us. As a single woman with no family to share those types of moments, you bring me a piece of life that I cherish. Thank you for this special story.

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