you do the best you can with what you got

15 Feb

It’s been an interesting couple of months for my family.  Early Tuesday morning, my Dad’s mother, my Nana, passed away in her sleep.  She was ninety-five years old.  I’ve lost both my grandmothers in a span of two months – it’s hard, obviously.  On the other hand, I knew both my grandmothers for twenty-nine years.  They both got to see their grandson grow from boy to man, and I had the privilege of knowing them longer than most.

I was honored with the chance to give the eulogy at my Nana’s funeral.  You can read it below the cut.

For ninety-five years, one month, thirteen days, and two hours, the human race was lucky enough to count, among its active members, Augusta Cunningham Hicks, mother of four, grandmother of ten, great-grandmother of sixteen, great-great grandmother of one, my Nana. During that time, Nana witnessed two world wars, a great depression, and three more Red Sox World Series championships than anybody else in this room. She lost a brother, a husband, and a son, all too soon. She knew love, and she knew loss, and she knew every single person in the city of Lynn, as well as most of the residents of its surrounding suburbs.

But what else? What did she do during those ninety-five odd years? How do you sum up a woman like Nana? It’s not easy, but as the great woman always said, you do the best you can with what you’ve got.

I had a chance to speak with most of the kids, grandkids, and great-grandkids yesterday at the wake, and if I didn’t get to you, I’m sorry. Everyone had their own Nana story, and some of them are even church appropriate. Some, not so much. Let it just be said: it turns out that my grandmother was a real saucy dame.

Here’s a Nana story: one of my cousins was out on Route 1, and who should she see, driving down the road, but Nana. My cousin honked and waved, like you do, and was slightly surprised when our dear grandmother responded with a certain one-fingered gesture. Later, my cousin says “Nana, why’d you flip me off back there?” Nana says “Oh, that was you? I thought you were some teenaged punk!”

Nana always won at cards, had cold tonic for you in the fridge downstairs, made cranberry sauce and butter cookies at Christmas. When the kids were sick, she’d open the windows, give the kids a bath, and wrap them up in clean sheets and put them to bed. She rode her old stationary bike in the basement every day, took the grandkids Christmas shopping every year, and drank highballs. She made you spit out your gum, insisted on real plates – not paper plates – even at camp in Maine, and sang “I love you, a bushel and a peck.”

Robert Frost said “Home is where, when you go there, they have to take you in.” Nana seemed to live by those words – she lived to take care of you, to feed you, to make you feel comfortable. You’d stop by for a few minutes, and she would insist on making you a light lunch. This light lunch would consist of baked scrod, potatoes, fish chowder, steamed vegetables, and, possibly, pie and ice cream. She was accepting of all kinds of people, and she loved to entertain them, and make them feel at home.

Here’s another Nana story: near the end of her life, as you know, she lived in a nursing home out in Westford. Near the end of her life, as you know also, she sometimes didn’t remember things. She remembered the important things, though. One day, my father went to visit her. She looked around at the other patients in the rec room, not quite sure where she was, and said “Alan, I don’t think I have enough food for all these people.”

Nana wrote jokes on cocktail napkins so she’d remember them at parties, got angry with my grandfather when he brought people home without asking, but always managed. She also said “you’re just as good as anybody else.” And “one day, you’ll be eating beans off the top of my head.” And “Eva makes better drinks than Bob.”

We will miss her. But she is not gone. Within the span of those ninety-five years, one month, thirteen days, and two hours, she left her legacy imprinted on every person she met, cared for, listened to, and prepared food for. She taught us that love is just a word without deeds to back it up, and that the best way to show you love someone is to invite them in, dust them off, and give them a hot meal. Every time you welcome someone with open arms, let it be a tribute to her.


Posted by on February 15, 2009 in Uncategorized


2 responses to “you do the best you can with what you got

  1. GIlly

    February 15, 2009 at 1:41 pm

    That’s really lovely. She sounds like she was a hell of a woman. If someone can write as good a eulogy about me when it’s my time, I’ll count my life well spent.

  2. fever2tell

    February 18, 2009 at 6:33 pm

    This is wonderful. Your family must be so proud of you for doing such great justice to her.


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