I keep wondering how long Nana would have waited to move the myrtle. For several weeks I've been taking casual twilight strolls into the woods behind our neighbor's house to inspect the lush clusters of ground cover that flourish there. At a time when our own garden is growing little but bare patches, the glistening green-black myrtle that clings to his creek bank seems so unappreciated, so uncared for.
My husband will have no part of my evening reconnoitering, says he's opposed to plantnapping. But Nana taught me to think of wildlings as young blossoms in need of a home -- and hers is the drum I still skip to.
Nana and I spent many of my young years rescuing orphaned nasturtiums and snapdragons from a vacant, fenced-off lot near our apartment. While she kept watch on the sidewalk, sweet innocence in her smile and trowel in her pocket, I'd slip under the barbed wire to snip bouquets and dig for calla lily bulbs.
On our way home we often cut across another field that took us past Mr. Kelly's avocado orchard. Raised to "waste not, want not" by her own Irish grandmother, Nana couldn't stand to see good fruit spoiling on the gound -- or hanging perilously close to the ground. We gathered up many an endangered avocado for our salad bowl, and when my mother was daring enough to ask where we'd bought them, Nana would prattle on about picking up bargains and I'd try not to giggle in my milk.
I can't remember precisely when I began to realize that Nana was not a grandmother like Lizzy Dana's or Julie Sorenson's -- or any others I'd met. I did once see her darn a sock, but she owned no knitting needles, and kept her blue flannel bathrobe fastened with three safety pins. The only pie she ever baked was salmon, little white bones and all.
Many of my friends had fathers, uncles, and grandpas who'd been in a war, but mine was the only Nana who'd seen front-line action. No one knew more about troop transports, General Preshing, and Armistice Day than she.
I loved the story of her enlistment -- how, as a young bride whose husband had been called from her arms to the fighting forces in the Argonne, she was determined not to be left behind. She went to see an Army nurse recruiter, but was told that only single women were being sent overseas. She went back the following day, talked to a different recruiter, and -- because she couldn't tell a lie -- simply skipped the "martial status" question on the application form she was handed. Within days, she was posted to France.
Although they were stationed only miles apart at times, she and my grandfather didn't catch up with each other until they both returned to the States. But at least one lieutenat who crossed paths with Nana in an American Expeditionary Forces hotel in Paris probably wished he hadn't. He left his freshly drawn bath unattended for a moment, and she left him a heartfelt thank-you note, saying it had been months since she'd seen and enjoyed so much hot water.
Her war years no doubt prepared Nana for the testing that was to come as my firstgrade teacher. When the state of Virginia decreed that at five and a half I was too young to start school with my six-year-old friends, she said "nonsense" to such arbitrary rules, and bought an arithmetic book and a reader. Every morning after my mother left for work Nana and I would sprawl out on the living-room rug and spend several intriguing hours with Jane plus Dick, minus Spot.
My favorite subject was spelling. For every perfect quiz, I got a gold star.Three gold stars in a row, and we got to take a picnic lunch to the neighborhood park. There we'd climb a grand magnolia and eat our peanut butter and marshmallow sandwiches on an exposed branch where the charges of the public school system couldn't help but spot us on their dreary wayt to and from the cafeteria.
When I reported to the principal's office the following September and was sent directly to the second-grade classroom, I don't know who was happiest -- I, Nana, or the lunch monitors.
Not all of Nana's adventures bordered on the extralegal -- it just seemed that way because she never stayed in any one place for very long.
In the summer she went to Cape Cod, and come winter snow she headed south. Early every February, regular as a crocus, we'd find her one morning sitting in a chair by the front door, dressed in pink pill-box hat, navy blue suit, and white gloves, single suitcase at her feet, ready to go to Florida.
A lady of insignificant means but boundless resources, she used her social security check for bus fare, and always was able to make some "arrangement" for bed and board, often in exchange for working on the switchboard or hostessing in the dining room of a moderately fashionable resort inn.
Nana also made a regular circuit of friend's and relatives' homes, and she seemed to get a special kick out of sleeping in the "train" room at one cousin's. Her bed there was made up under the plywood framework of a wall-to-wall Lionel set, and she liked to describe her waking view as a pastoral mural of farms, cows, and loading platforms.
No, she who slept in the shade of narrow- gauge tunnels wouldn't have flinched at the thought of transplanting a few clumps of myrtle. I think I'll do it -- put on my boots and go down to the creek tonight. As soon as it gets dark.