Friday, December 02, 2005

Natalie Lanam

I was going to post about all the fun we had with Darren and Heather last night, but that'll have to wait. Around 3:30 a.m., I got a call from my sister telling me that grandma, Natalie Lanam, died around 12:30 this morning. I'm honestly a bit shocked right now, because I had just talked to grandma on Tuesday and while she sounded weak and tired, she was still there. My dad says she lost consciousness sometime on Wednesday and they knew it was a matter of time. I was so heartened by our visit a few weeks ago, that I started letting myself hope that she'd be around this Christmas.

To say she was an amazing grandmother is to sell her short. You would really only need to know one thing to know how great she was to me: I'm her stepgranddaughter, and she has never treated me as anything less than one of her own grandchildren. I don't think she ever even called me her stepgrandchild. She didn't have to do that, but it's just the kind of person she was. She came to our birthday parties, gave us Christmas presents, she came to my high school graduation, and when the Mr. and I got married in May 2004, she and grandad flew to Chicago to attend.

She bent over backwards for all of us, all the time, and expected nothing in return -- except maybe that we eat when she offered us food. Woe to the person that turned down her quesadillas or Mexican sweet bread. She was on a mission to fatten all of us up. In 1991, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Nirvana and Pearl Jam were playing a show at the Cow Palace on New Year's Eve. My friends managed to get tickets, but once I figured out whether I could go, the show was sold out. Nana's good friends were on the board of directors at the venue, so I sheepishly called her to ask if there was some way her friends could get me a ticket, because I really, really wanted to go. She said she'd see what she could do.

A few weeks later, I saw her and she said, "I'm sorry, I couldn't get you a ticket."
"Aww! Oh, well. Thank you for trying."
Commence joyous screaming. She said I sounded so excited about the show, she couldn't help herself.

Nana was the most incredible cook. Her tamales were locally famous. Ever since I can remember, all the women in the family would gather at her house a few days before Christmas to churn them out by the hundreds. We would laugh, fling masa at each other and gossip. When the tamales were done, a few dozen would be set aside for the family dinner on Christmas Eve, and the rest were handed out to friends in the neighborhood. The tamale recipe was handed down through several generations, and Nana became so well-known for them, she's been featured in the local papers a few times. I don't know what's going to happen to this tradition. It's not going to be the same without Nana overseeing the whole operation. I hope the rest of us have learned enough to properly carry the torch.

Sometimes it's hard to nail down just one particular thing I miss about home, but if you asked me today what I missed most around this time of year, it would be making those tamales.

When dad told me a few weeks ago that it wasn't looking good for her, I made one of the most difficult phone calls of my life. I wanted to tell her goodbye and let her know what her kindness has always meant, that to me, she and grandad are my grandparents. She was really happy to hear that, and I'm so thankful I actually got the chance to let her know this. After that call, I decided to pay her a visit in person, and I'm happy that I had that chance, too.