The Litmus Test

Nanny when she was my age, holding my mother.

The typical grandmotherly descriptors do not apply to mine. Nanny wasn’t especially warm or tender-hearted; she was determined, hard-working, and unapologetic. She drank bourbon, smoked, and cursed like a sailor. To my delight, she had no qualms about telling my dad (her son-in-law) to eat his vegetables or comment that the pizza server would “make a good butt paddle.” She also belched loudly and freely, an act I now see as form of a political rebellion. Her hard-ass and crude persona often overshadowed the kind and thoughtful things she did for others, and we often mocked Nanny’s bad behavior in our household. But I secretly loved her antics.

I’m a lot like her, physically (and in other ways I’d rather not admit). One day, I couldn’t reach box in the storeroom, so I scrambled up on the counter to get it. “You look just like Nanny,” my sister chided. Nanny was also a climber.

“Good,” I thought, even though it was likely an insult. “If you’re spry enough to climb, why bother with a stool?”

When Nanny found out the tumor in her lung would no longer be slowed with chemotherapy, she announced that she would only be around two more weeks. This wasn’t a medical prognosis, it was a self-imposed deadline. However, anyone who knew Nanny knew to take her at her word.

That Easter, our family gathered at her home for a final celebration. Nanny’s death sentence hung thick in the air, but I made an effort to carry on with her like I always did.  We sat on the back patio, complaining about the rising costs of everything and leafing through Star Magazine.

She stopped on a full-page pictorial layout of a pregnant celebrity lounging pool side in a bikini.  Nanny poked at the offending page, outraged.  A scantily clad woman in full bloom daring to be photographed in such a condition was terribly gauche. “If you ever do something this tacky, I will come back from the dead and haunt you,” she promised. It was a light moment on an otherwise very solemn day, and it is one of favorite memories. She made good on her word and kept her deadline, so it is also my hope that she will follow-through with some paranormal activity.

A few of my loved ones are confused (and sometimes embarrassed) about my decision to write vulgar, inappropriate, and less-than-flattering things. If you are these people, let me let you in on my litmus test for Internet-worthiness.  Before hitting post, this is my inner dialog, “If I publish this, will Nanny haunt me? Yes?!  Well then, it’s perfect.”



  1. I love this!

  2. Great story! I never met your grandmother, but I bet she was a saucy minx! She’d be proud of you.

  3. Love your Nanny already. Here, she reminds me of my Mamie! Powerful women come in so many shapes and sizes and if they haunt us, they deserve to.

  4. shannonhumphreys says:

    Ha! Your Nanny sounds awesome. Hope this gets a rise out of her. 😉

  5. This is a cute story. 🙂 Everyone should have someone like your Nanny in their life.

  6. karen beaux-barron says:

    You are hilarious & a totally saucy mind! One of my favorite people in the world. Maybe you & I should take a ladies road trip to Arkansas to have a drink with Ms. Ivin!

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