The Day My Nana Made Me Cry


“What is your most embarrassing moment?”

I have a friend who loves this question. Every time we get together she begins the gathering by tossing this out to the group. And my reaction is always the same: eye roll, headshake, NO, NO, NO. For the love, why would anyone want to reveal personal humiliating information? Can’t we all agree to keep our secrets buried deep within where they belong?  

But today is a new day, and I’m about to share one of my most embarrassing moments of all times. My friend will be proud, this one’s for her.

My moment has to do with my paternal grandmother, who, at this writing, is approaching her 102nd birthday. She’s a trooper, a strong-willed, scrappy, wisp of a woman who has lived through World War I, the Great Depression, World War II, and over time, three weddings and three funerals of three husbands. She’s had quite a life.

After my grandfather (her first husband) passed away, my Nana determined to take care of herself by securing a job as a file clerk in a physician’s office. She is and has always been the most organized person I’ve ever known, so I’m sure she was perfect in this role. She probably had those files standing at attention every time she entered the room.

At that time, I was in elementary school, maybe around eight-years-old. One of my favorite things to do back then was to pretend I was injured. I would wrap my wrists, ankles, knees, head, whatever in small strips of old sheets that I used as pretend bandages. I always had a fake broken bone or two, and when my injury was particularly bad, I used long sticks from the yard as crutches on which to hobble around.

Christmas time arrived, and I remember my Nana brought two large presents to the house for me. I was ecstatic. I opened the first gift, and it was a shiny, silver pair of—you won't believe it—crutches! This should have been the perfect present for a little girl who spent a fair amount of time pretending to be “broke up”, but when I saw the crutches, my Christmas gift, I was embarrassed. My mind began to race. Everybody would think I was weird to get crutches as a gift. I could never play with them; it would be too risky. I tried to smile through my discomfort as I peered at the second gift. It was a huge, beautifully wrapped, rectangular box. My heart sank. I dreaded what the box held. Surely not; surely it wouldn’t be what I feared. If she thought I wanted crutches, she would also think I wanted a wheelchair. I was horrified. I didn’t want a wheelchair; I wanted a normal gift. I wanted to be a normal little girl that received toys or clothes or jewelry for Christmas. As I stared at that enormous box, I began to cry. Tears rolled down my cheeks and I turned away. I couldn’t face it. They would all think I was odd, not right, a freak. And maybe, I thought, I was.

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My poor Nana looked at my tears and then at the crutches and attempted to explain. She told me she had found the old crutches in the back room of the building where she worked, and knowing I loved to play the patient, decided she would fix them up and give them to me for Christmas.

“This isn’t your real present,” she said. “It was just a silly idea I had.” I took a deep, shaky breath. “Don’t you want to open your real present now?” she asked, sliding the oversized box in my direction.

I did not.

But after much coaxing, I finally opened the box and found inside the prettiest sleeping bag I’d ever seen. Covered in 1970’s style flowers, it was the perfect combination of pink and yellow and orange, and suddenly, I felt like the coolest girl around. I had flower power. Now this was a normal present. Maybe she did think I was a normal little girl after all. I wiped away my tears and relaxed. Everything was going to be okay.

I loved that sleeping bag and used it until it grew threadbare, but the real hit that Christmas was the crutches. They had been the perfect gift for me: so thoughtful, so creative, and so much work for my Nana to take them apart and paint them and put them back together again. It took me some time to realize the love that had gone into the gift, since at first, all I’d felt was embarrassment. I couldn’t see past my own insecurity and pride to my Nana’s thoughtfulness and creativity.

In the end, she knew how much I enjoyed those crutches and how successful her gift had been. And even though I had not, she had known the perfect gift for me that year.

Now, every time I see a tiny pair of crutches, I think of my Nana and my tears and my perfect Christmas gift, and it makes me happy. Maybe one day I’ll have a granddaughter to whom I’ll give the perfect gift—a gift that brings a smile, a laugh, or a hug; but hopefully not a tear.     

Nana, my paternal grandmother, painted by my maternal grandmother.

Nana, my paternal grandmother, painted by my maternal grandmother.

Katy Shelton is the creator and Managing Editor of The Granny Diaries. See more about Katy on our team page.