Learning and dreaming

Published November 1, 2011

MY NANA Laura M. Hagerman
Photo: Kristin Jenkins

I love ideas and I love learning. The day I stop is the day I die.

My maternal grandmother was like that. She used to say that what kept her going until she was 104 years young was her interest in everything around her. That, and meeting new people, which (incredibly) she was paid to do until she was 98.

Nana was the Welcome Wagon lady in Belleville, Ont., a job at which she excelled for 49 years. When the local newspaper reporter interviewed her at her retirement party, she told him to say she’d been with Welcome Wagon for 50 years “because it will make a better story, dear.”

Welcome Wagon had an annual award in Nana’s honour: The Laura M. Hagerman Award for achievement. You see, my grandmother may have been the oldest employee Welcome Wagon ever had (she never told them her real age, in case someone insist she retire), but she was also one of the most productive. And they used Nana’s sales figures to set the bar high.

The day both the president and the area manager of Welcome Wagon came to Nana’s house to inform her of the annual award was a memorable one. But not for the reasons you might think. While her visitors chatted blithely on about the award and what an honour it was, Nana’s mind raced full steam ahead. At the first lull in the conversation, she announced, “I know just what I’m going to wear!”

And with that, she stood up and led the two astonished women into her bedroom. It was off the kitchen and the round table where all important conversations were held. Sliding back the mirrored door on her double closet, Nana pulled out The Vittadini.

Purchased in her 83rd year, Nana dropped almost $1,000 for the fuschia designer suit in a boutique in Toronto’s trendy Yorkville district. It was “a honey,” she declared. The double-breasted jacket fit perfectly over the fine merino wool skirt. The latter fell straight from the hip and ended precisely at the knee.

I loved the way Nana looked when she wore The Vittadini. She remained tall and slim all her life and as she told me many times, she had great legs. Elegant and sophisticated, she didn’t look like anyone else’s grandmother…that I’d met, anyway.

Back in my grandmother’s bedroom, the unsuspecting area manager looked skeptically at the knee-skimming bottom half of The Vittadini.

She turned to Nana. “Don’t you think that skirt’s a bit short for you, Laura?” she asked, sounding more like a lamb to the slaughter with every passing second.

“What are you talking about?” my grandmother retorted, sticking out her right leg with a flourish. “My legs are better than yours!”

The area manager called me and told me this story about a week after Nana’s memorial service at Bridge St. United. (In spite of the minister’s trepidation that “relatives tend to break down,” I had managed to successfully deliver the eulogy there.) I knew the story had to be true; those words were classic Nana. I was grateful for the area manager’s phone call and realized she must be a Very Good Sport Indeed.

Nana’s dedication to her work and the level of professionalism that she brought to it were eclipsed only by her absolute love of “getting her girdle off.” This was the expression she used when any kind of work-paid or volunteer-was finished and it was time to turn her attention to recreational pursuits. Some of these included hosting and attending dinner parties for family and friends, Bridge Club and, until she was 90, travel.

Getting her girdle off should not be confused with the time Nana announced that she was no longer going to wear her girdle. I think she was about 85 by then. My mother and I looked at each other. “Be my guest!” my mother replied, choking with laughter. “Go for it!” I offered. I think this was about the same time that Nana decided, after the unexpected death of her gentleman friend, that her dating days were over. (My grandfather died when my grandmother was in her early 40s.)

For the next 20 years, Nana continued to live each day to its fullest. I believe that getting up, getting dressed and getting out of the house (Welcome Wagon calls, errands and so forth) was one of the foundational underpinnings of her successful aging. Nana loved her life and every day dawned with endless possibilities for a new adventure. She never lost interest in the world around her and the people in it.

The day before she died saw her sitting at the kitchen table receiving a steady stream of visitors, including her minister from Bridge St. United. (A weird coincidence, but then Nana always had good timing.) Somehow, after a sleepless night spent holding my hand while the two of us prayed grimly for the morphine to kick in, she looked like Her Old Self. I, on the other hand, looked like Death Warmed Over.

My grandmother was a terrific mentor and inspiration to me and we loved each other dearly. But there was one thing on which we never agreed: the value of dreaming. Nana was the ultimate pragmatist. If you couldn’t find it, make it or earn it, what was the point?

“You are a dreamer, Kristin,” Nana would say, like it was a deliquent activity. This would also signal that she thought my reach was exceeding my grasp. (Or maybe she was getting an uneasy feeling that my “dream” was going to lead to a request for funding.)

Dreams continue to be a very big part of my life. I pay attention to them, even nurture them, because they can open doors to unforeseen places. Dreams can change the course of life.

As the editor of the Anglican Journal, I have many dreams. Sure, I dream of a bigger, better newspaper and a more capable website, but after two years and a bit, I am dreaming about meeting you, sharing my ideas, answering your questions and hearing your stories. In person.

Am I dreaming? You bet.

Where there’s a dream, there’s a chance to create something good, to improve what is and find new ways to build for the future. In the case of your national newspaper and the regional newspapers that it brings to you each month, there is a lot of room to build grassroots relationships. After all, it is you that we really serve.

For inspiration on the “how,” I think I’ll go look at The Vittadini.

It hangs in my double closet now.

Kristin Jenkins is editor of the Anglican Journal.
email: [email protected]


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