Nora Swango Stanger: Thank you, Granny

Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 1, 2019

This morning, I was struck by the power of love.

I’m not talking about the physical attraction love, but the love that means sacrifice and self-denial, even in the ugliest of times.

My grandmother, Nora Maude Turner Mitchell, demonstrated that type of love throughout her life. She helped my mother raise her children. She sacrificed her home, every ounce of personal space, to make sure we didn’t become homeless.

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Sacrifice, by definition, is not easy. Continual sacrifice over years and through seemingly impossible circumstances is almost unheard of.

But this is what Granny did for her grandchildren. My mom was in an impossible situation. She had eight children to get through extremely difficult times. If it weren’t for Granny, I can’t imagine what would have happened to us.

I only had 20 years with Granny. The grief I experienced when she passed from this world was all consuming. I couldn’t imagine not having her physical presence with me. I remember asking Mom if I could have Granny’s apron.

The apron is a simple thing, handmade by Granny from chicken feed sack cloth.

She wore it almost daily. It has an oval strap that went around her neck, and to this day that strap holds a safety pin she must have found while cleaning.

To me, it represents everything about Granny. It even smelled like Granny when I got it.

I put Granny’s apron in a zip lock bag, wanting to preserve her scent. You can imagine my grief when I opened that bag on the year anniversary of her death and found the scent was gone.

However, the influence Granny had on our lives has never failed.

We often feel her presence and repeat little sayings she had with affection.

When one of my sisters was going through an extreme period of darkness years ago, she often dreamt of Granny standing outside her bedroom window.

Granny would be sweetly smiling and telling my sister not to give up, that all of the darkness would pass and her life would be good. Those dreams carried my sister and gave her hope.

Often today, families live in cities far from grandparents because of jobs or other life circumstances.

On the other extreme, there are grandparents who are raising their grandchildren. Even though they are tired and wish life were more peaceful in their older years, they don’t give up on their babies.

My heart breaks for the children who do not grow up with grandparents who love them with that undefinable, unconditional love.

My last moments with Granny were at the hospital where a heart attack had put her.

That particular day, Granny had rallied and was feeling better. I was home from college for the weekend and was so fearful that once I left I would lose her.

But, for that moment, she was just the way Granny was supposed to be. She was teasing me, telling me about the cute, single resident doctor she had picked out for me.

I actually climbed into Granny’s bed with her. She was wearing an oxygen tube, but said she didn’t like the way it felt.

She said it made her feel like Old Jack (the work horse).

Not wanting to waste the Medicare money, she told me to put it on. We were laughing, until a nurse walked into the room and was shocked to see me as I was.

I jerked the oxygen tube off and jumped out of the bed, while Granny just looked pitiful and said, “Kids these days.”

The nurse gave me a look of disgust and left the room. Granny took great joy in my embarrassment.

My mother has followed in Granny’s steps, helping to raise her many grandchildren.

She has invested decades to nurturing, guiding, encouraging and providing for each one. She has a special relationship with my niece, Nikki.

Nikki and Mom are best friends, sharing life moments that no one else can touch. It’s been Nikki the past few years who has escorted Mom to the emergency room and on to hospital visits.

It’s been Nikki who sits up with her and teases with her. Recently, Nikki posted a picture of her and Mom cuddled up in Mom’s hospital bed.

My heart swelled, I felt I could smell my Granny’s presence by looking at that picture.

Society has changed dramatically over my lifetime. I’m sure it will continue to evolve in even more drastic ways through the lives of my children.

One area that saddens me is the loss of the generations of family living together or nearby each other.

Though this still occurs, the tendency for grandparents to be intimately involved in family life is waning. Grandparents are a treasure to the development of children.

The sacrifice is intense, but so very valuable.

Thank you, Granny.

Thank you, Mom.

Nora Swango Stanger, a Lawrence County native and Appalachian outreach coordinator for Sinclair Community College, can be reached at