Nan-One In A Million

September 12, 2008
What does “hero” mean to you? What do you see? Think of the word “hero”. What comes to mind? Do you see a man or woman wearing spandex and a cape? How about a black and white photo of a guy in a lab coat, holding a beaker? Smokey the Bear? Michael Phelps? All these examples are good and dandy, and sure, one of those is bound to be at least someone’s hero. But I must disagree with all of these points when I think of my hero. What exactly do I see? I see a picture a sixty-eight-year-old woman who lives in a little hick town just north of the Michigan-Indiana border with a great faith, great love for her family and great stories to tell.

Marlene C, who we have come to know affectionately as “Nan” or “Nanny”, has known me since the day I was born. Likewise, I’ve known her for as long as my memory can reach. It makes sense. She is my grandmother, after all. Over the years she has taught me several little skills, such as making potholders, sewing, cooking, and of course, cleaning. She’s also been one-hundred-percent supportive of me when I was having a tough time, and never hesitated to try to fix what was hurting me physically or otherwise. Nan may not have conquered any countries, stopped world hunger or developed the cure for cancer, but her own story is just as unique as Superman’s or Albert Einstein’s. It starts were any good story would start—the beginning. The tale starts at Nan’s childhood, to be precise. Nan’s father (my great-grandpa), Robert K, was the manager of the Buchanan (Buchanan, Michigan) Co-op and Buchanan Farmer’s Credit Union, along with being the President of the Michigan Elevator Exchange in Lansing, Michigan while she was growing up. Through his status in the community, Nan’s father became a lobbyist for the farmers of Michigan. Because of this position, he had to go to Washington D.C. once a year with other lobbyists across the country. Nan and the rest of her family would join him. She recalls her trips to the state capitol: “I remember the beautiful cherry blossoms. My mom, sister and I were not involved in the daily activities that my dad participated in, but we were invited to join him for two dinner meals in the Capitol Building.” These dinners proved to be very eventful for Nan. One night she happened to sit next to Representative Ford, who would later become our thirty-eighth president. These were just the start of the many unique trips Nan would take. Some of her favorites included her first trip to Hawaii (the first of a handful) with her parents in 1977 and a tour of Europe in 1984. The trip included visits to Germany, Holland, France, Italy, and Switzerland. Now, she entertains her entire family with stories of these trips and several others. Personally, I’d like to follow in her footsteps and travel the world and have the full ability to enjoy it.

Later on in life, Nan got married to my grandfather, Clarence C (called Papa), and had three kids. The oldest and only boy, Robert, would eventually become my dad. “We enjoyed all our children…even through the teen years!” Nan said when asked what raising the three siblings was like. Some of her favorite memories of her family involved going on vacations in a motor home, visiting Taylor University, where Robert went for college, and stopping at Ivanhoes, the nearby ice cream shop. She also enjoyed visiting her youngest daughter, Susie, while she taught math at a school in Hawaii. All the while, Nanny and Papa raised Robert, Moriya and Susie to follow their admirable faith. “We went to a great church and our children were involved in the youth activities and they had great friends. This was a great blessing.” Nan said about raising her children in a Christian household.

Now, Nan is the grandmother of nine grandkids ranging from ages nineteen to seven. When asked about how raising these nine was like, Nan replied: “I do not feel like I am raising my grandchildren! I can enjoy them and love them (as) their parents are raising them…I feel that my role as a grandmother is to pray for each grandchild…I also can be a listening ear, a problem solver, and an encourager to each one individually.” Nan is also very excited to be spending time with her grandchildren in June 2009, when she and the rest of her family will be going to Walt Disney World. Growing up, I have seen for myself that Nanny is indeed all these things, and also that it would have taken a lot of patience, forgiveness and perseverance with all of her grandkids, me included. In turn, Nan is loved by the two generations that came after her along with many people in her community. When it comes to today’s society, people who can achieve this come few and far between, and when they do, they should be greatly valued. For the past few years, Moriya, Nan’s middle daughter, has been told by three doctors that the weather in Michigan was not good for her health and that she should consider moving to a dryer climate. For several years, Moriya has been battling Lyme disease. The weather caused the disease to flare up; consequently, she moved her and her family to Colorado this past summer. Though the move did make Nan upset at first, she is happy to see that her daughter’s health is improving and that her grandkids are doing well in their new schools.

Like everyone, Nan has had some dark times in her life. In 2003, her father passed away at the age of ninety-one. “I had a very special relationship with my father,” Nan recollects. “He was my mentor and role-model. I missed him a lot, but I feel blessed to have had him live to the age of ninety-one.” Now, Nan is still running strong and is taking care of her ninety-two-year-old mother, along with the several family members that come to visit often. Later on, Nan was diagnosed with melanoma. “However, I felt at peace, knowing God was in control,” she said about the diagnosis, once again showing her great faith. The cancer turned out to have not spread, and it was easily contained and destroyed.

Unfortunately, in the spring and summer of 2008, several close and dear people to Nanny passed away. The first was her husband, just a few months after celebrating forty-six years of marriage. I was so surprised at how well Nan clung to her faith and maintained herself after this loss, though the first few weeks and months after the death were definitely a trial. Not long after, two of Nan’s friends also passed away, both due to breast cancer. “All this has shown me that life here on Earth is so temperamental,” Nan said. But these events have helped her to strengthen her ability to comfort others, as she has a friend whose son is dying of cancer. Nanny then quoted the Bible, again displaying her faith: “What a wonderful God we have...he is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the source of every mercy, and the one who so wonderfully comforts and strengthens us in our hardships and trials. And why does he do this? So that when others are troubled, needing our sympathy and encouragement, we can pass on to them this same help and comfort God has given us. II Corinthians 1:3, 4 TLB”. Similar to Odysseus, Nan kept going through life even at its thickest and refused to give up on it. And also like Odysseus, she did indeed make it through her trials.

Out of all these events that have happened through Nanny’s lifetime, the death of her husband and her trip to Europe have been the strongest. When asked if she learned any life-lessons from her good times and bad, she replied: “Yes, through my husband's death, I have learned this life-lesson: when trials hit, we can always be sure that God will come to our aid. Why? It is His nature...He is the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort. He is training me to comfort others. Sometimes God allows us to fall into deep valleys and dark pits in order to show us that we are never really in control, but that He always is and that He knows how to rescue us from ‘impossible’ situations.”
I have always wanted to follow this lesson, because even through my own life I have experienced love and loss similar to Nan’s. I want to have her faith and hope in my life just as strong as it was in hers, and someday be just as loved and admired by family and friends. This has been one of my thoughts: Formally, the world “hero” means a person who, in the opinion of others, has heroic qualities or has performed a heroic act and is regarded as a model or ideal. If Nan did not fit this definition, than who would?

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