“Hey, I’m not a man!”

My great-grandmother was ninety-six when she began to lose her mind.Nanny

Just think what she lived through: two World Wars, the Great Depression, the Civil Rights movement, the Cold War, her husband’s death, and the substitution of corn syrup for sugar in Coca-Cola, her favorite drink.

We tend to be more patient with the idiosyncrasies and rough edges of people who have endured so much large-scale change. One Christmas, my two sisters and I ambushed my dad and demanded that he would talk to Nanny and ask her to stop using the “n” word.

Nanny’s name was Pearl Lyle, and she married a man named Russell Legate. Her married name was Pearl Legate. Say that out loud. You can imagine all the pearly gate jokes that the preacher made at her funeral, and yes, I’m sure Nanny is now well acquainted with Saint Peter.

Even before Nanny began suffering from dementia, she spoke her mind. When my grandfather finally took away her car keys—she was in her late eighties at the time—she told him, “There’s no place in heaven for sons like you.”

Shortly before her death, Nanny was in hospice in a comfortable, expensive long-term care facility in the National Health Corporation (NHC) family. This was a woman who was working crossword puzzles well into her 90s to keep her mind sharp, so the dementia and paranoia that came with it were that much more startling.

She kept accusing the caretakers and especially family members of trying to steal her money. My grandfather had the privilege of being her number one suspect. A couple of nurses found her tying the sheets in knots. She must have planned to escape out the window, though she could barely walk at the time.

My mom, her oldest grand-daughter, was the only one she’d confide in, so she waited until my mom arrived one morning before recounting the previous night’s outrages. Almost everybody in the family was there, except for me.

“They even let a big, black man give me a bath!” she said.

The person in question was always in the room and said, “Hey, I’m not a man!”

Oh, Nanny. You have it better now in Paradise. Your mind has been remade, and you’re making peach ice cream while PawPaw reads the newspaper and describes to you the antics and intrigues of the neighborhood dogs.

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