Throughout life’s journey there are people who make a huge impact on our lives, mine is no exception. Parents, teachers, coaches, friends, and sometimes mere acquaintances have left a mark that is so indelible that our lives are changed forever. Tonight I prepare to say farewell to one of those people.
I’ve known Betty Jo for over forty years. A longtime Tallahassee native she spent her days raising a family of four children in a loving home along with her husband R Guy. Not only did she raise her four children but she raised a whole lot more. Her home was always open to her children’s friends as well as to her very large extended family and to others who would often drop by for a meal or to share conversation. I was fortunate to have fallen into this group. As a family friend I enjoyed many a great meal at her table. Her southern charm, hospitality and love of the Lord were some of the wonderful memories that I have from back then. She was a wonderful mother to her kids and wife to her husband. Kids were drawn to her home and she treated us as if we were her own. Everyone felt welcome and safe there. It was one of those places that as life took us in different directions none of us ever forgot.
Fast forward about 30 years and she and I crossed paths once again. This time I officially became part of her family as I was blessed to have married one of her daughters, BR. Now widowed and having moved from the old home I had once known, she now lived by herself in a beautiful country home near Lake Talquin, on the west side of Tallahassee. Again as before her home was always open to family and friends and for the past 10 years we have enjoyed some incredible times there. Her children now had children and grandchildren of their own and who we once called “Mrs. Revell” was now affectionately known as “Nana!” Our friendship grew and I loved Nana as if she were my own mother. She was always good to me and I to her. More than a Mother in Law she was a good friend. We had a great relationship. I admired and respected her. Throughout my life I have oft heard people complain about the relationship (or lack thereof) with their mother-in law. I was never privy to that sort of relationship because she and I have always gotten along great. When I stop and think of why my wife is so wonderful I don’t have to dwell on that question long because the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Her mom is a wonderful lady and so is my wife and I admire and respect both of them tremendously.
Occasionally I would work on Nana’s house and she would make us a great lunch and we would sit and eat and talk about all sorts of things. The family, our country, old Tallahassee, and any other topic we felt needed discussing. I cherish those conversations because those who have come before us are a wealth of knowledge and I have always soaked it up like a sponge. These conversations I shared with Nana were no different. Talk to her during lunch and then ponder what she said for the rest of the day. Twas good stuff. I have learnt a lot throughout my life by talking to my elders and listening closely to what they said. I learnt a lot from Nana as she and I knew many of the same people, went to the same High School, we just had a lot in common.
Her large kitchen was a place where magic occurred! So many wonderful dinners and suppers we have enjoyed there! So many wonderful meals enjoyed at her antique dining room table that I many times put the leaf into to accomodate large family gatherings, only to remove it after dinner and stow it away for next time. For the past 10 years we have eaten there just about every week or two! In the fall of the year I’d take my cast net and catch a few mullet from the gulf, always keeping a few medium sized “Nana Mullet” because that was the size she liked, and oh yea fry ’em a little hard because that was how she liked ’em! Every now and then I’d get her to eat a little red roe which either you love or you hate, but she was from the old school and she would eat it. On special occasions the girls and Nana would drink some champagne while making some type of over the top incredible meal in her kitchen, always under Nana’s watchful eye! The turkeys and hams were cut to Nana’s specifications, her dressing was made the old fashioned Nana way and always turned out delicious! Two weeks ago my wife secured Nana’s recipe for marinara sauce after she made a dinner of pasta shells in Nana’s kitchen and Nana gave her the recipe. Surprisingly BR said the recipe was simple to make however it rivals any marinara sauce served in the finest Italian restaurants. Its truly that good (and I ain’t kidding)!
Whenever Nana ventured out to dinner somewhere she was always surrounded by her children and grandchildren like the secret service around a president! She was closely guarded and her every need attended to. She was loved by her family like no other. Everyone looked out for Nana!
Family reunions were a whole other topic. Nana became the Matriarch of the Liberty County Revell clan. Everyone knew Nana and she was loved by all of her family close and extended. Sitting at the table with Nana we’d watch as family members would line up to check on Nana and to share a quick story with her, glad to see her there during the annual event. Nana was the star of the show and everyone knew it.
However, time has passed by as it always does and the years have finally caught up with our Sweet Nana. What we thought would be a brief two day hospital stay last week has turned into a nightmare for Nana’s loved ones. Tonight is night seven of a 24 hour vigil her daughters are keeping to make sure Nana wants for nothing. The Doctors have told the family that all has been done that can be done and that Nana’s days are short. Nana is now 90 years old, Nana is tired, her body worn out. She’s run her race, she has done her job and done it well. Her time is near. The family crushed. Family and friends now line Nana’s bedside sharing choked up stories and saying their final goodbyes to a lady who has meant so much to so many. The young people who shared her home, beach house and dinner table so many years ago stop by to see Nana one more time. Voices crack and eyes water as they realize that this wonderful chapter in their own lives is now coming to a close. This is not just another old person dying, this situation is devastating. She meant so very much to so very many, this chapter in all of our lives is ending.
For me, I am being supportive, doing anything I can to make this situation a little easier to bear for anyone who needs it. Its all I know to do. Coffee, I’m on it. Food, whatcha want? Today holding hands with family members circling Nana’s bedside the Preacher asked me to lead a prayer, I did the best I could but it is hard when your throat is locked up and the words won’t come. I did the best I could. For seven long days now I have been choked up inside, unable to focus my thoughts and unable to speak without having to clear my throat. I’m about to lose yet another loved one who has meant so much to me. I know it is life’s process, I get that. No one lives forever, we all have our appointed hour. But this one hurts and it hurts bad. I oft wonder what is wrong with me, why do I hurt this bad? I’m 60 years old now. I spent 36 years as a street cop, 22 of those years on a SWAT team. I have seen death up close hundreds of times, I have done some unimaginable things to save human life, sometimes with success, most of the time without. Why can’t these experiences toughen me up and prevent me from hurting so bad? For the life of me I do not know. Maybe it is because I have never lost our Sweet Nana before. Soon I’ll go home and I’ll climb into bed and try to go to sleep. I’ll toss and turn and then read a little bit, finally from exhaustion I’ll fall asleep. Another restless night. And tomorrow I’ll again walk to the ICU and check on our Sweet Nana and pray to God for Mercy.
Along with asking for Mercy I’ll Thank God for our Sweet Nana. I’ll thank him for my relationship with her, for being my wife’s mother, for doing such an outstanding job of making my wife and for allowing me to be a part of the wonderful family she raised. I’ll Thank God for her friendship, for the wonderful relationship that she and I had that apparently a lot of folks do not enjoy. I’ll Thank God for all she did for so many, for touching the lives of so many young people in a caring and positive way. I will Thank God for sharing her family and her life with me. I’ll Thank God for the influence she has had on my life, for her strength, her caring and for her love, for the example she has set for us all, and for the time God has given us to spend with such a sweet soul. For so much of what she did has made me the man I am today.
Nana, Thank You. I am going to miss you more than you know. You have had a tremendous impact on my life. You were one of the good ones. You were always there, you were solid, you never changed. You loved and you were loved. You Nana are what life is all about. Our lives are about about to change big time. Its no secret, we all know it. The life we knew with you is about to end, things will never be the way they were before. Never. It is sad. It is true.
Where do we go from here? I do not know. I am being supportive. We will take it one day at a time. The young will grow old, the old will grow older. Time will push on. Who will I catch mullet for? Who’s table will we gather around on holidays, birthdays, or just any days? Who will I blow the truck horn for when I pass by your house (“two toots for Nana”)? Who will we rally around at family reunions? Life as we know it is about to change but one thing is certain…we are much better people for having had you in our lives. You will be missed.
Our Sweet Nana, we are going to miss you. Thanks for being who you were and for all you did. You were truly one of a kind. We Love You Nana.