Growing up, it felt like I often had to start over — moving to new houses, switching schools, losing grandfathers.
One of the rocks I could cling to amid the sea of changes was Nan.
Her house at 5118 Village Lawn in San Antonio was like my lifelong second home. I can’t think back to a time without it, without her.
How many days did my brothers and I spend swimming in the pool, playing in the den, pencilling our heights onto the living room wall, watching her cook in that little kitchen, reading books about England, playing old kids’ records, appreciating her Prince Charles and Diana memorabilia?
She taught at Kindercare, and took us with her. Later, there were visits to SeaWorld or to see the Spurs; always there was bowling. What experiences she and Aunt Karen made possible for us kids!
When I was small, Nan and I developed a private way of signing off our phone calls. We would say goodbye, then I would blow twice quickly into microphone, and she would do the same. We maintained this tradition until the day she could no longer pick up a phone.
She wasn’t always “Nan.” Paddy Kuncas (formerly George nee Lawrence) was born in Wellingborough, Northamptonshire, England, in 1936 to Victor Basil Lawrence and Ethel Maud Lock.
For most of my childhood we called her “Nanny.” As a teenager, I found the name “Nanny” embarrassing when I would speak about her outside the family. So I shortened the name to just “Nan.” It stuck.
The birth of Jadzia made Nan a great-grandmother and my mom a grandmother. Nan didn’t want to become “Grandnanny,” which is what I had called her mother. So for our kids, she remained “Nan” and my mom became “Nanny.” We generally kept it straight, but it wasn’t hard to get confused.
As kids, we spent so many Christmases at her place. Each Christmas Eve we would try to talk her into letting us open our presents from Aunt Vicky. She always had a stock of English Christmas crackers that we could pull. She and Aunt Karen, generous gift-givers, spoiled us kids with piles of presents waiting under the tree.
I revelled in her Englishness: those dinners of roast, potatoes, and Yorkshire pudding, drinking tea in the afternoon, or putting extra “R”s after vowels at the end of words and names like “Aneeter.”
She was our bridge to the past: because she was English, that meant I was, too. She assembled an extensive Lawrence family tree, and I marveled at the amount of work it must have taken to figure it out. I’m sure this helped spur my later interest in genealogy. I have often wished that Papa, Nan’s first husband, had lived longer. He died just when I was reaching the age where I had questions I wanted to ask him about his past. But Nan lived a good long life, and she was always willing to share memories and stories from her own childhood in another country.
Then in 2012, Nan took me to see those places from her past. She showed me the home at 36 Whitworth Road where she was born; the Embankment where her brothers rolled her down the hill in her wheelchair; Brafield on the Green, where her grandmother Emily Elizabeth Barker was in service to the Sargent family. The names from her stories came to life.
When I reached high school and college age, there was a period where we didn’t travel to Texas quite as often. But once I married and got a steady job, Yoli and I returned many times during the summer to stay with her.
As an adult, I came to her home with new perspectives. First, I understood better her journey as an immigrant coming to America on her own, to marry my Papa in the 1950s. Yoli and I went through a similar adventure. Second, I got to see her as a great-grandmother, playing with my children much the same way I imagine she played with me when I was her first and only grandchild. She would call them “tin ribs,” (a special name that stuck with Joseph as he grew up) or say things like “did it have a bone in it?” when they would cough.
For so long, traveling to visit Nan was like time travel for me. Whenever we made the journey down Interstate 35, I felt like a kid again, looking for the landmarks: the Olympia Hills clock, the Toys-R-Us at Windsor Park Mall. Those landmarks all disappeared over the years, but for so long, Nan and her house remained. We’d arrive, and I’d sit in the rocking chair beside her recliner and shoot the breeze.
But time catches all of us, even my Nan, hard as that is for me to believe. Her health declined enough that she could no longer live alone, though she always seemed mentally sharp whenever I spoke with her. Then, a few weeks ago, a sudden fall, and the end was near.
She chose to enter hospice care, which gave us an opportunity to go and say goodbye to her. Though it was hard to see her in that state, I will treasure memories of Yoli and Josie playing guitar for her, and all of us singing hymns and songs we knew she would enjoy.
Goodbye, Nan. We miss you here, but we also know there was a welcoming committee with Papa and Jadzia and so many others, waiting for you in Heaven.