A few weeks before Aunt Nannie died I came to visit for two perfect days and nights. The first night, as we ate lobster from Chatham and drank wine I looked over at her and even with all she was going through she looked beautiful and happy. The next day we looked through old albums dating back to the 30's when my grandparents bought the big house in Chatham. Aunt Nannie remembered every detail, date and name. She was always like that and we shared a passion for all things Chatham.
This is what I want to talk about this morning. As best I can piece together, when Aunt Nannie was a child she had petite mall, a mild form of epilepsy. My grandmother being a Christian Scientist of sorts and being at a loss for how to handle her youngest child's illness sent her to Chatham with a nurse from the age of 10 to 12. She lived in the little cottage my grandparents built with her nurse Ms. Hicks. She had a horse which she kept at Eldredge's garage. On it she explored all the nooks and crannies of a virtually undiscovered Chatham.
Those years, living apart from her family couldn't have been easy but I think it gave her something so profound it cannot be described. Her childhood friend Boo Weller told me
" Nannie had a depth of feeling for the Cape your mother and I couldn't touch. "
The beloved big house, known as Riptide, the two cottages and the garage are no longer in the family but the memories are and that is what Aunt Nannie and I shared. We were both obsessed with Gammie and Gampie's legacy. We referred to it lovingly as the big house. Aunt Nannie was the one I would turn to for questions about that fabulous bygone era. She would tell me " Oh Robbie, I dream about walking through the rooms exactly as they were and I can smell the smells. It's as though I was there again." She told me things no one else could and I was like a sponge. On our last visit she told me the names of her childhood dogs. She would tell me things in an excited, almost breathless way that I loved to hear. "Your grandfather could charm the birds out of the trees. Your grandmother was cozy and funny and dear. Your great grandmother didn't like drinking and tried to keep the Tyner brothers apart."
The other night I looked through old family photos. My mum and Aunt Nannie, lying on the deck of my grandparents sailboat at 14 and 16 years old, feet touching. In these albums I see her love; for my grandparents, for my Uncle John and my mother. Her love for Uncle Peter was something out of a love story and her love for her children, grandchildren and friends.
Honestly, it was her love of her dogs that took the prize. In those old photos she was always petting a dog. Dirk the bull terrier,Happy Hooligan, Baffie or Dash. If it is true that all dogs go to heaven she is in good company. But they are in the best company of all. Our beloved Nancy Tyner Gagarin, we will live you forever.