Nan did lead a life of privilege, but it was not a life without pain and sorrow.
Her mother suffered from bipolar disorder. Nan said little about that, other than an occasional reference to having accompanied her mother to Baltimore many times, where she had entrusted her care to a college classmate who had become a psychiatrist at Johns Hopkins. My dad had memories of seeing them off at the train station. Her mother ensured that her daughter had the college education that her own parents had denied her, and maintained a gracious Victorian home on a shady street, but her illness cast a pall over the lives of her family, especially after she was widowed in her fifties.
My own grandfather suffered some sort of mental breakdown that prevented him from returning to college for his senior year, and another one less than a decade later, during the Depression. I believe that that experience was the catalyst for annual trips to Florida. Nan packed her family up, put what cash they had into a suitcase, and directed their travel southward, hoping that the warmth and waves would have a soothing effect.
As a young grandmother of fifty-four, my grandmother would stand in her picture window with a cup of coffee one morning and watch our car head down the hill, only to hear a thundering crash a few moments later. Calling for an ambulance and racing down the hill and up the road in her dressing gown, she would be the one to discover the head-on collision that had already ended my mother’s life and would, a few hours later, claim my baby brother’s. Living nearly five more decades, she would see my father widowed again, divorced, and widowed a third time, and her eldest son widowed and divorced as well.
Her presence next door (and since we lived in the country, “next door” meant that a gravel lane separated our houses on top of a hill, ours behind hers) was the saving grace in our lives in a family marred by repeated experiences of sudden loss. We seldom spoke of what had befallen us all, but she and my grandfather were the rocks of fortitude who ensured that we all survived.