by Elwood G. McCann, Jr
My maternal Grandmother, Fannie Marie Branstetter, was born January 31, 1899 in Milan, MO. All those close to her, young and old, called her Nana. The Branstetter clan was enormously fertile in the area of offspring. But Nanaıs Father, Cecil Columbus Branstetter, had only 6 children.
To view her 98-pound, skinny-as-a-rail stature, one might conclude that she was a very fragile woman. However, I view my grandmother as the strongest woman I have ever known. Her great strength came from her strong will and I-can-do-anything attitude. The attached picture shows Nana at age 80 climbing with me in the hills behind the ranch looking for a Christmas tree.
This lady always managed to take charge of things. She was both practical and well organized. When things got difficult, sheıd set her target and proceed. I can easily imagination her carving out notches on the butt of our old 22-caliber rifle, notches marking the hoards of snakes and skunks (and other "varmints" as she called them) that would intrude into her yard from the nearby hills.
She and husband Herman Tenter (Gramps) never had a lot of money to spend. Compared to our lives today, we grandchildren never appreciated how poor she really was. We do now perceive the much more import fact, the richness of her character. Nana was religious but never preached religion, just living a life of kindness and walking in the way of her church. From her childhood, she was an active member of the Seventh Day Adventist church.
In always the unassuming manner, F. Marie Branstetter Tenter taught subtle lessons of life. She was a great communicator, reading or telling us stories of all kinds. Every day of her adult life, she did the crossword puzzle from the Santa Rosa Press Democrat newspaper. She was a giant at crossword puzzles. I remember her asking me one day if I knew a six-letter word for rowboat? I responded with "canoe". Smiling, she said, "honey, thatıs five letters," then "Letıs see if wherry works." Yes, Nana was subtle.
Her favorite word of frustration was "ah, shaw." But, the most lasting words I remember from my life with Nana were "Now, honey, we need to get our chores done before we go out to play." Never an order given, but always a strong suggestion of the way it was to be. Do you know that she actually let me do some ironing? Clearly, she was subtle like a fox!
She excelled at tending her flowers, and her vegetable garden, and playing the piano. She encouraged me to plant my own flower garden and to learn the names of the many varieties. I was indeed proud of this accomplishment. The fish pond was the central feature of my garden. I made a sign to hang over it and to announce to anyone who would see, this was Woodyıs Garden.
In addition, she always found time to help her friends. At age eighty-three, she taxied her friends to doctorıs appointments or to church. One day she had the inevitable fender-bender and had to give up her selfless gift of transportation. She was mortified by the event but, true to her nature, she just got on with it. Without transportation or the desire to bother anyone else, she now walked over two miles to the grocery store taking the shortcut "down the avenue." The "avenue" was what my sister, Maureen, and I called the dirt road in the middle of the prune orchard that was lined by cherry trees. Itıs where Gramps taught us, in his 1953 red Ford pickup, our early driving skills. Itıs where weıd pick Royal Anne cherries from the bed of that truck during the early summer. Nana spent 50 years of her adult life on this prune/walnut ranch just outside of Santa Rosa, on a picturesque rural road named Mark West Springs.
One day in 1986, my grandmother fell as she walked down her driveway to retrieve the morning mail. The school students across this rural road saw the accident and quickly summoned an ambulance.
While Santa Rosa's County Hospital performed cranial surgery to relieve edema, the trauma had a devastating effect on her speech pattern.
After two weeks in recovery, I transported Nana to a nursing home in Fall River Mills, CA. My Sister, Maureen, worked at both nursing facilities where Nana stayed her final years. The first one was at Fall River Mills, CA, the other in nearby Redding, CA.
During our visits, we would talk to her about what was happening in our lives. Her responses, if you could call them such, lacked any indication that she understood what we were saying. We could see her frustration grow with each garbled sentences. The puzzled looks on our faces gave us away. She'd grit her teeth sometimes. If it were not for her speech handicap and religious upbringing, I'm sure a few choice words would have emanated. We never enjoyed a two-way conversation with her for the almost four years she was in confinement.
Remarkably, Nana communicated with us in other forms. Sometimes the communication appeared through the glint in her eyes, or in her familiar facial expressions. I do want to believe that she at least recognized us. She seemed to smile knowingly when she saw me approach for a visit, uncomfortably and sadly winding my way among the lost faces in those sterile, nursing home halls.
When Nana passed away, she left a wonderful gift that lingers today. When I need some quite time to myself, I allow my mind to drift back to Mark West Springs Road and onto the musty, cool, and perfectly soft bed on her porch at the ranch. There I lay, occasionally glimpsing the gigantic, black and yellow bumblebees attending the hollyhocks outside the porch window. I notice the unique smell of mineral-hardened well water and Boraxo soap from the wash sink. In a deep, relaxed rest I listen to the sounds from her kitchen. Nana is humming some vaguely familiar church hymn. I hear the chuck roast spit ferociously as she plops it into the pot containing hot Crisco oil. I smell the unmistakable perfume of a Gravenstein apple pie baking in her antique Wedgewood oven. I know that in another day, the pot roast will transform into the best country hash anyone has ever tasted.
For these moments in meditation, Nana still communicates with me.
On August 9, 1990, at age 91, Nana died at a Redding, CA nursing home. Her granddaughter, Maureen, was present.
She is buried in Santa Rosa Memorial Park, Garden of Prayer, Lot 1303, next to Herman August Tenter, husband, and June Elizabeth Tenter McCann Kolb, daughter.
If you wish to exchange family information,
please e-mail Wood McCann.
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