By Jacob Hatcher
Her birth certificate read Mary Ellen Winters. To her brothers, she was Sister. To my Daddy and uncles, she was Mama. The folks at church called her Mrs. Hatcher and the cousins sometimes called her Aunt Mae.
Even with all of those names, I think her favorite was Nana. That’s what we called her, and anytime we brought a friend with us, she insisted they call her Nana too.
Had she been given any honorary names, it’d probably have been World’s Best Cook, or maybe, Top Notch Back Scratcher. She was Teacher of the Year my entire childhood, her classroom being a kitchen and her chalkboard being the very air on which her stories floated.
It was in that kitchen that she taught me not to be afraid of storms, and it was there that she taught us children not to get mad at one another for losing board games. It was there that she made popcorn every night before Dick Van Dyke started. That kitchen in which so many cakes were baked and Sunday dinners were served.
Somewhere along the way her mind began to slip and it was harder for her to be Nana. There would be flashes of her from time to time, but in her twilight years, it was mostly mixed-up stories with confused details. I came to realize that Mary Ellen Winters was there, but maybe Nana was no more.
One day, though, my brother brought his first born to her house and like magic, Nana emerged from the fog. It occurred to me that just like she had not yet forgotten how to breathe or walk, once a baby entered the room, muscle memory took over and she was Nana again.
On May 6, she would have been 87, and on that same day, my daughter will celebrate her third birthday. So, we’ll open presents, love on our little girl and eat some cake. Before all the kids go to bed, I’ll tell stories like Nana used to do. And probably, once they’re asleep, I’ll heat up some popcorn, sit on the couch and wish Nana a happy birthday.