Nellie Bishop was a strong woman. She was beautiful and bright and told it like it was. From her I learned to be my own person, to never back down, to make a killer hamburger, and how to cuss like a sailor.
I'll never forget how she would travel four hours each way from Goldsboro to the trailer I lived in with my mom and dad in Chesapeake every other weekend or so. Those visits meant everything to me. She was all about a road trip, and would often swoop in to grab my mom and I for another few hours of driving to nowhere in particular. We would go to the beach - either to gawk at the tourists or dodge the jellyfish. We would go for picnics, stopping along the way for a Coke for her, a Diet Coke for Mom and Mello Yello for me - all in glass bottles, of course. Snacking wasn't considered such a sin back then, and I can still taste the flaky creme-filled horns that she'd buy in the four-pack. Every once in a while I see them in a grocery store, and it's so hard to resist just to try to recapture the feeling they gave me back then - one of safety and contentment just spending time with my Nanny.
When my parents split up I was 7. My mom and I moved to North Carolina to be closer to her family, and her new beau. He didn't turn out to be as bright and shiny as one could hope. The only thing positive that came of that union was my younger brother. Luckily we were just a few miles from my grandparents, so instead of trekking to Virginia, Nanny would come and take me away to her house. My grandfather was a little abrupt, and quick to criticize me - especially for my weight, but his words were no match for my stepfather's cruelty. It was common knowledge that he was pretty miserable, and grumpy with everyone, so I learned to blow it off. I knew that he loved me, and the rare occasions when he felt well enough to watch marathons of The Twilight Zone or Alfred Hitchcock Presents with me made it all worthwhile.
I miss those weekends, and sometimes weeks at a time in the summer. I moved back to Virginia when I was about 10 to be with my dad. Nanny was still a huge force in my life, though I didn't get to see her as much as I would have liked after that. I really don't have very many memories with her from that time until I was about 16. I went to visit, and remember going to the Cliffs of the Neuse, and other little things here and there. I'm not quite sure why I don't remember more. It wasn't an exceptionally happy time for me, so maybe I'm just blocking something. I do recall that during that time she became extremely religious, something which I kind of resisted, after serving time in the Southern Baptist and Catholic school systems.
When I was 15 my Pappy was diagnosed with lung cancer. All the strength my grandmother had was poured into taking care of that man while still working full time as a custodian at a local mental hospital. She was always tired, and though she let us all know about it, she carried on. My respect for her increased at the same time as my sympathy. As my grandfather's ailments took a stronger hold on him his temperament grew worse. I can only imagine what it was like for her living and dealing with him on an every day basis.
One night, a couple of months after my 16th birthday I had gone to bed a little early after having some sort of petty argument with my dad. It was about 11pm when he came in and tried to wake me. I thought I was in trouble for something else, and tried my best to not to acknowledge him. Then I heard the words, "Mr. Bishop is dead." That's what I heard. That's not what he said. That's what I expected. Pappy had cancer. What he said was, "Mrs. Bishop is dead." "There was a car accident..." I can not, and do not ever want to feel the feelings or hear the sound that came from within me at that moment ever again. It couldn't be. She was good. She was a survivor. It wasn't supposed to be her.
Since that moment, my life has not been the same. I remember her fondly, and so many times I think of her, and it hurts as much now as it did then. I would give anything for my girls to have been able to know her, and have that influence in their lives as well. All I can hope for is that I have the strength to pass along everything she instilled in me. I often wonder if she's watching, and hope she's proud of who I've become. I imagine she's a lot more so than I am most days. That's okay. I'm not done growing yet.