It has been a rough few weeks around here. Bryan’s grandmother, Emma (aka: Nanny) was ill and then died this past weekend. She was an amazing woman who I feel so lucky to have known. It is a huge loss for Bryan’s family and for everyone who knew and loved  Emma.

I last saw her back in October when she and her husband, Doug (aka: Papa), came from Montreal to Chicago for our wedding. We had worried they wouldn’t be up to the trip, they don’t travel much anymore, but to our delight they made it to Chicago. It was their first visit. They toured around a bit. They hiked the three flights of stairs up to our apartment to see where we live. They ate Chicago-style pizza with us and our friends. But most importantly, they were with us at our wedding.

You see, Emma and Doug had been married for 64 years. 64 years. I can’t really fathom that time, or Doug’s loss. At our wedding I thought how lucky I would be to get that time with Bryan. 64 years. They were our guests of honor. They ate and danced and got along famously with our friends. It was perfect.

It’s an interesting thing, joining a family. Suddenly, out of nowhere, you appear—a stranger who loves your grandson. Within minutes of our first meeting, Emma had her arm around me and was asking what I wanted to eat. She was the consummate homemaker and the kind of grandma that I wish everyone had: she loved unconditionally and she fed you well.

My favorite meal at their house was breakfast. I don’t know how early Emma woke up, but by the time we made our way into the kitchen she would have a whole spread of food set out for us. It usually started with a cup of Red Rose tea (Canada!) and a bowl of Shreddies (why aren’t they available in the States?!) with 2% milk (in a bag!), an indulgent percent higher than what we have at home. In Emma’s world, this was just an appetizer. She would then make us eggs, potatoes, toast, bacon and sausage (you notice that is an “and”, not an “or”). It was a very heart-healthy start to the day. I would eat all of it on the first day of the visit but usually by day two I couldn’t make it past the Shreddies.

Sometimes at breakfast a plate with a fully peeled orange would appear. The sections were always carefully arranged in a sunburst. It surprised me at first, it was something from childhood when oranges were too difficult to handle on your own. That plate with the orange became something I associate with Emma. Peeling an orange for a grown person is a fantastically loving act. It turns your average supermarket navel into the most delicious citrus you’ve ever eaten.

Grief creeps into all aspects of your life. It creeps into your kitchen. When Bryan was in Canada with his family, I found myself peeling an orange for myself and was overwhelmed with sadness.

No recipe today—just an orange, peeled. And a suggestion that you peel one for someone you love.

76 comments to “Nanny”

  1. what a lovely tribute. my thoughts are with you in your loss.

  2. A heartbreaking, touching post. I better go reply to my Nanny’s latest email now!

  3. what a lovely post….so important to hold on to cherished & happy memories & be thankful you have those to see you through the sadness


  4. my nanna merle was just the same with a heart that overflowed with love and a table that overflowed with food. sending you both love at this time. it does need to be said that nanna love is the best love xx

  5. Your post is beautiful, it brought tears to my eyes and reminded me of how I feel about my own grandparents. It sounds like she was a truly amazing lady! My thoughts are with you, Bryan and his family.

  6. Beautiful post, Tim… it brought tears to my eyes. It’s funny, my husband often leaves an orange by my breakfast plate or offers me an orange as a snack. Always peeled. A simple gesture, but so full of love. I’d like to offer a peeled orange to you, Bryan, and his family. *hugs*

  7. What a beautiful tribute, Tim. I send hugs full of love and understanding to you and Bryan. I aspire to love as well as Nanny obviously did. I’m sorry for your physical loss of this woman, but her spirit will always be with you. Much love to you, my friend.

  8. I have tears in my eyes. Love is such a beautiful thing. I’m so sorry for your, and Brian’s, loss.

    (Also, we have Shreddies here in Germany! I had no idea they were Canadian.)

  9. oh tim. thank you for sharing this – my eyes are filled with tears and my heart is full of love. sending sweet thoughts your way. xo

  10. Sweet friends!
    Luisa, I think they are a UK thing that spread throughout the Commonwealth. Have you tried them? As far as breakfast cereals go, I think they are great. xoxo

  11. Tim, grandparents are such a treasure. I hope that you, Bryan, and his family are well.

  12. How amazing: I’m reading this on April 2nd and am realizing that on March 27, the date of your post (and through April 1) I had the joy of peeling and separating an orange for breakfast (plus cutting other fruits, and adding them all to yogurt and granola in a bowl)), for someone very important to me. Something I don’t always get to do. Such a simple thing, such a great joy.

    Even more amazing: that you and Bryan had such a great relationship with his grandmother. Bravo to you all. My best to you all.

  13. My grandma (called Nain, which is granny in Welsh), never peeled an orange for us, but was a huge fan of the 3 course breakfast: cereal, toast and then a fry-up, served on her best china and with a napkin too.

  14. Beautiful post, Tim. So sorry for your and Bryan’s loss. I’m going to call my Nanny tonight!

  15. i love you timber, brie and nanny thistle.

  16. ex-Montrealer says:

    April 6th, 2012 at 1:48 am

    Hi Tim and Bryan,
    This tribute to Nanny brought tears to my eyes. I hope you realize, Tim, that you don’t have to write about food to make an impact–ever. So beautiful and touching were your words.
    Yes, Shreddies seem to be one of these cereals that is so Canadian. My ex-Montrealer cousin has lived in Durham, NC for forever; every time, she comes to visit, she buys boxes and boxes to carry home in a spare suitcase!
    I send “Canadian hugs” to you and Bryan. As one friend told me after my mom passed away 2 years ago, “Take the time to really grieve.”

  17. Stephanie says:

    April 8th, 2012 at 9:07 am

    I’m so sad to hear this news. Thinking of you guys and sending you love.

  18. Lovely post – so heart warming !!sorry for your loss

  19. Such a lovely post, my sincere condolences to you all. I lost my own grandmother last week, it’s a rough time, keep loved ones close.

  20. Tim, what a beautiful, heartwarming post. Got me teary eyed! So glad I was able to meet her and celebrate you & Bryan with her. Love to you both x

  21. One of my favorite fruit orange .your post is so beautiful.

  22. Beautiful… just beautiful.

  23. Rita Rodrigues says:

    July 23rd, 2012 at 10:08 pm

    Dear Tim and Bryan, i just found this site by accident today, I am passionate about cooking, and always find a way to prepare and feed anyone (hungry). I am sorry for your loss of your dear Nanny, but know she is watching over you both. I will read and share with my daughter your blog page. Thank you. Ps : i have 3 lil grand babies, 6,4, 3 and I peel an orange for them often – even tho they are capable of doing it for themselves, to me this is LOVE. God bless you both and may you share 64 and more years together.

  24. Dear Tim – A great friend recommended your blog and I have just been browsing through the posts. This was such a beautifully written, moving piece that I absolutely had to comment. My sincere condolences on your (and Bryan’s) loss. It is amazing how such simple acts have the greatest impact. Many of my own treasured family memories center around meals. I only hope that if I ever start my own family I am able to continue the tradition.

  25. Hi Teresa- Thanks so much for taking time to comment! And yes, may the tradition continue!

  26. Bitten Bug says:

    August 24th, 2012 at 6:20 am

    Hi Tim,

    I’ve only just found your blog, but already this is my favourite post. It can be difficult sometimes to remember that mourning someone is as often a process of feeling happy about the fact that you had them, than sadness at the realisation that they’re gone, and this post about the peeled orange is so lovely.

    My boyfriend never eats oranges because he thinks they’re too finicky, i’ll be peeling one for him next time he visits in celebration of your and Bryans nanny xx