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. Beautiful

  2. schneiderluvsdoof says:

    March 27th, 2012 at 9:21 am

    She was an amazing person.

  3. Beautiful post, Tim. I’m sorry for your loss. Please pass on my condolences to Bryan, too.

  4. …I am so sorry for your loss, both of you. What wonderful memories you both have of such a dear soul, that is something grief nor time can ever take away. Memories that are now treasures that is for sure.

    …Thank you for the reminder that it is the simplest of things in life, such as an already peeled orange that can bring the purest of pleasure and remind one they are truly loved.

    …My heart & thoughts are with you both at this time.


  5. I am so sorry for your and your family’s loss. A beautiful tribute to a beautiful person.

  6. its definitely a blessing that she saw your wedding. my grandma is 89 and has gotten dementia quite bad. its quite a scary thought to wonder how much longer she’ll be here for

  7. I am so sorry for your loss. I sincerely hope you and your family will find support in each other. Sadness and grief need to be shared, thank you for sharing it here.
    I lost my grandmother in december. Me and my family, too, coped by remembering her in her kitchen ways, her out-of-the-question triple helpings, her simple elegance, her stubbornness and her handwritten recipes. I’ll be always thankful for getting to know her and carrying on her rituals.
    I’ll peel an orange for you.

  8. I’m so glad we met her. love to you and bryan.

  9. Beautiful. This is why I love food. Food tell stories. It reminds us of the people we love and were lucky enough to have loved.

  10. Lovely. Nanny sounds like a very special person.

  11. Thank you for such a lovely, heartfelt post. Big hugs to you and Bryan from a stranger who loves your blog.

  12. How I yearned for a grandmother of my own when I was a child. I was pretty much the only one of my friends without a Granny or Grandpa and I saw how much love I was missing out on. But reading your post has made her come alive for me. I feel as though a little of her light shone on me, if only briefly. Thank you so much for that. My condolences to you and your husband.

  13. So very sorry for the loss of Miss Emma

  14. Lovely post for a lovely woman.

  15. This was one of the sweetest remembrances I’ve read. “Peeling an orange for a grown person is a fantastically loving act.” Indeed.

  16. A beautiful post – thank you – I’ll always remember the peeled orange and be sure to prepare for my next visitors x

  17. What wonderful memories to pass along. She smiled on both of you and left her love and life in you. Blessing on you both.

  18. What a lovely tribute to “Nanny”. I never thought of peeling an orange as such an expression of love for another person-but it truly is when you think about it. I will do this for someone I love today, thank you for helping me be more thoughtful.

  19. A beautiful reminder that it is most often the small things we do that have the most lingering impact. Blessings to you and Bryan.

  20. Sending you and Bryan both good, warm thoughts.

  21. Thanks, all, for the nice comments and good thoughts. Y’all are the best.

  22. So sorry for you…..beautiful words for a clearly a beautiful person.

  23. what a beautiful post. thinking of you both!! xo

  24. My deepest condolences to you Tim, Bryan and his family. What a beautiful tribute to a wonderful lady who will surely be missed. Love the ‘Nanny’ orange. Take care.

  25. Oh, Tim. My last grandparent passed away a few years ago, and it was just heartbreaking. Someone once said that when an old person dies, it’s like burning down a library, and I think that is true. All the stories, love, knowledge, understanding… gone (except in our memories). My heart goes out to you, Bryan, and your family. xo

  26. Oh, Dawn- that is amazing. I hadn’t heard that before, but it is so true. Thanks. xoxo

  27. Wow. What a beautiful and hearbreaking post. I’m tearing up for Bryan and most of all Doug. He is a lucky man to have had such a long companionship. I’m so sorry for their loss but appreciate your sharing this very emotional piece with your readers.

  28. The profound loss of Nanny is quietly illustrated with your simple peeled orange. Peace to you and Bryan, especially Doug, who will always be looking for a hand to hold.
    Blessings of healing.

  29. What a lovely post and tribute. I’m so sorry for your and Bryan’s loss.

  30. A beautiful memorial. I was very close to my grandmother – I am sorry to hear of your loss.

  31. What a lovely and sweet post. I am so sorry for your and Bryan’s loss. I’ll never think of a peeled orange the same way; thank you.

  32. lovely, lovely, lovely post. I am very sorry for your family’s loss.

  33. Simple and lovely. I’ll never look at an orange the same way again. Thank you.

  34. Aww, Bryan (and Tim), I’m so sorry for your loss.
    I really enjoyed reading about sweet Nanny Emma and her big heartedness. It made me smile to hear that within minutes of meeting you, she already had her arm around you and was trying to feed you. I want to be that type of Nanny one day.
    My thoughts & prayers are with you.
    I’m so glad they made it to your wedding, and I know they are too :)

  35. What a lovely tribute. Your last two sentences especially. Beautiful.

  36. What a lovely post, Tim. And the part about the orange? True. Hugs and thoughts to you both.

  37. One of my first memories with my grandmother is picking oranges with her in my backyard. I must have been about four years old. She spent every winter with my family in arizona and she was like another mother to me. I lived with her and took care of her for a few months this winter and she passed away in february. surprising moments of simple memories come back to me more and more and although they are beautifully sweet there’s always the ache of the knowledge that I’ll never see her again in this life. you two have my prayers as you say goodbye to a woman who left you a legacy of love for her spouse and all her family.

  38. Thank you so much, Tim, for the beautiful tribute to my mom. She loved you both so much. Her last Skype was with you and Bryan. She was quite excited, because she hadn’t seen you for a while. Skype is much nicer than the mere telephone. She literally reached out and touched your face I’ll have to carry on the orange tradition. Love, Jen

  39. this was amazing to read, it is so hard to lose family like this when all of your life you have been raised to be someone’s grandson, someone’s son

  40. What a wonderful Nana! This post reminds me of my lovely grandmother as well as her mother, whom I never met, but who lives on in similar stories. That kind of love lives forever!

  41. oh how beautiful the peeled orange story is. my sympathy goes to you and Bryan.

  42. oh that made my morning as i sit here with tears in my eyes and sobbing… that was such a beautiful post. you are so completely right about how sweet and selfless something like peeling an orange and separating each piece is. thank you for this. i needed to read this, this morning. xx

  43. Reading, I can see her peeling the orange…I feel sad too, and think on you all.

  44. lovely thoughts and lovely memories.

  45. What a lovely post.

  46. I think grandparents have a special place in our hearts. I´m glad Bryan got to know her nana for many years and shared some with you. Watch for the many little gifts she left behind; you´ll know what I mean when you start finding them. She will always be present in your lives. Be well.

  47. I consider myself VERY lucky to have met and photographed such a lovely woman.
    You are both in my thoughts….. Stay strong boys, stay strong.

  48. I am so sorry for your loss. My thoughts are with you and bryan in this difficult time.

  49. i am so sorry for your loss. that is, indeed, a hard thing to bear. my thoughts and prayers are with you and bryan.

  50. Thanks, everyone for the continued support and sweet comments. Bryan’s mom read the post and your comments to Doug, and he was touched. Thanks for being so awesome.

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

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

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


  54. 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

  55. 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.

  56. 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*

  57. 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.

  58. 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.)

  59. 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

  60. 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

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

  62. 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.

  63. 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.

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

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

  66. 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.”

  67. 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.

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

  69. 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.

  70. 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

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

  72. Beautiful… just beautiful.

  73. 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.

  74. 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.

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

  76. 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

What do you think?