Nana Was Here. From 4-Letter Words to Acts of Vandalism

Nana Was Here. From 4-Letter Words to Acts of Vandalism
Nana was here.

Learning the alphabet launched me into my writing career. I started small. One word at a time at first. I spent hours with my box of crayons drawing simple block letters and putting them together into words. I started with three-letter words: cat, dog, hat—the usual Dick and Jane vocabulary.

It didn't take long to graduate to four-letter words. But not what you're probably thinking. I wasn't even in kindergarten yet. My repertoire consisted of words like Book. Bozo. Fizz. Joke.


But my very favorite word to write was NANA. She was my grandmother, and I loved her, but I especially loved the way the letters of her name intersected into points like teepees.

NANA was everywhere

NANA became my doodle word. I wrote NANA with crayons in coloring books, with No. 2 pencils on grocery bags, and in colored pencils on the scraps of paper. In one of my coloring books, I had not bothered to color in the images with any my crayons. I wrote NANA in big letters across every single page.

After exhausting every scrap of paper at my disposal, I turned to a bigger canvas. I uncapped my mom’s tube of fuschia lipstick and wrote NANA on the wall of my parents’ bedroom. NANA in big letters, small letters, and medium-sized letters. When my masterpiece was finished, I stepped back to admire my work and colored myself pleased.

My mom, however, saw red. I could sense her anger the moment I heard her growl out my full name. Gulp. I was in big trouble. With a capital T and that rhymes with P and that stood for paddle--as in getting a paddling.

I briefly entertained the idea of tossing my Barbie into a suitcase and running away from home, but I ended up crawling into Mom’s presence to face the music. It was the most sensible choice. I didn’t own a suitcase.

The Naughty Chair

“Susan, who did this?” Hmm. Was there an outside chance she didn’t know? Seeing a very slight possibility there was a way out of a spanking or a sojourn in the infamous “Naughty Chair,” I lied.

“I asked you a question, young lady. Who did this?” She towered above me, hand on her hip, tapping one foot and pointing a finger at my impressive mural. (Yeah. Just like you see in cartoons.) Since she happened to be wearing the same color of lipstick as my letters, I briefly considered asking her if she was the culprit. But even at the age of five, I knew I couldn’t get away with that one.

“Well? I’m waiting.” Taking a deep breath. I looked up at her. “Nana?” As if my 50-something grandmother would sneak into my parents’ bedroom, equip herself with one of Mom's Max Factor tubes of lipstick, and write her name all over wall.

Okay, so I was lousy at lying. Mom knew it. I knew it. And if memory serves me, my brother, sister, dog, and my Sunday School teacher knew it. I don’t even think Mom had time to threaten me with “Just wait until your father gets home” before I turned and made a beeline to the Naughty Chair. For what seemed like hours, I sat in a corner contemplating what I’d done, and evaluating nearby walls that the potential to be a very nice canvas—should I choose to return to a vandal’s life.


Nana was here. Kilroy couldn't make it.
When my Dad got home, he went upstairs to at my handiwork lovingly displayed as graffiti on his bedroom wall. He took it all in, shrugged, and looked at my Mom. All he said was, “I guess Kilroy couldn’t get here.” 


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