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Detail, Nannie in Garden with Cat - Charcoal Drawing

This is a detail of a drawing I did of Nannie back in 1983. You can see from her face that she was full of life - so much so, that it took 109 years for her to let go of it. Her body just wore out.

Nannie in Garden with Cat - charcoal drawing with chalk and ink

This is the full drawing. Nannie loved roses, so I overdid them in my drawing. They look more like one of her bouquets than roses growing on a bush. The cat sitting at her feet was typical. She loved cats - she had 20! - but this was her favorite - Missy.

The Death of Nannie

by Waitsel Smith

My grandmother died at 109 years of age on Easter Sunday morning, 2011. We buried her on the Saturday before Mother's Day, two weeks later. It was appropriate - she was the end of an era.

I know that phrase has been over-used to describe a variety of national and international figures; but my grandmother really was the end of an era; not only because her life spanned five generations, but also because she saw the introduction of nearly every major invention and discovery since the gasoline-powered automobile:

radio (1901,1916), air conditioning (1902), airplane (1903), plastic (1907), color photography (1907), Model T (1908), talking motion pictures (1910,1912), insulin (1922), 3-D movies (1922), television (1923,1925,1927), liquid-fuel rocket (1926), color motion pictures (1927), penicillin (1928), jet engine (1930,1937), ballpoint pen (1938), helicopter (1939), color television (1940), electronic digital computer (1942), atomic bomb (1945), microwave oven (1946), hydrogen bomb (1952), laser (1958), microchip (1959), first manned spacecraft (1961), audio cassette (1962), compact disc (1965), first manned lunar landing (1969), video cassette (1971), cell phone (1979), personal computer (1981), Apple Macintosh (1984), Microsoft Windows (1985), HD TV (1989), World Wide Web (1990), DVD (1995), etc.

Because she was a voracious reader and a perennial student, I know she read about all these breakthroughs with interest. When my cousins and I visited her house growing up, we always found stacks and stacks of magazines - everything from National Geographic and Smithsonian, to Look and Life. Those magazines were a big part of our education, and Nannie was always a ready teacher to answer any questions we had.

In spite of her many interests - which included art, music, writing, cooking, gardening, teaching and church work - her greatest love was nature: she was a true naturalist. Everything else that she did centered on that love: so when she painted, it was flowers or landscapes; when she wrote poetry, it was about her garden or birds or her neighbor's yard; when she sang, it was about creation or the Creator. Always nature. That was what made her soul sing; and so she began each day with an eagerness to learn, an inspiration about life and beauty, and an expectation of what she would find in her garden.

As we sat on her screened-in back porch, either waiting to go out with her into the garden in the morning or playing cards in the afternoon, she would imitate the birds and tell us what they were saying. It's a wonder she wasn't a professional bird-watcher, because she knew the name and call of every bird in her garden. She also knew the names of all the flowers. Her garden was as wildly interesting as herself: full of variety and color, but not too serious. Even though she worked very hard each day, she knew how to have a good time and made everything fun.

As my drawing of Nannie indicates, roses were her favorite flower. I've gone overboard in the amount and size of the blossoms, but I think in Nannie's case that's permissible because she was somewhat flamboyant herself. Often she wore the loudest (both literally and figuratively) jewelry she could get away with. And when she dressed for the garden, she always looked like a gypsy.

Nannie was an Anglophile, so her gardens were not neat and well-manicured after the French taste; but in true English fashion, they were wild and natural. And two things you could always count on finding there: cats and snakes. At one time, Nannie had 20 cats - all outdoor varieties, except for her favorite, Missy, which is the white persian shown in my drawing. At mealtime, when Nannie would stand in the backyard banging two pans together, they would come running from all directions. It was quite a sight. But Nannie had a big heart: she hated to turn away a stray. I think she was that way with people as well, though she showed her kindness towards them more through generosity than by actually taking them into her home. :)

As far as snakes, I've never known a more tenacious fighter than Nannie when it came to disposing of a venomous snake. Her property bordered a creek, and from that creek came many adventurous copperheads, unaware that their venturing would lead to their doom. Few ever returned to the creek. Nannie had a special hoe with a tiny head with which, having marksman-like accuracy, she would separate those copper heads from their bodies. My fellow male cousins and I stood in awe of her prowess.

Nannie and her garden were the source of endless delight to me and my cousins through many years. Today, we enjoy retelling our stories about her almost as much as the actual living of them. You can read some of them in my book, Rembrandt's Gardener, which I am in the process of writing; but the first three chapters are available now on my website. Go to

You can also read more about Nannie's naturalist ideas as they pertain to food and taking care of your body under

Of all the people in my life, Nannie probably has had the most profound influence. Look for more articles about her in the future.


Waitsel Smith, May 22, 2011

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[Send me yours and I'll include them on this page.]

"Oh Waitsel, I am so glad that you wrote this for it gives an even better perspective of Nannie's life and influence. But I disagree on one point: Nannie didn't die Easter Sunday. She just left that worn out body to go to Heaven's Glory and she will come back one day for that old worn out body that will have been changed into what our bodies would have been if Adam and Eve had never sinned. I fully expect to see Nannie and her smiling face again whenever, whatever happens, be it a horn blowing for all who trust in Christ or some angels that come for me individually. I fully expect to meet up with Nannie in her own Heavenly flower garden singing to her heart's content in praise of our Creator God.

"I take it that Rembrant's Gardner is about Nannie? Wonderful! May I reserve a copy now? And can it be an autographed copy? I would be so honored. Your music was beautiful for Nannie's celebration and it was a great privilege I had to be asked to speak. I thank you. God bless you." - Marietta, North Carolina

"Just having lost my father, I feel for your loss, but praise her life, 109 - wow... unbelievable" - Jim, Atlanta

Actually, she was one month short of being 110. But I'll take her passing on Easter Sunday morning to being 110. Kind of like Mark Twain being born when Hailey's Comet appeared in 1835, and then dying when it reappeared 75 years later. It was a cosmic passing. - Waitsel

"What a great tribute to your Nannie, Waitsel! She sounded wonderful. You were blessed to have her." - Marty, Atlanta

"What a wonderful inspiration to have had in your life. My condolences and joy that she is now with our saviour." - John

"This is awesome, Waits!!!" - Libby, North Carolina (cousin)

"I often read your letters, but rarely reply. I just wanted to let you know that you indeed had a grandmother to be proud of. Praise God for your memory and relationship you have had with her." - Keith

"WOW! What a woman! Thanks for sharing bro, know we will see her again... but not the Copperheads!" - Kipper, Atlanta

"A very nice tribute. Great drawing, too!" - Game, Alaska (cousin)

"You and your whole family are so blessed to have had a grandmother like Nannie in your life - what great lessons she taught you and maybe this is why I see a family full of laughter, you're all pretty or good looking, you have joy all about you, and even though I didn't know her well, I'm so glad I at least 'knew her'. I had the privilege of going with Bette [my aunt] one weekend [to visit Nannie in her retirement home] - she stayed with me probably two months ago - and she fed her with love and gentleness; and I know, when she had to move [away to eastern North Carolina], it was on condition that she be brought back to 'see Nannie'.

"Thank you for sharing this with me - of course you sang beautifully at her service and from one who has a very small family, it just amazes me to see your family and almost filling up a whole section in our church. What a celebration it was. She would have been so proud... and I loved all the stories shared and EVERYONE was so relaxed and at ease when speaking.

"I'll read the rest of your email (the book you're writing) and the picture is absolutely beautiful and looks just like her - then. Is it in color or b/w? You should be very proud of this painting." - Phyllis, North Carolina

It's in black and white (ink, charcoal and chalk). I later did an oil painting from it, which is now owned by an aunt and uncle in Virginia. Thanks for all the sweet words. - Waitsel

"I am so sorry to hear this, but 109 truly is phenomenal!!! I'm saving your email to go back to your healthy eating page in more detail. (want to check out recipes, etc.) I saw your grandmother's pics and your drawings. She really took good care of herself!! She looked soooo much younger than her 100 and 108 year old pics - what a testimony! I know you will miss her, but what can I say, it's very sad because you were so blessed to have her for so long! I really love the elderly crowd and hope in my next career (11 years from now) to do some sort of exercise/personal training part time job with folks older than myself (because the younger crowd won't be interested. HA!)

"And I must say I enjoyed the 'be nice to fat folks' cartoon. Your words are 100% true. Folks don't take care of themselves. I see people at work with problems who say 'at 30 your body starts to go' - I think 'What?? Then you
are not taking care of it!' (of course I'm not going to say anything). These folks eat fries, candy, some are diabetic and overweight, one person is 100 pounds overweight. My aunt has knee problems - but she's carrying around 70
plus extra pounds. She thinks knee replacement will solve the problem. Long story, I better quit." - Sally, Atlanta

"Waits, what a dear love you have for your grandmother." - Donna, Atlanta

"Wow. Age 109. That fact as an opener is amazing. Thanks for sharing this." - Stephen

"Sorry to hear of her passing. Sounds like she was a really special lady." - Paul and Sheilah, North Carolina

"My condolences in the loss of your grandmother; they are a beautiful part of a grandson's life. Mine made it to 97 years (1905) but passed away in early 2004. Both experienced an incredible amount of change in the world… You also have to note that 109 years gives evidence to the 5th commandment with a promise!" - Todd, Atlanta

"Sounds like a life well lived and enjoyed. And for all those who were lucky enough to share life with her. I had a great aunt that almost lived to 101 and that same look of joy that you showed in your drawing on her face from the first time I ever saw her until the last. Aunt Bina grew up and lived all of her life in Sparta, NC - must have something to do with the NC mountains." - Bob, Atlanta

Either that or the water. :) No, you're right. It's God's country. - Waitsel

"Waitsel, what a beautiful tribute to your Nannie. I read your heart for her through your words. How blessed you were to have her so long; 109 years is a very long life." - Kris, Atlanta

"A beautiful heritage - you are blessed." - Jeanne, Atlanta

"So happy for the memories and the impact your Nannie had on your life. What a gift!" - Virginia, Atlanta

"So sorry for your loss! Think of all she saw in her lifetime! I will be praying for you and your family." - Penny, Atlanta

"You were a blessed grandson." - Greg, Atlanta

"Great article. I enjoyed reading it! I thought of my own grandmother who could do all kinds of things women no longer do because of the era in which she was raised. (She was born in the late 1880's.)" - Herschel, Atlanta

"Sorry to hear of the passing of your grandmother, but sounds like she lived a full & fruitful life. I often think the older genaration like your grandmother have a lot to teach us as they have seen so much. It's really interesting to hear of everything that came into play during her life. Anyway, my prayers are with you & peace be with you. I'm sure you will miss her greatly but it should provide peace that she is with her almighty creator." - Donna

"The Death of Nannie is made sweet with fond remembrances. I am glad for you that you had a great person and an inspiring relationship in your life." - Ed, Atlanta

"I am sorry to hear about your nanny's passing. Wow, 109 years on this earth! I think she saw the biggest transition in a historical perspective that this earth has witnessed in such a short period of time. My thoughts and prayers are with you and your family just as yours were with mine during my time of loss just a few years back. Just remember, whenever a bird is singing or a rose is in full bloom she is looking down on you smiling. P.S. You better make sure you keep your garden up, no matter how big or small." - David, Miami

"A beautiful tribute to a very sweet person and surely enriched your life. Thanks for sharing." - Ken, Florida

"She sounds like a wonderful person and I am so sorry for your loss. She now has beautiful gardens to tend for her Savior! Beautiful tribute to her..." - Janice, Atlanta

Thanks for all the great comments! - Waitsel

Text and artwork © 2011 Waitsel Smith. All Rights Reserved.

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