The End of an Era

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Last summer, my brother and I were spending some rare time alone in our hometown. Our kids were tucked in for the night. Our spouses hadn’t made the trip home with us. And our parents were more than happy to sit at home so that we could do whatever we wanted.

So we picked up some milkshakes, and went to visit our great-grandmother, Nanny. As we were walking up to her apartment, I slowed down – hoping my brother would go in first. But he slowed down too – wanting me to go first.

I just have a feeling she’s not going to be alive when we walk in there, I said.

I have the exact same feeling, he said.

So we walked in together, and there was Nanny sitting on the couch, smiling and thrilled to see us.

On the way home, we laughed at our fear of being the ones to find her dead. And my brother made a great point,

“You know,” he said. “For the past 20 years, I bet every single person that has walked into her apartment has had that same thought that we did. And eventually, someone is going to find her dead – and they’re going to say, “You know? I had a feeling…

When someone is just three weeks shy of their 107th birthday, it shouldn’t be a surprise when they die.

But Nanny passed away over the weekend, and we’re all a little shocked.

Was it time? Absolutely.

Was she ready? Shoot. She hasn’t bought green bananas in decades – she was more than ready.

But she’s been here for 106 years. It was beginning to seem like she could live forever.

Nanny and Anna

On Nanny’s 80th birthday we decided to surprise her with a limousine ride. We pulled up in front of her house, the driver honked the horn, I waved out the sun roof – and she turned right around and walked back inside.

We laughed for years at how Nanny mistook our limousine for a hearse – and thought it rather cruel of us to pick her up in one for her 80th birthday.

And more than 25 years later, when she did pass away, she was still living alone. She was still cooking her own meals. And she probably would still have been driving if we hadn’t secretly pulled some plugs in her car.

She was strong. And brave. And funny. And… old.

She was alive when the Titanic sank. She survived World War I and World War II. She lived through the Great Depression. She could recall the first time she saw a telephone and electricity, an automobile and a television.

She outlived all of her 10 siblings, her husband, one of her children and several grand children. For the past 25 years, we’ve been celebrating each holiday and birthday as though it will be her last. So we shouldn’t be surprised that she’s not going to be here for her 107th birthday in just a few weeks.

But we are. At least a little bit.

Throughout her 106 years, she got out of bed every day. She tried new things. She made new friends.

She laughed.

Five Generations of Pie Eaters Pie Crust Recipe

And she taught us valuable life lessons. Here are a few of my favorites.

Never Give Up

Last summer Nanny asked my mom to make a purchase for her.

Nanny: I read about some makeup that’s guaranteed to make you look 10 years younger. Can you pick some up for me?

My Mom: Well, that would make you look about 97 years old.

Nanny: Well, wouldn’t that be a miracle?

Try New Things

When Nanny was in her 70′s, she decided to write her life story. She hand-wrote 25 pages and bound them in a book. She added on to it in her 80′s and in her 90′s. And for her 100th birthday, we published it into a hardcover book and she held a book signing for her family and friends.

Hazel Huff, 100 Years

My favorite story is when she describes being a little girl and not being able to walk to school one day because there was too much snow on the ground, and she didn’t own a pair of shoes. So what do you do in the early 1900’s when you need a pair of shoes? Your dad goes out and kills a muskrat and makes you a pair. Duh…

When she was in her 80′s, she decided to start oil painting. She was surprisingly talented, and all of her family members, friends, neighbors and acquaintances have at least one Nanny painting hanging in their homes.

Nannys Paintings

And just this year for Christmas, Nanny pulled together her favorite oil paintings and had a calendar made for her family and friends.

A year of Oil Paintings

When she was in her 90′s, Nanny decided to try Slimfast. She’d been riding the exercise bike and was toning up but felt like she could lose a few pounds too. One week after starting, my mom checked in to see how it was going.

Nanny: This has been a hard week for me. I’m just so full!

My Mom: You’re full? I would think you’d be hungry.

Nanny: How could I be hungry? I just don’t know how people squeeze in all of these shakes between their regular meals. I’m so stuffed all the time.

Yes – you read that correctly. Nanny was drinking her Slimfast shakes in addition to her regular meals.

Have Fun!

When she was 100, Nanny went to a Halloween party dressed as Miss America – complete with a blonde wig, sash and tiara.

Nanny Miss America

She was bitter that some “little witch” walked away with best costume.

You’re Never Too Old…

In her 90’s, she hopped on a plane with my mom and grandmother to visit my brother and sister-in-law in Hawaii. 13-hour flight? 6-hour time difference? That wasn’t going to stop her!

When she was 101, she came to Cincinnati to celebrate my first-ever Mother’s Day.

Nanny and Miles

When she was 103, she baked Alice’s first birthday cake.

Alice's Birthday Cake

And when she was 105, she insisted on holding baby Simon alone.

Nanny is 105

Her last visit to Cincinnati was three years ago. We spent a day making homemade apple pies (using her famous pie crust recipe), and my mom and I spent a good portion of the evening formulating a strategy should Nanny pass away during the night.

Mom: I’ve been doing some reading. It’s very expensive to have a body transported across state lines.

Me: So – you think we should just plop her into the car, and you should drive straight home?

Mom: I’d probably need to use the air conditioning.

Me: Would you buckle her into the front seat – or have her sit in the back?

Mom: Hmmmm… Where do you think she’d be the most comfortable?

It doesn’t really matter how healthy someone is, conversations like this are fairly normal when you’re traveling with someone that is over 100 years old.

Know When to Say Goodbye

Last spring, Nanny had a very bad day. She was sure that it was her time, and she called my mom and grandmother over to say goodbye.

We’ve been in the habit of saying “goodbye” to Nanny for the past two decades, so it wasn’t terribly traumatic. But they all had a good cry and hugged and said their last words.

It was 10 in the morning, and Nanny said she was going to go to sleep in her bed, and that she would like them all to leave for the day. She asked them to come back in the evening to “take care” of things.

My mom and grandmother spent the next several hours wondering how long they should stay away.

Finally at 3 pm, they decided they couldn’t wait any longer. They went back to her apartment and tiptoed in the door.

And there was Nanny, sitting at the kitchen table eating fried chicken and baked beans.

“Well,” she said. “I guess it was a false alarm. I decided I wanted to die of natural causes and not starvation, so here I am.”

So they all sat around eating fried chicken at 3 in the afternoon.

Four months later, and it really was time to say goodbye. Nanny was at home, surrounded by her family. She went to sleep and didn’t wake up – just the way she always wanted to go.



  1. Emma (My Little 3 and Me)

    September 9, 2013 at 5:50 am

    I feel very privileged to be able to read this. Your Nanny sounds like an amazing lady and her passing must leave such a gap, I am sorry for your loss. You write about her so beautifully and have really brought her to life in your words. xx

  2. Baby Mama

    September 9, 2013 at 6:22 am

    This has to be one of the most beautiful blog posts I have ever read. Stunning. And so graceful and gracious. That is exactly how I would like to grow old.

  3. Kat Caldwell

    September 9, 2013 at 6:43 am

    This left me in tears, she sounds like an amazing woman and I can see where you get your talent from. Big Hugs to all your family xx

  4. Debbie Dunham

    September 9, 2013 at 6:51 am

    Beautiful post. You are so blessed to have your Nanny in your life for all these years. I love the twinkle in her eye in all the photos. She was a remarkable woman and it sounds like she left her friends and family with valuable lessons and memories that will last a lifetime. Prayers for you and your family through these tough times.

  5. Janine Huldie

    September 9, 2013 at 6:57 am

    I remember reading about your Nanny before this and loved all the stories you have shared about here. I am truly so sorry for your loss. She seriously sounded like an amazing woman. Please know my thoughts and prayers are with you and your family now.

  6. Patricia Graunstadt

    September 9, 2013 at 7:12 am

    Thank you for sharing such a beautiful post. I am so sorry for your loss. Nanny sounds like an absolutely amazing woman!

  7. Melissa

    September 9, 2013 at 7:18 am

    You are so blessed to have had all of these wonderful memories with Nanny. I thought I was lucky to have known my nana and grandparents well into their late 80’s. It sounds like nanny was a truly remarkable woman and has left a quite a legacy for your family and friends. May you find peace and comfort in all of your wonderful memories!

  8. jen

    September 9, 2013 at 7:23 am

    What a beautiful tribute to your grandmother. She sounds like an amazing lady and a great role model. It is always hard to lose someone we love so much. Lots of prayers for you and your family.

  9. Megan

    September 9, 2013 at 7:45 am

    What a beautiful post! Your words are heartfelt and sincere and I feel like I now know Nanny too! One could only hope to live a life as long and as full of love as that of Nanny. She sounds as though she was feisty until the end! Hold on to these memories. Use them to find strength in this difficult time. Prayers for you and your family.

  10. thedoseofreality

    September 9, 2013 at 7:51 am

    I am so sorry. I am in awe of her and her life.-Ashley

  11. amy locke

    September 9, 2013 at 7:53 am

    I am so sorry to hear of Nanny’s passing. I will keep your family in our prayers. I loved hearing about Nanny and enjoyed the bunco stories that I heard when she subbed.

  12. Katy (in a Corner) Morgan

    September 9, 2013 at 8:14 am

    What a beautiful post, Anna! I’m so sorry for your family’s great loss, and I’m thankful you have so many years of great memories to recall. What an amazing life she must have lived in nearly 107 years. Love to you and your family.

  13. Kasey

    September 9, 2013 at 8:15 am

    Thank you for sharing your Nanny with all of us. This is the most touching post I have ever read. I feel like Nanny was an amazing woman who left a legacy for us all to pass on!

  14. Bryon Way

    September 9, 2013 at 8:21 am

    Beautiful Anna! Heroes are hard to come by now days, but we are truly lucky to have a grandma (great grandma) thats a supper hero! I’ll miss her amazing stories and most of all her contagious laugh.

  15. Dona

    September 9, 2013 at 8:22 am

    How wonderful that you had so much quality time with her. Beautiful post. We can see where you get your humor…it’s handed down from past generations, huh? God bless you. Dona

  16. Heather

    September 9, 2013 at 8:31 am

    Nanny sounds like she was a heck of a lady and would have been a blast to hang out with. What a fascinating life she led.

  17. Brandie Reynolds

    September 9, 2013 at 8:34 am

    Sending you and all your family heart hugs. You wrote so elegantly about Nanny what a wonderful tribute to her life. *hugs*

  18. Mindy Dannemiller

    September 9, 2013 at 8:44 am

    Beautiful post, Anna. Grandparents have such a special place in our hearts. So sorry for your loss of your great-grandmother.

  19. Patricia

    September 9, 2013 at 8:50 am

    This is a wonderful tribute to an amazing woman. I am awe-struck at all she was able to do. How fortunate your family has been to have her in your lives for so long.

  20. jassica

    September 9, 2013 at 8:54 am

    I totally cried through this whole post. Nanny was such a special lady and was loved by so many, including me. It really did seem like she might live forever. I will be praying for you and your family. She will be missed!!! Hugs! <3

  21. Sara

    September 9, 2013 at 9:03 am

    I am sorry for the loss of what was obviously an amazing woman. It sounds like she lived every one of her 106.9 years fully. Thank you so much for sharing her with us. It’s odd to know that people like her will be gone from our population soon. The humble ones, who knew what it was like to have dirt floors and living without electricity. I’d love to hear more of her stories, if you ever want to share more!

  22. Jessica

    September 9, 2013 at 9:05 am


  23. Judy. Grieve

    September 9, 2013 at 9:08 am

    What a wonderful testimony of a full life…my thoughts and prayers are with you as you laugh and cry together…

  24. Frugalistablog

    September 9, 2013 at 10:09 am

    Oh wow. I love all of this. I’m astounded she did so many things, I’m complaining of doing at 40! What a legacy. Thanks for sharing this so beautifully.

  25. Romy

    September 9, 2013 at 10:16 am

    What a wonderful tribute Anna!

  26. Michelle

    September 9, 2013 at 10:58 am

    it sounds like she was an amazing lady with some great stories to tell. so sorry for your loss.

  27. JD @ Honest Mom

    September 9, 2013 at 11:19 am

    Oh, Anna! I can’t believe she’s gone! Your post is a lovely tribute to her. xoxo

  28. Fatima

    September 9, 2013 at 12:48 pm

    Thank you Anna, this was one of the most beautiful blog posts I’ve ever read. You have a very beautiful family, and your writing is amazing. Hugs from Brazil!

  29. Mindy

    September 9, 2013 at 12:54 pm

    And now I want to cry.

  30. Dani Ryan

    September 9, 2013 at 2:24 pm

    Oh man. This made me so sad. I’m so sorry, Anna. No matter how old someone is, it’s never easy to say goodbye. Big hugs! Your Nanny was an awesome woman!! xo

  31. MomChalant

    September 9, 2013 at 3:24 pm

    For 106, she looks freakin awesome! I’m very sorry about your loss, no matter how expected or unexpected it may have been. But she lived a good 106 years, and that’s a lot more than most can say.

  32. Sue Messner

    September 9, 2013 at 3:34 pm

    Anna, I am so very sorry for your loss. I’ve heard your Mom speak of her so often that I felt as if I knew her. My Gramma would have been 100 tomorrow but we lost her 6 years ago so I know what you’re feeling right now. Take care and hugs to you all.

  33. Debi Zyla

    September 9, 2013 at 6:41 pm

    I am so sorry to hear of Nanny’s passing. I work at school and I am in your mom’s Bunco Club. About 20 years ago I met your Nanny. I was working at Flora List and she was helping Dee Surbrook do vision screening. We named her Vanna White, because she turned the letters over for Dee. She gave me her yummy recipe for Sunshine Cake that she had brought to Dee’s for our lunch. I am sure that you probably heard that she played Bunco with us and won. Your mom also won a prize and Nanny said”Boy, did we sure clean up! She was a wonderful woman and we will all miss her.

  34. [email protected] Days

    September 9, 2013 at 7:19 pm

    Oh Anna! I have loved all your Nanny stories and feel like we got to know her. I remember the Slimfast one so clearly and I laughed again. What a wonderful artist she was – seriously!!!! And to all have a calendar of her artwork – so awesome! And a book!!!
    I’m so sorry for your family’s loss but she left behind an amazing legacy and people who truely loved her. Big hugs xxxxx

  35. Denise

    September 9, 2013 at 7:50 pm

    What a beautiful tribute to a beautiful lady 🙂 Thank you for sharing your grandmother’s story Anna, I’m sure she will be dearly missed.

  36. Meg

    September 9, 2013 at 7:51 pm

    Oh Anna I am so sorry to hear…what incredible memories you have though…

  37. Dana

    September 9, 2013 at 7:52 pm

    Anna what a wonderful woman!! Hugs to you and the rest of your family…you all were so blessed to have her as long as you did!!

  38. Carol Adams

    September 9, 2013 at 8:43 pm

    Anna so sorry for your loss. We have known your Nanny and family for over 30 years. That is a beautiful tribute to Nanny. She was such a special person. We have been honored that we had a chance known her. Nanny was and still is a wonderful inspiration to all! God Bless you and your family.
    Carol and JP Adams (North Carolina)

  39. Gwen Klingensmith

    September 9, 2013 at 9:22 pm

    Anna, I’m so proud of you writing such beautiful words about Nanny! She has been one of my favorite people forever and I will miss her. Love and prayers for your entire family:) Gwen

  40. Carol Boss

    September 9, 2013 at 9:26 pm

    Beautiful, beautiful tribute to your Nanny. I love the pictures and especially her paintings that you included. Those wonderful stories will be retold to your children and their children… May your days ahead be spent remembering those special times. God made a very special person when your Nanny was born:)

  41. Megan

    September 9, 2013 at 10:40 pm

    Oh my, I love this post — came across your blog when my SIL sent this link and here I sit laughing & crying. I loved this. Thank you for sharing your sweet stories of this beautiful woman. I’m sorry for your loss, yet thrilled you were blessed with her for so long.

  42. Tracey

    September 9, 2013 at 10:52 pm

    What a wonderful tribute to your great-grandmother. It is so nice to see that she lived such a wonderful life to a ripe old age and went out peacefully. I loved reading this!!

  43. Anna ~ Instructions for my Husband

    September 9, 2013 at 11:00 pm

    So sorry for your loss. Thank you for sharing this beautiful tribute to a beautiful person. xo

  44. Amy K.

    September 9, 2013 at 11:11 pm

    If I manage to live my life one tenth as well as Nanny lived hers, I will consider it a success!

  45. Chrissy baldelli

    September 9, 2013 at 11:15 pm

    Your awesome, I love your blog! I’m sorry about your nanny but what a wonderful story!

  46. Stephanie Bieniewski

    September 10, 2013 at 12:35 am

    We just lost our 97 year old auntie and reading this makes me smile and remember my fond memories ♥

  47. Kathy at kissing the frog

    September 10, 2013 at 5:07 am

    Wow, what an amazing woman! I’m sorry for your loss, but what great stories and memories your family will have. xo

  48. Richard Martel

    September 10, 2013 at 7:55 am

    Very nice job. Rachel Martel sent this to me because she knows I like to write. I did enjoy.


  49. Stephanie

    September 10, 2013 at 7:59 am

    Oh, Anna. I’m sorry for your loss and the hole that will be left in your heart, but her story is fantastic and I’m so glad you have this space to share her with the world.

  50. Sarah Sullivan

    September 10, 2013 at 8:52 am

    So sorry to hear this news – I’m thinking of you Anna! I always loved hearing stories of your Nanny and seeing her impressive works of art. Thank you for sharing your beautiful and moving tribute. You’ll be in my thoughts and prayers.

  51. Pam

    September 10, 2013 at 9:32 am

    Anna I’m so sorry for your loss. It’s never easy dealing with the loss of a family member. You and your family are in my prayers.

  52. Lisa

    September 10, 2013 at 1:31 pm

    I’m so sorry for your loss! What an amazing lady & life!

  53. Kim S

    September 10, 2013 at 2:58 pm

    What a beautiful life she had!! How blessed you guys were to have her for so long! I would love to read her book!!
    Thinking of you and your family!

  54. Jill Claessens

    September 10, 2013 at 7:58 pm

    What a lovely tribute to your lovely grandmother, I read it with tears flowing down my face. She sounds like she was a wonderful person, inside and out. Cherish your memories.

  55. michele

    September 10, 2013 at 8:21 pm

    Im so sorry. That was the most perfect post you’ve ever written. She sounded amazing.

  56. Willa Lynne Franzen

    September 10, 2013 at 8:34 pm

    My mother worked with Hazel at Smith Winchester (Jackson hardware store). They were great friends. She helped my sister and me select ‘hope chest’ items to buy (with my mother’s discount). The two kept in contact for many years after the store closed. I, also, was a secretary at Napoleon High School and know your mom very well. I always kept a special card for your Nanny’s birthdays. Sorry that she didn’t make it to her 107th, but she had a wonderful life and family.

  57. sparkling74

    September 10, 2013 at 9:02 pm

    I just sat here reading this with the silliest grin on my face. I wish I could know a woman as awesome as your Nanny. For you to have known her your whole life, and to know how to appreciate her when it mattered, that’s amazing for you. I am so happy that your kids got to meet her and that you were able to spend so much of your adult life knowing her. To live over 100 and have that kind of vivacity! We can all dream! I love the first post that I read about your throwing up at the coffee place, but my favorites are really those when you write about your mother, grandmother and nanny because they are just so awesome. You have a family of fabulous women and I envy you!!

  58. Amanda

    September 11, 2013 at 1:24 pm

    The first birthday cake got me…that’s when the tears started. What an amazing story you got to be a part of and she seemed like a wonderful lady! How creative she was. A rare gem.

  59. Sue

    September 11, 2013 at 6:02 pm

    I’m laughing and crying. Whether it’s expected or not, death is always a shock. But what an amazing woman you got to have in your life. And such words of wisdom.

    My great-grandmother lived to be 100 years and 1 month and I know how blessed I was to have her for so long and to have such great memories…such as her watching MTV (back when MTV showed videos) and commenting on the videos. Oh, that memory still makes me laugh.

  60. Kim

    September 12, 2013 at 1:14 pm

    This is beautiful Anna. Thank you so much for sharing with all of us about your wonderful Nanny. It sounds like she was such an amazing person. Even though she lived a full life I know it’s still hard to have to let go so I feel sad for all who knew and loved her because of that reason, but I feel happy for you also because you were blessed to get to have her as part of your life. Thank you again for sharing. It’s a wonderful way for you to have honored her memory.

  61. Melissa Stormont

    September 13, 2013 at 6:09 am

    Thank you for this wonderful remembrance story! I wish I could’ve gotten to know her. I only knew Aunt Hazel by name. 🙂
    ( I’m Dean Edwards granddaughter)

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  63. Meredith

    September 16, 2013 at 6:48 am

    Oh my goodness, Anna. She sounds like the coolest woman ever and I am so happy you had her in your life. Amazing. And I love the 10 yrs. younger make-up bit especially 😉

  64. Alicia @ Naps Happen

    September 16, 2013 at 7:21 am

    Just. Awesome.

  65. Beth L

    September 16, 2013 at 9:30 am

    I am just amazed! I’m having trouble finding any other words…

  66. Kristin McCullough

    September 16, 2013 at 11:02 am

    Oh my goodness what a gift you’ve given us all by sharing these stories about your Nanny. We all instantly love her and her spirit. Thank you, thank you, thank you for sharing the way you have!

  67. Rosanne

    September 16, 2013 at 11:13 am

    I loved this blog! My Granny passed away at the age of 94 years old. Up until the last year, after she fell and fractured a vertebrae, she was a dynamo. I came home after giving birth to my second child to find her – at the age of 90 – cleaning my stove, fridge and toilet. My kids both adored her. She would get up with them in the middle of the night and they’d eat ice cream and popsicles. I loved listening to her stories of a by gone era. What a blessing to have your Nanny for so long. Thanks for sharing this!

  68. Bethany Eskro

    September 16, 2013 at 11:56 am

    What a sweet post! As I was reading it I was holding my 8 month old Hazel and grinning from ear to ear.

  69. Nicole Shaw

    September 16, 2013 at 12:16 pm

    I’m terribly jealous!! I want to live Nanny’s life. What a great re-telling of her life in short. Sorry for your loss, Anna, but it’s hard to read about her and feel sad. What a remarkable woman.

  70. Allison Hart

    September 16, 2013 at 1:07 pm

    What a great lady! I’m a little in love with her, and I imagine I’m not nearly alone in that feeling. I’m sorry for your loss. Your entire family is so lucky to have known such a masterpiece of a person!

  71. Heather

    September 16, 2013 at 2:54 pm

    What an amazing individual. And it seems like there is so much of her shinning through in you. Sending you comfort and love across the miles. Thank you for sharing such a beautiful part of your life.

  72. Mytwicebakedpotato

    September 16, 2013 at 8:35 pm

    I am sorry for your loss but so glad to see that you had many years with a much loved lady 🙂

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  74. Jennifer S

    September 17, 2013 at 2:36 am

    Thank you for sharing your story about your Nanny. I feel uplifted and also privileged to read it. I am sorry for your loss, but happy for you that you had so many good years with her.

  75. Stephanie

    September 17, 2013 at 10:02 am

    This is a true testament to how one should live their life. Thank you for sharing!

  76. yorlin

    September 17, 2013 at 12:45 pm

    This post made me laugh and cry! It was wonderfull.

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  79. Kathryn

    December 3, 2013 at 10:18 am

    What a beautiful lady she was! I can’t believe have spry she was. I loved hearing all your special memories of her.

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