Friday, April 27, 2007

The Drake Matriarch


Tonight I am on WXPN until 11pm and then a quick dash home to regroup, grab a short nap, and head off to the airport for a 6am flight to Bar Harbor, Maine (via Boston). I'm heading up there to see the Drakes, but mostly to join in celebrating my Nana's 100th birthday on Sunday!

Ethel Drake has always been a powerful rock for the Drake family ... born in 1907 in Philadelphia, she met her husband-to-be while training to become a nurse; he was a young doctor and together they married and had two boys, in 1936 (Uncle Jack) and 1939 (my dad, Robert Sr.) ... my grandfather went off to Europe to serve as a a doctor in WWII and Nana and her boys managed to live on their own, like thousands of other mothers during those years.

Upon his return, they bought a home and he began a private practice. Sadly my grandfather passed away in the 1950s and Nana was left to raise her boys alone - something she had practice with, thanks to the War.

I was born in 1963 and lived in Nana's house with my mom and dad until first grade, when my parents split and I moved with mom to NE Philly. With me and my parents out of the house - Nana decided to sell both her home as well as her summer cottage in Somers Point NJ and join her other son Jack in Maine ... he had moved up there in the mid-60s.

She's been there ever since and began another chapter as great-grandmother as Jack's kids had kids and - for the most part - all decided to claim Maine as their home, albeit different towns. Jack and Nana remained in Bar Harbor - that is until Jack's kids all left the big house and he, just like Nana, decided to sell and build a smaller space for his wife and himself to retire to ... a great spot, still on Mt. Desert Island, but away from the 'hustle' of Bar Harbor's tourism trade.

So - Nana.

Nana has been a widow for over 50 years. Let that sit for a minute.

She has learned how to be the strong, independent element in our family - which shined brightly during moments of family strife, such as the divorce of both of her sons to their first wives. Jack remarried - my dad never did. He too was an independent spirit and between them both, I believe that is where I got much of the personality I have today. Very independent and very much a solo traveler through life.

When Nana was in her 80s she was in charge of feeding the elderly throughout the Downeast region of Maine - she ran the Meals On Wheels program for the shut-ins and it was always amusing to listen to her vent about these 'old folks' when in fact many were younger than she. She lived in her own apartment until last year, when faced with the reality that it was becoming too much of a challenge, she agreed to move into a nursing home that overlooks the bay.

She has faced some major obsticles; buring both her husband and her youngest son (my dad) being the hardest I'm sure. Over the past decade, Nana took a fall and broke her hip at 90, but came through and healed (almost unheard of at that age!). She faced major internal bleeding and was near death twice - but pulled through each time. Her wit is strong and her memory, although fading, is still there. She no longer gets around without a wheelchair, but she is surrounded by the love of the Drake clan, as well as a ton of island friends.

I know she is looking forward to seeing me - probably more than I am to see her, since I know that this might be the last time I see her. She was truly my rock in my childhood - when everything else in my young life was falling apart, Nana was there. She kept me strong and showed me how to grow. She taught me values that I carry to this day. She is an amazing person and I owe much of who I have become to my Nana, Ethel Drake.

So, Happy 100th Birthday Nana!! You are an incredible spirit and I am humbled to carry the family name along for my ride here...

2 comments:

Kathy said...

You didn't mention the 7 layer cake and amazing other baked goods that she was still putting forth late into her 90's.
Don't leave Maine without that recipe!!
Or some cake...
Happy birthday, Nana.

Charles said...

Yeah, Grammas definitely rule. I miss my dad's mom dearly.