How Nana Saw Lima Beans
by Stanley McFarland
It was Nana who taught me the right way to view people, and it all started with lima beans.
Nana had come to live with us when I was a kid, and early on it became clear that I would have to adjust my behavior.
“Lima beans?” I shouted one day. “I hate lima beans!”
“Don’t say hate,” said Nana calmly. “It’s a word you should use with great discretion. Say that you don’t care for lima beans.”
“But I do care about lima beans,” I said, being a smart-mouthed eleven-year-old. “I really hate them.”
“Hate is a word for extremes,” said Nana. “You might say that you hate fascism, or genocide, but you should never use the word with people, and it is simply ridiculous to say you hate a food just because its taste doesn’t agree with you.”
“Wait,” I said, thinking I had caught her, “you say I shouldn’t hate people?”
“That is correct.”
“But it was people that created fascism, and people who committed genocide.”
“So if Hitler were alive today, it would be wrong to say that I hate him?”
“How does that make any sense?”
“It’s all a matter of seeing things from a higher perspective.”
“You mean, like… God?”
Being a pre-adolescent know-it-all, I stopped listening right there. I didn’t go to church, and neither did Nana. I wasn’t about to listen to a sermon about Hitler and lima beans.
But she got me thinking. How would seeing things from God’s perspective make a bad person seem any better? For that matter, what WAS God’s perspective?
I imagined being a thousand feet tall. My head was so high that I had to stoop to avoid low-hanging clouds. Below me were swarms of tiny people that I’d step on if I closed my eyes. These tiny people were like ants to me. Would I care if one ant killed another ant, or thousands of other ants? Was that what Nana meant?
I liked the idea, especially about stepping on people I didn’t like, but I was pretty sure that wasn’t what she was talking about.
The next day as school we got back our science tests. I got a D minus. Mr. Hubble just didn’t like me; that’s why I failed. I imagined God as this giant brain. He would look down on Mr. Hubble and say, “Do you think you know science? You know NOTHING! You fail, Mr. Hubble!”
The thought made me smile, but as I pondered it, I realized that God wouldn’t say that. For one thing, he would call Mr. Hubble by his first name.
Weeks passed without me thinking about it much. Nobody told me why Nana had moved in with us, but I noticed that she was moving slower and getting skinnier. Finally she went into the hospital. When we went to see her she looked terrible. She had a tube in her arm and she was coughing a lot. I hated seeing her like that.
I didn’t say anything because I remembered what Nana said about the word, hate. Instead, I decided I wouldn’t go back to the hospital. I’d just wait until Nana got better. I made every excuse I could think of over the next week when Mom asked if I wanted to go see Nana. Every time I thought about the way she looked I got the creeps.
One night at dinner Dad announced that as soon as we were through we would all get into the car and visit Nana.
“I better stay home,” I said. “I still have homework, and I’m failing science.”
“You can bring your homework with you,” said Dad.
“But I don’t want to go,” I said more honestly. Mom looked like she was about to cry and left the table. She’d hardly eaten anything.
“Stanley,” my father said after she’d left, “you know your Nana has cancer.”
“I know she’s sick,” I said.
“It’s worse than that. She’s not going to get better.”
“She’s going to die?”
“Yes, and soon. Tonight might be the last time you ever see her. It’s important for you to tell her that you love her. And it’s important that you be there for your mother. Nana is her mother and this is very hard on her.”
“Um… okay,” I said.
My older sister, Stacey took my hand. “I’ll stay with you,” she whispered.
The nurses on Nana’s floor insisted that only two people see Nana at a time. Mom and Stacey went in first. As they opened the door, I could see Nana on the bed. She looked like a skeleton with tubes not only in her arm, but in her nose, and a mask over her mouth.
“When Stacey comes out, Stanley, you go in.” Dad wasn’t using his angry voice, but it was clear he didn’t want any argument from me. I sat on a plastic couch and stared at the cover of a magazine. All I could see was Nana. I didn’t want to go in that door.
I don’t know how long Stacey was in there. It felt like both forever and not nearly long enough.
“Stanley,” said Dad, “you go in now.”
“I can’t,” I said.
“You can and you will.”
I just turned and walked away. I could hear Dad get up from his chair, and then Stacey’s voice say, “I’ll go with him.”
I kept walking and moments later Stacey was walking beside me. We didn’t speak – just walked. The hospital consisted of several buildings tacked together with walkways. We left one building and entered another. We ended up in pediatrics and stopped in the viewing room.
“Look at the babies!” said Stacey, stepping up to the glass. There were five babies in normal bassinettes. Three of them had pink blankets, and two had blue. There was also a bulky machine with a window in the top. Inside the machine was a tiny wrinkled baby. I didn’t know if it was a boy or a girl because there was no blanket in the machine. The baby wore a mask with a tube in its nose and another tube in its arm.
Just like Nana.
“Is it going to die?” I asked Stacey.
“I don’t think so,” she said.
“I don’t think they’d have her out here if she was in danger. She’s just a little premature.”
“How do you know it’s a she?”
Stacey pointed to a name card on the machine. It said, “Dora Mitchell, 3lbs 5oz 3/7/70. Tiny Dora was three days old and still looked like a pink raisin. I shook my head. “Those poor parents.”
“I don’t know,” said Stacey.
“What do you mean, you don’t know? Look at her!”
“She looks bad,” Stacey agreed, “but she’s alive, and she’ll probably look a lot better in a couple of weeks. Dora’s parents are probably thrilled to have a daughter. Daughters are much better than sons, you know,” and Stacey poked me in the ribs.
Together we walked back to Nana’s wing and instead of dread, I thought about tiny Dora and what my sister said about her parents. Maybe that’s what Nana meant when she spoke of seeing things through a higher perspective. My mind was in a muddle. I felt like I was thinking too much and not at all. My head hurt, but I wasn’t afraid anymore.
When I walked into Nana’s room she looked just as bad as she had before. The machine by her bed made hissing noises like something out of a horror movie. I still saw all that stuff but I concentrated on Nana’s eyes. They were still the same eyes they’d always been when she teased me, or played cribbage with me. I cradled her hand in mine and she gave my thumb a little squeeze. Through her breathing mask it looked like she was smiling.
“I love you, Nana,” I said.
She died a few hours later.
I still get angry with people. I get frustrated or afraid, but sometimes I remember that lesson I learned from Nana. I look at the person I’m having trouble with and I see a baby. Babies get sick; they get cranky, grabby, even mean, but because they are babies, they are lovable.
But I still don’t care for lima beans, and I hate cancer.
I don’t think Nana would mind me saying that.