In her memoir, "Searching for Nannie B," former Yavapai College instructor Nancy Owen Nelson takes readers with her on her journey to unravel and understand the mystery of the grandmother no one will talk about, letting us share her frustrations and questions, and, ultimately, her discoveries along the way.
Nelson herself didn't even know she had an actual maternal grandmother other than Big Mama, who she had believed was her true biological grandmother, until she was 12 years old. Even then, she could not find out more than that the mysterious grandmother was named Nannie B, the same as Nelson's own mother.
It is indeed a complex array of relatives, and an intricate dynamic of family relationships that Nelson uncovers for us along the way. We learn a lot about Nelson's mother, Nannie B, of course, along with the information Nelson ferrets out about the first Nannie B, whose remains lay for years under a headstone with her name misspelled. Nelson gains insights into the way this family secrecy has affected Nelson's mother, a subject Nelson handles in a tenderly moving manner. The legacy of that secrecy, she tells us "has continued ... with my mother's life of uncertainty, longing and pain."
But we learn most about Nancy Owen Nelson herself, as revelations highlight how the legacy has affected her own life, how it gave her determination to avoid the unempowered lives led by both talented and intelligent Nannie Bs. She recalls her own struggle when faced with the possibility of being disappeared into "Mrs."
Her book, then, is a "gift" to her mother and grandmother, "Nannie B. Russell Chandler and Nannie B. Chandler Nelson. May they never be blotted out, erased or forgotten."
"I am within them and they are within me," Nelson says, and this book, her search and the understanding it brought her, insure that her life, as well as theirs, will not be forgotten.
- Reviewed by Susan Lang,
Peregrine Book Company Event Coordinator
Peregrine Book Company, 219-A N. Cortez St., is in downtown Prescott.