We called my grandmother Nanny Flo. Her friends thought we were saying "Nanny Goat."
Years later, my mother — as a grandma — took the name "Nanny" in her honor.
Years from now my niece, Janni Joy, will take the name to honor them both.
It's a family thing.
Last week, more than 20 years after my mother's passing, dozens of her grandkids and great-grandkids got together on her birthday for "Nanny's Day" to share memories and relive a few traditions.
In troubled times, family history and tradition always offer balance.
And historically, that's a job for grandmas.
In his novel "Slapstick," Kurt Vonnegut Jr. imagines a world where families no longer function. So two geniuses decide to create artificial families. They assign everyone in America a random word and a random number. Everybody with the same word and number form a family.
The program is called "Lonesome No More!"
Vonnegut, of course, had a knack for seeing social disasters long before society tipped to them. And his "Lonesome No More" families predict a time when families will no longer function as families.
As a Johnston, all I can say to that is, Long Live Nanny's Day!
Grandmothers often have a feel for what a family needs the most. And my mother (Nanny II) knew we needed to keep things on a human scale. We needed to think about each other and find ways to help each other.
She knew there was so much information flying around, so many distractions and so many temptations, we needed to focus on one another to be safe.
These days, if a man in North Dakota runs his car into a crowd, we see it on the news and we're forced to emotionally process the whole thing. But we can't fit it all in our heads. We feel helpless. Desperation takes hold.
Until now, human beings have lived pretty much on a human scale. We worried about those around us. If there were problems, we could help.
But not now.
The "human scale" is fading away. It's "global scale" now. But our "human scale" brains can't keep up. We live in a world of emotional overload. We panic.
And that's where the "Nannies" in our lives come in.
I think grandmothers, more than most, keep us thinking, living and helping on a human scale. They worry about family ties and personal relationships. They champion family holidays, celebrations and rites of passage. They send personal cards, offer personal congratulations and are first on the scene for weddings and funerals.
Our family has had a squadron of grandmas who did such things for us — Relda, Helen, Ernestina.
I'm sure your family does, too.
Our grandmas kept us all thinking about those closest to us. They preserved our family's memories. They kept us human. They kept us sane.
They told each grandchild, "You will be lonesome no more, because you always have me."
As a grandmother, my mother was sweet and playful, happy and wise.
She really didn't do a lot.
Except help to save the world.