In our lifetime we’re fortunate enough to be inspired and mentored by women that have set a standard on what it means to be a woman in every sense of the word. These women are strong, fearless, determined, selfless, considerate, nurturing, generous. The list goes on. These women are women we’re lucky enough to call mothers, grandmothers, aunts, sisters, friends, and teachers. Sometimes even strangers. For me there’s one woman in particular that has always been and continues to be my hero. The epitome of the type of woman I aspire to be. She was a wife, a mother, a sister, an educator, a local celebrity and legend in her own right. She’s MY NANA.
Mila L. Banks was born October 28, 1913. Yup, you read that right, 1913. To this very day I’m still amazed at all the things she lived through and was able to witness, and all the ways she gave back to her community that made a lasting impression on many. I’m truly in awe of her all the time. My Nana was a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. She was a teacher, teaching many students that would grow up to be prominent African-Americans and other minorities of the Kansas City Community. A founder of the Saturday Night Sixteen Club. This club was created by a group of women that were mostly teachers by profession, and affluent enough to enjoy the finer things in life while being African-American in a segregated Kansas City, MO. As a result of segregation, these women created their own exclusive society for fun and fellowship. And after 70 years, the club continues on.
Growing up my Nana was always referred to as “Nana in Kansas City”. She lived in Kansas City, MO but her presence in my life was as if she lived around the corner. All my life the phone would ring about once a month, sometimes more, depending on if there was a holiday or someone’s birthday. The phone would constantly get passed around so she could speak to everyone that was in the house. See’s Candy chocolate eggs were sent every Easter, a popcorn tin with the choice of buttered, caramel, or cheese popcorn was sent every Christmas, and a birthday card accompanied with a check in the amount of the age you were turning was sent every birthday. Her phone calls were always so warm and loving, but with a hint of sass here and there. She was so witty and funny. You would never expect some of the jokes she made to come from her. My Nana had this little raspy voice and her hellos were always stated with extra Os at the end. The combination of the two just made you smile. She would always ask how I was doing, what I was up to, and checked in on any updates from our previous conversation. The woman was present all the time, all the way from the mid-west. Her trips to LA were even better. Anytime my Nana was in town my parents would pack up my siblings and I and we would make our way over to my Nana’s sister’s (Aunt Inez) place because that’s where she would stay – naturally. Pizza was always ordered for dinner. It was the best.
As I got older, and my interests in different things started to form, my Nana always supported whatever I was into but made sure I always knew it was important to have a good education. When I started cheerleading in high school she would always send me any news clippings she would come across about the sport. It was such a simple act, but it meant so much that she cared enough. It was a reminder that I was always thought about. My Nana also started to share her taste for the finer things in life with me. My Nana was the type of woman to always be dressed to the nines from head to toe. She always had the best jewelry and accessories. The woman knew how to put together an outfit! She was ALWAYS on point. I remember my sweet 16 she mailed me something from Tiffany’s. When I opened that little blue box I was so shocked. She had gifted me with one of the most expensive things I would own at 16. It was a dainty, platinum lariat necklace with an aquamarine (my birthstone) dangling at the end. I’ve always been scared to wear it because it’s so dainty, but I cherish it so much. Maybe about a year later she mailed me two purses and a few rings of hers. One purse was one of her Salvador Ferragamo’s. It’s so small I don’t even know what she put in there. I don’t even know what I can really fit in there (besides my mini vaseline)! But it was hers, and it’s vintage Ferragamo. I absolutely adore it.
My Nana was just always a constant source of happiness to my life. Her phone calls, gifts, support, and unmeasurable amounts of love completed me in so many ways. She always wanted me to be the best version of myself and always had a way of reminding me to do what makes me happy and always hope for the best. The older I got the more I just appreciated her and what she meant to me. And as she got older I always told myself that I needed to make the effort to go out to Kansas City to visit her because traveling at her age was starting to no longer be an option. My Nana still got around in Kansas City however, and somehow still managed to have a full social calendar. Her social calendar was always more poppin’ than mine!
For her 100th birthday she threw herself a huge party. She was the woman of the hour. So many people were there to celebrate her life and all the ways she made an impact on there’s.
It was my first time in Kansas City. Being back in her physical presence after 6 years from the last time I got to see her was so comforting. I was so happy to be with my girl. I promised myself that I had to come back at least one more time to spend time with my Nana because she was now 100 and I didn’t know how much longer I would have her around physically. My Nana made a promise at her birthday party that we would all gather again for her 105th birthday, but after that she couldn’t make any promises. She always had the perfect way to just crack everyone up.
I made an effort to start calling my Nana more outside of her always calling us. It made her so happy to hear from me unexpectedly. It was the best I could do since I was struggling to try and find time to fly out to Kansas City.
Her 101st birthday came and went and I think she was a little surprised that she made it to 101. The 102nd birthday came and she was irritated that her phone hadn’t stopped ringing all day! By the time I talked to her she said she just wanted some peace and quiet. It was so cute and funny to hear her try and not get irritated with me because she really didn’t want to be irritated towards me. Her 103rd birthday she was in a much better mood. I could tell she was all smiles through the phone. It made me relieved that she made it to 103 because it let me know I still had two more years to make it out to K.C. I still felt terrible though for not making more of an effort. I had no idea my next conversation with her would be my last. I remember I called her the day after the 2016 presidential election. I was so bothered and in low spirits. Talking to her just made me feel better and she gave me some encouraging words to make me feel better about my future. Before getting off the phone I said, “I love you Nana” and she said, “I love you tooooo. Tell everyone I love them”. I answered with my typical, “I will. Bye Nana” and she left me with her raspy, “bye byyeeee”.
A few weeks later we got a call, and my heart dropped to my stomach because I thought it was “the call”, but it was just to say my Nana fell, she was in good spirits, and recovering just fine. She was in some type of hospital/home center so I couldn’t call her at home to speak with her, but I was happy to hear that she was in good spirits. And then a few weeks later on the night of December 13, 2016 I was at home and heard the house phone ring, “Call from Nana in Kansas City”. I thought “oh good, she’s back at home and I get to talk to her”. I heard my mom walking toward my room thinking she was going to hand me the phone as it was my turn to talk to Nana. But my mom just stood there and said, “Nana passed”. I was so heartbroken, speechless, lost. I couldn’t move. I didn’t know what to do. And then I just cried and cried and felt completely numb. Then I felt so much guilt. I was so mad at myself for not making a better effort to go see her and spend time with her. I’ve lost other family members before, and of course I was sad, but this one hurt and hurt deep.
Once the funeral arrangements were made my mom, siblings, and I flew out to Kanas City on December 22nd. I remember when the plane landed I tried so hard to fight my tears. I didn’t want my mom to see me cry. I was so hurt that my trip back to K.C. was to bury my Nana. I remember going back to her condo that night, number 407, and just being in her space without her there was so weird. But it was so nice to see so much of my childhood present. All the gifts and pictures over the years from my siblings and I were mounted proudly around her condo. I was instantly reminded of her love and adoration for us. I felt a little better about the lack of my physical presence over the years because I was reminded about how much she made sure my siblings and I were present in some way.
Although it was heartbreaking to bury my Nana the day before Christmas Eve, my Nana’s funeral was absolutely beautiful. Her casket was white with rose gold trimming. There were pink flower accents on the corners. The casket was adorned with pinkish purple roses. Purple was her favorite color. She was laid to rest in the pink suit she wore to her 100th birthday party and a flower broach where the petals were made of pink sapphire hearts. Her nails were perfectly polished french tip as they always were, and she had on her best wig, and gold framed glasses. My Nana was absolutely beautiful lying there. She was truly stunning and it made no sense that we had to bury her looking that good. It was so hard on all of us, but she gave us an unforgettable 103 years. My Nana lived more than a full life and I’m forever grateful for her love.
I miss her everyday and I struggle internally with feelings of guilt for not making more of an effort to see her, and selfishness for being so hurt that she died at 103. I know she wouldn’t want me to live with those feelings, and I try not to for her, but at times it’s hard. My heart is truly incomplete without her. I don’t feel like a whole person. A piece of me is definitely missing. I think about my Nana everyday and I really hope I’m making her proud. This is the first time in my life I’m not able to call my Nana and wish her a happy birthday. I never thought this day would come. I wasn’t prepared for it. I really believed her when she said we would celebrate her 105th birthday. I feel like I would’ve been more comfortable with her death after she turned 105, but I have to remind myself that 103 was still pretty damn good. I’m trying not to be sad today, because I know my Nana wouldn’t want that, but I just wish I could call her one more time and hear her voice.
My Nana is my hero, my inspiration, my angel. I hope to lead an impactful life the way she did. With style, elegance, grace, and most importantly sass and wit.
I LOVE YOU MILA BANKS! Happy 104th Birthday.