Nanette West Moss
Updated: Sep 9, 2019
The photograph that I'm holding here is of my Grandma Hastings (then Rosina West) at the age of 19 when she was Queen of Rex in 1911 in New Orleans. The smaller white object that I'm holding is a book she made for me. She taught me to read when I was 5 years old, cutting up pieces of velum and tying them with a blue ribbon. She wrote a sentence on one page, which I then illustrated in my 5-year-old shaky hand. She and I wrote a little book together. You might also be able to see my wedding ring here. When my husband and I announced that we were getting married, my mother gave me my Grandma Hastings' wedding ring.
There is a lot that is not in this picture, too. I knew her when she was an 80-year-old widow, after she had lived a life full of highs and lows. In 1914, just 3 years after she was Queen of Mardi Gras, her fiancée committed suicide, and she didn't marry my grandfather until 1927. She went on to have two miscarriages and then lost a one-week old baby who had lived just long enough, she said, to have a scrapbook made for her. Grandma and Grandpa lived in an apartment on Washington Square Park in New York City until he became President Hoover's speechwriter in 1931. They had my mother in 1933, but my grandfather died in his 50s from cirrhosis of the liver, a complication of his advanced alcoholism, leaving my grandmother a widow with a mortgage to pay. She became a substitute teacher and took in boarders to make ends meet. And all of that was decades before she came into my life.
No wonder she was kind to me. No wonder her room was an oasis in a busy house full of 4 young children. No wonder I found my way to her when I couldn't sleep, and no wonder that, even though she died when I was 6 years old, I've thought of her every day since. She added so much to my life then and even now, and I hope that, as she lay dying, she had a sense that she had changed one little girl's life.