One thing for sure, if you lived around the way, you knew Nay-Nay. Everybody knew Nay-Nay. Maybe your Nay-Nay wasn’t my Nay-Nay, but if you didn’t know Nay-Nay, you surely knew of her. The nickname was short for homegirl’s real name; it could have been Renee or Nadine. Or it could have been Na’Disha, D’Naya, Naronda or some other quasi-French/African-American name that is created when parents open their mouths and start putting together a mix of vowels and consonants they think sound pretty. Nevertheless, chances are you know Nay-Nay.
But enough about the name, and who your Nay-Nay is. This is about me. This is about my Nay-Nay. My Nay-Nay was a pleasant child, good in school and at double-dutch. She was good-natured and fair-minded, in the way that if for some reason she had to fight you, she wouldn’t try to pull out your cornrows or scratch your face. She wasn’t trying to do no long-term damage; she was just about whipping your butt.
Nay-Nay was cool to hang out with in school and in the neighborhood, and it was fun to watch television at her house. The only thing that made me uncomfortable sometimes was Nay-Nay’s grandmother. To be honest, her grand mom was nice enough; she reminded me a lot of Nay-Nay, except that she was much bigger, fifty-five years older, and always wore a housecoat and slippers. And she talked kind of funny; I couldn’t always tell what she was saying. I think she was from Tennessee, or St. Louis or Southwest Philly. Sometimes she would come into the living room while we were watching The Banana Splits, shake her finger at Nay-Nay and say something like, “Chile, what I say ‘bout that face rag, and Tussy at the zinc! It don’t go there! Put it up, put it up!” And she talked really fast, so sometimes it would take me a while to decipher things. Sometimes, I would just wait to see what Nay-Nay would say or do in response, and then I’d have my answer.
The biggest misunderstanding was usually around food. I eventually figured out that the “bald ham sammich” was boiled ham with a slice of Velveeta on white bread, with man-eggs…sorry; mayonnaise. And if I wanted a sandwich to go, she’d wrap in “tin foll” for me. In the summer I learned that when I was offered a glass of juice I would actually get Kool-Aid, a beverage that tastes so unlike the flavor on the package, people would call it Red, instead of Cherry. And if I agreed to some Kool-Aid, I’d actually get Kool-Aid’s inbred, dim-witted, mutant offspring: the Hug. On a hot summer day, there is nothing like those few ounces of colored sugar water in the container with the tin foll top. They come in flavors like orange-plastic, red-nylon, and purple-polycarbonate.
Nay-Nay’s grandmother was a good cook, so even though we weren’t on the same page with the cold drinks, I wouldn’t turn down an offer of food. Man, there was bis-getty and meatballs, and sal-mon cakes, and sometimes scrimp salad. And it was all pretty good. One morning, after spending the night at Nay-Nay’s her grandma asked what we wanted for breakfast. I had to choose between cole seral, like Alpha Bits or scrampled eggs. This time I didn’t wait to see what Nay-Nay wanted; I knew what I was doing. A home cooked breakfast is better than cereal any day.
In a few minutes Nay-Nay’s grandmother called us away from Deputy Dawg to eat. Nay-Nay got herself some cereal and milk, and her granny came came up to the table with a skillet and put some crap on my plate that I had never seen in my life. I recognized the Bacos, but this dish was not the eggs I expected. It smelled funny and it looked like it had bones it in. I told Nay-Nay’s grandmother I had a stomachache, and excused myself.
When we were back in Nay-Nay’s room I asked her what kind of scrambled eggs they were. “Scrambled eggs?” Nay-Nay said with surprise. “My nana didn’t say she was making you scrambled eggs, can’t you hear? She asked you did you want scrampled eggs! Girl, you can’t hear. Nobody in this house eats scrampled eggs but my grandmother and King.” King was the family’s German Shepherd. It turns out that scrampled eggs is a breakfast concoction that Nay-Nay’s grandmother made up during the depression. It was whatever was left over from the week’s meals, whipped up with some eggs. I had collard greens, half a pigs foot and some macaroni and cheese. It could have been worse, I guess.
Anyway, Nay-Nay and I remained friends until she moved to another neighborhood the next summer. Later that fall her play cousin told me she ended up getting 10 stitches when she got into a fight in her new neighborhood over a Chinese jump rope. The other girl took advantage of her niceness, and stabbed her in the behind with an Astropop.