Knight Writer: Alumna Delta Nagele ’02 ’07MA Honors Grandmother’s Memory with Award-Winning Story
Delta Nagele ’02 ’07 and her beloved Grandmama lived close to each other in South Florida and shared a special , unforgettable relationship. Grandmama and her twin sister, Virginia, were born on Valentine’s Day. The twins loved celebrating the holiday. Even after Virginia died in 1954 from metastasized breast cancer, Grandmama continued to honor Virginia’s memory by celebrating the holiday. To overcome tragedy and hardships was a testament to the strength that her family still remembers.
Nelta Louise Dean Millward lived just a stone’s throw from her granddaughter Delta Nagele’s house as she was growing up in Palm Beach County. Millward’s two-bedroom home was Nagele’s favorite place in the world, and evoked such fond memories that she was recently inspired to put pen to paper for a local writing contest.
“Grandmama’s House” was recently selected by the West Palm Beach Downtown Authority as a winning entry in the “Tell Your Story Challenge.” The contest is a collaboration between the WPBDA, The Cream Literary Alliance, and the Dreyfoos School of the Arts Creative Writing Program, with a goal of increasing literacy efforts in the area. Nagele’s work, along with other awardees, will be available throughout the county in Short Story Dispensers.
Nagele is not a professional writer. She received her master’s degree in counseling and worked as a therapist for a while; now she is a paralegal in Palm Beach County, and lives 20 minutes from where she grew up and spent so much time with her grandmother.
“There is a little sidewalk that runs through the middle of the neighborhood,” Nagele says. “Our house was right on the parkway, and Grandmama’s house was one in from the parkway. When we were little, my mom would watch us as far as she could see us, and then our grandmother would meet us and walk us all back to her house.”
Nelta Millward passed away in 2002 at the age of 88. The memories that she made with Nagele, are still so vivid, even more than 20 years later.
Small House, Big Memories
Nagele’s details of her grandmother’s early years are a bit incomplete. Grandmama had been married to a WWII veteran whose ship, the USS Ticonderoga, had been involved in a kamikaze attack. When he returned from the war, family members noticed that he had changed.
“My grandfather passed away when I was about 2,” Nagele says. “I did get to meet him a few times, but they were divorced before I was born. She raised her four children pretty much alone.”
Still, Grandmama never remarried, and always said he was the love of her life. For whatever reason, they were unable to live together. And, Nagele says, her grandmother never took off her wedding ring. Nagele wears a cherished memento from her grandmother, a different ring, on her right ring finger, the same way her grandmother wore it.
(Left, Delta Nagele and her sister, Cara, and brother Adam on Halloween. Delta’s Hawaiian skirt was brought back from Hawaii by her grandfather as a present to Grandmama when he was on furlough during World War II.)
Grandmama’s sister, Delta, owned the little house. After Delta’s husband died, Grandmama moved into the little house to live with her. Delta was one of the first female pharmacists in the area. Delta also was one of the first unmarried females in the area to own a home. She was able to purchase her home in the early 50s (which she paid off) from the owner who agreed to hold the mortgage since unmarried women could not obtain a mortgage from a bank in those days. Grandmama inherited the house in 1977 when Delta died.
“The house has been in our family for over 50 years,” Nagele says. Her grandmother was, at one point, a schoolteacher who supplemented her income by selling Sarah Coventry jewelry.
“She taught at a local Catholic grammar school, and loved teaching reading, and helping kids learn how to just really enjoy and absorb books,” Nagele says.
There were times when Nagele was out with her grandmother, and people would run into her, calling her, “Miss Dean.” They were former students; sometimes she would remember, and sometimes she wouldn’t.
“She ran a tight ship in the classroom,” Nagele laughed.
A Grandmother’s Love
Grandmama was a little different than a typical grandmother, who thinks their grandchildren can do no wrong.
“We could do wrong,” Nagele says. “But she would tell us gently, ‘that’s not how you act, that is not kind.’”
Because Grandmama lived close by and was so intertwined with the family, it was necessary to have an unwritten set of rules.
The grandchildren’s flipflops were lined up by the door, ready for them to wear before they went outside to gather fallen key limes for key limeade. The children still know the recipe: six key limes, half a cup of sugar, half a gallon of water. Make sure you roll the key limes before you cut and squeeze them, to get all the juice. It was the same recipe that Grandmama had taught Nagele’s mother, too.
“We always had a pitcher of key limeade growing up,” Nagele recalled.
There were times, especially during Nagele’s middle school years, when she would “run away” to her grandmother’s house. Grandmama would listen carefully and offer words of wisdom.
“She would tell me, ‘Now, you’re just like your mother,’” Nagele recalls. “And she shared some tips for how to get along with my mom better.”
In those moments, her grandmother would also gently encourage her to call her mother so she wouldn’t worry. It was a genius move, because not only was Grandmama supporting the parents, but also offering a haven where the grandchildren could go when they needed a breather.
Sometimes, Grandmama would tell Nagele that she was her favorite grandchild.
“Oh, I think my cousins don’t love this, but I think they know I was the favorite,” Nagele says. “But I would always wonder, does she tell anybody else that? She really made you believe like she was only telling it to you.”
Nagele definitely made time for her grandmother. When she came home from college, she would often spend the weekend at her house. Nagele even got to drive her Grandmama’s big car.
“It was humongous,” Nagele says. “I don’t remember what it was, but it was one of those giant cars, and it was kind of thrilling to drive.”
When Nagele went away to college, her grandmother often wrote to her; the two also started sharing emails about the same time.
Her grandmother moved to Orlando when her health began declining; she was in an assisted-living facility, and Nagele often visited her while she was attending UCF.
When Nagele graduated in 2002, Grandmama was not able to attend her graduation, but Nagele went to visit her with her regalia and diploma because “I wanted her to see me, you know?”
Grandmama died in June, just a few weeks after Nagele’s graduation.
“It’s been almost 21 years ago,” Nagele says. “It’s crazy to think that I’ve lived half of my life without her now.”
Nagele had often thought of her memories of her Grandmama before she heard about the contest, but it wasn’t until the contest was announced that she drew from her feelings to share the deeply personal story, that reads like a poem.
“When I sent the story to my cousins, I guess it brought up a lot of memories for them too, because they all started sending me their own funny memories, and they were all basically just reading the story, crying.”
Recently, Nagele was visiting her sister, Cara, in North Carolina. They talked about their grandmother, and they shared stories of her with Cara’s children.
“My Grandmama didn’t spoil us with things,” Nagele says. “She spoiled us with her love, and when we talk about her, I might get sad that she’s not here, but it’s mostly happy.”