Lorene Cary’s grandmother moves in, and everything changes: day-to-day life, family relationships, the Nana she knew—even their shared past.
From cherished memories of weekends she spent as a child with her indulgent Nana to the reality of the year she spent “ladysitting” her now frail grandmother, Lorene Cary journeys through stories of their time together and five generations of their African American family. Brilliantly weaving a narrative of her complicated yet transformative relationship with Nana—a fierce, stubborn, and independent woman, who managed a business until she was 100—Cary looks at Nana’s impulse to control people and fate, from the early death of her mother and oppression in the Jim Crow South to living on her own in her New Jersey home.
Cary knew there might be some reckonings to come. Nana was a force: Her obstinacy could come out in unanticipated ways—secretly getting a driver’s license to show up her husband, carrying on a longtime feud with Cary’s father. But Nana could also be devoted: to Nana’s father, to black causes, and—Cary had thought—to her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Facing the inevitable end raises tensions, with Cary drawing on her spirituality and Nana consoling herself with late-night sweets and the loyalty of caregivers. When Nana doubts Cary’s dedication, Cary must go deeper into understanding this complicated woman.
In Ladysitting, Cary captures the ruptures, love, and, perhaps, forgiveness that can occur in a family as she bears witness to her grandmother’s 101 vibrant years of life.
About the Author
Lorene Cary is author of the memoir Black Ice, three novels, and a book for young readers. She teaches at University of Pennsylvania and has written a one-act opera of Ladysitting and a play, My General Tubman. She lives in Philadelphia.
A thoroughly engaging memoir…In telling her Nana's story, Cary invites readers into a complex extended family, replete with the conflict and contradiction that accompany most families. At the same time, Cary recounts a distinctly American story: flight from racial terrorism in the south, economic and academic success against harsh odds, and the often-fraught mixing of races. — Martha Anne Toll
Not just a caregiving memoir; it’s also a dive into Cary’s own history…What resonates loudest in Ladysitting, however, is the love that Cary gives back to her grandmother.
— Dan Marshall
A heartfelt, multifaceted story…This reflective memoir steeped in love and forgiveness explores a devoted granddaughter's
perceptions about her grandmother.
With admiration, triumph, and love, Cary captures the universal experience of close family loss.
A candid and sensitive memoir…Thoughtful reflections on pain, love, and family.
Ladysitting is boldly literate and a brilliant work of art. Its astute references flow from grand opera to the vernacular shrewdness of African-American signifying. Cary’s impeccable prose and astutely parsed narrative mark a paradigm shift in American memoir. Rather than a remake of the singular African-American declaration of literacy ‘I was born,’ Cary teaches us what we have achieved through the extended plurality of ‘we.’ She teaches us through riveting prose, brave self-critique, and stunning observational powers of what poet Robert Hayden called ‘love’s austere and lonely offices.’ Ladysitting is a lyrical odyssey of the multiply-descended and cross-generational heritage of black diaspora in a strange land. Nana is the shrewd, eldercare captain of the voyage.
— Houston Baker, Distinguished University Professor, Vanderbilt University
As Bette Davis is known for saying, “Old age ain’t no place for sissies.” Lorene Cary’s Nana is no sissy. Cary’s chronicle of this centenarian (+1) is written with candor, warmth, and love. The final chapters are critical reading for anyone with an aging loved one at the end of their life. — Betsy Lerner, author of The Bridge Ladies