In Nanny: A Memoir of Love and Secrets, Nancy Salz reveals the pain of conflicted love for her mother and the longtime nanny who raised her. While searching for her late nanny’s life story, Salz recovers their intense bond that survived derision and death and unearths secrets kept for nearly fifty years.
A few days before Nancy Salz was born, her nanny, Elizabeth Hanna, a small, forty-five-year old former orphan with olive skin, a long nose and a short forehead, arrived on the stoop of the Salz family’s home, a townhouse on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Her only space was a freezing, former bathroom connected by French doors to Salz’s much grander room. Salz’s parents were only twenty-five and twenty-eight at the time. Their lifestyle of beautiful homes, catered parties, stylish clothes, multiple servants, fancy cars—and among the women, gossip, always gossip—defined the culture of the Salz home. Elizabeth Hanna, called Miss Hanna, was not of their world, but this was the world that she walked into.
Miss Hanna’s job was to keep the author fed, dressed, clean and loved. Salz soon learned that her own job was to protect her nanny and herself from the constant, cutting ridicule of her mother, a Grace Kelly lookalike who was unaware that her gun-toting husband had been cheating on her since their engagement. Salz made a vow as a child never to speak of her love for her nanny, “that ugly woman,” as her mother called her. When Salz was sixteen, Miss Hanna was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma; she moved from her tiny bedroom to a Dickensian public nursing home and then a Catholic hospice, where she died.
In 2008, a few years after her mother died, Salz broke her vow and began a search for Miss Hanna and the orphan asylum where she had been raised. Generous strangers, the Internet and just plain luck helped Salz discover Miss Hanna’s roots and secrets – and she finally understood why her nanny’s eyes stayed sad, even when she smiled.
About Nancy Salz
Nancy Salz is the author of many profiles and musical theater reviews for Berkshire County newspapers and online arts magazines. Nanny: A Memoir of Love and Secrets is her first narrative book. She lives in New York and Massachusetts.