Nancy Salz is the author of many profiles and musical theater reviews for Berkshire County newspapers and online arts magazines. She is the author of a business book that went to five editions was in print for twenty-nine years. Nanny: A Memoir of Love and Secrets is her first narrative book. She lives in New York and Massachusetts. www.nancysalz.com
probing, heartfelt memoir about the true meaning of family.
a journalist, pays tribute to the governess who raised her and offered a
blueprint of compassion within a withholding, sometimes cruel family. Elizabeth
Cecilia Hanna, or “Miss Hanna,” began working in the Salzs’ Upper East Side
townhouse in 1940, just before the author’s birth, joining the servant and cook
also employed by the upper-middle-class Jewish family. An orphan with no
family—and only one friend—Miss Hanna became young Salz’s only solace and
companion. Though Salz’s older brother struggled with behavioral problems, her
parents preferred his company; even her success in school couldn’t win the affection
of her exacting, mean-spirited father. Salz’s mother, Betty, a former teen
model and indisputable beauty, provided the perfect foil for middle-aged Miss
Hanna’s disregard for appearances. Though Betty didn’t have much maternal
instinct herself—she forced Salz to swim with Miss Hanna at a public beach
instead of at the beach club because of her daughter’s large birthmark—her
resentment of Salz’s devotion to her governess was apparent. “How can you love
that ugly woman?” she routinely asked her daughter. This memoir is, in part it
seems, an act of contrition: In her senior year of high school, Salz neglected
to visit Miss Hanna while she was dying of cancer; she never got to say goodbye.
It’s also an act of witness, uncovering the shadowy details of Miss Hanna’s
origins and the painful family secrets in her own past. As Salz recalls her New
York City childhood with Miss Hanna by her side, midcentury New York comes to
life through her vivid descriptions; a chapter about her early love of Broadway
musicals is particularly poignant. Though the book lacks a strong narrative
arc, its greatest strengths are Salz’s self-awareness and her insight into the
issues of class that often separate domestic caretakers from their charges.
moving remembrance proves the importance of kindness in a child’s life and the
redemptive power of carrying on our loved ones’ legacies.
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