I don’t know how she did it.

My mother’s mother gave birth to 12 children, all before her 35th birthday. Two died in childhood. The remaining 10 – one timid boy and nine headstrong girls – gave her 23 hog-wild grandchildren.

I’m pretty sure she never really knew all our names. Not that it mattered. We answered to anything she called us.

Some of us lived nearer to her than others did. More than a few, including me, lived in the shelter of her home at various times while our mothers tried to get back on their feet.

But Sundays and holidays would find most of the family – my aunts and uncles and dozens of cousins – swarming over my grandmother’s house likes flies on a summer road kill.

Somehow she’d manage to feed us. Her daughters helped, but she did most of the work. Fried chicken, potato salad, green beans, sliced tomatoes, cornbread, banana pudding, whatever she had on hand.

We ate in shifts: Men first, children next. Then the women kicked off their shoes, let down their hair, cranked up the gossip and finished off the leftovers.

Come sundown, the grownups sat on the porch smoking and joking, telling stories and swatting mosquitoes, while my cousins and I ran barefoot in the yard, squishing snails between our toes and trying to kill each other with sticks.

To me, it was heaven on earth.

I wonder how it felt to my grandmother? I never thought to ask her until today, some 40 years too late. The question came to mind as I watched my grandsons run in circles like wind-up toy penguins that were wound a mite too tight.

Randy, age 5, led the way, followed by his brother Wiley, who is 3, and their cousin Henry, who is 4. Eleanor, at 15 months, sat in my lap, watching the action, shouting in toddler language, “Stop it, guys!”

Was it the boys’ fault if they were high on sugar? Of course not. I blamed my husband. He gave them the cookies.

While their parents (my youngest, his wife, and my daughter) tried to keep things from getting completely out of hand, I sat there doing what nanas do best – just watching my grandchildren play.

I wish you could’ve seen them.

My grandmother loved to watch her grandchildren play. She loved us all, but I was her favorite. She often told me so.

My cousins said she told them they were her favorites, too. But she meant it mostly for me.

I don’t tell my grandchildren they’re my favorites, exactly. I just give them the Nana Quiz.

Today, as their weary parents strapped them in their carseats to go home, I asked each child three questions:

“How much do I love you?”

And they promptly shouted the word I’ve taught them since they were born: “All!”

It’s a simple word, but it says a lot – that I love them as much as I possibly can, and that they are all absolutely my favorites.

Next I asked, “Where is your nana when you can’t see her?”

Again, they answered correctly: “In my heart!”

Finally, I said, “And where are you forever and always?”

“In your heart!” they said, pointing to my chest. Or maybe to my stomach. Close enough.

Can you believe how smart they are? Eleanor is too little to say the answers yet, but she will learn them soon. For now, she just smiles and pats my face.

My husband and I waved as they drove out of sight. Then we ate the rest of the cookies, took some Advil, put our feet up and laughed at the memories of a day we won’t soon forget.

His back was sore. My knee was swollen. Our clothes were smeared with chocolate from their cookie-smeared faces.

No matter. It was heaven on earth. We’d do it again any time.

Only, maybe not tomorrow.

Sharon Randall can be reached at P.O. Box 777394, Henderson NV 89077 or on her website:www.sharonrandall.com.