Today I found out that my Grandmother is dying.
This brings on feelings of deep, absolute grief. And also deep, absolute relief. We have had time to think about it over the years – it seems uncanny but almost as if she had nine lives. Every time things seemed to be heading that way, she would make a quick recovery. Much to our relief and delight – but these days, not to hers. She just wants to go home.
My sweet grandmother is 94 years old, and she has lived a rich full life. Born in the roaring 20’s, when the world was full of promise and rip roaring excitement. (Perhaps a little too much!) She lived as a child through the Great Depression of the 1930’s when she could count the peas on her plate and watched her mother lovingly stitch her only dress together wearing it inside one year and outside the next. She was a beautiful young woman in the 1940’s, and after the war ended one of the most exquisite brides you ever could see. The 1950’s brought her a full household of children and a cross continental move. Or two – possibly three. In the next three decades she would move 23 times to many different countries in both North and South America as well as Europe – all part of life as the wife of a successful business man. The 1970’s and 1980’s brought her sweet grandchildren. And sadly, in 1987, the loss of her beloved husband. But the next thirty years after that, she lived. Oh, how he lived.
I loved my Grandpa very much. He was my very first best friend – oh, how I loved him. I was nearly five years old when he went to Glory and just about to gain a new baby sister and start my kindergarten year. The family felt his loss deeply, but one would argue not so deeply as my Grandma and I. I think it was our first bonding experience. And one of many…
The grief of losing her grips me like I can not even express. So constant in my life, she is like a second mother to me. But there is peace and there is joy in the memories. And so, I am going to share the memories. Beautiful memories.
I remember basking in the sun on her plastic reclining lawn chairs – the hot surface sticking to my skin as we watched the waves on Lake Simcoe roll by. A pitcher of iced tea beside us. I remember just laying there beside her as my Mom fed my baby sister and my Dad watched my brother swimming. (And later probably cleaning up his bloody feet – there were so many zebra mussels – ouch!)
Her joy – sweet joy – when my brother was born. He didn’t even have a name for three months (back in the day when that was okay) and everyone addressed our Christmas cards with our names and “no name baby.” How he loved to hold him. Even when as he grew he really became quite the mess! She did not approve of our nickname for him “the grubby toucher” – but we called him that anyway.
Every Easter, she would come and buy us all new clothes for church. Imagine the excitement of a little girl as she opened her closet to look at the likely ridiculous frock with lots of lace and flowers – and a matching hat – and waiting with baited breath for Easter Sunday to finally arrive. And when it did, a Laura Secord chocolate egg would be waiting with my name on it. She did everything with class.
Speaking of class, everyone always knew when she was out and about because she had a cranberry red Cadillac with white leather interior – it was hard to miss. Everywhere she went she would wear a hat. Kids at church would call her “the hat lady” because she always had a hat to wear. I remember sitting on the floor of her walk in closet marvelling at the many hats she had – hat boxes everywhere. Oh, how we loved to try them on. (Many years later, my own sweet son would fill an afternoon trying on some old hats in her basement laughing as he put hat on top of hat on top of hat.) I now have several of her hats in my own closet. Perhaps I should put one on.
My favourite childhood memories are from the time we spent at her cottage. I can still picture the plaid covered couch, the orange fuzzy carpet, the blue toilet – clearly your 1970s special. But so many memories. Campfires, swimming, reading books, chasing the chipmunks. Grandma loved watching us swim and told me that I swam like a mermaid. After that I would pretend I really was a mermaid, with long beautiful red hair, like Ariel. Every girl’s dream in the early 1990s.
Grandma was an amazing cook. She put on the loveliest dinners. When I sat at her fancy dining room table, I felt like a member of the royal family. Not only did she make the best lasagna I have ever had in my life, her pumpkin pie recipe is the only recipe that feels like home to me. There was, of course, the incident of the peanut butter and relish sandwhiches. Maybe she just needed to get groceries and was feeling desperate, or maybe she actually liked the taste. I wasn’t entirely bad…but it was absolutely memorable.
Not only did she know how to cook – she knew how to decorate. She really did miss her calling as an interior decorator. One day when we went to visit her, we gasped at the sight of a deep and beautiful red wall in her dining room offset with a vintage lookng wallpaper in white and red. What was she thinking!? Clearly she knew what she was doing, because three months later it was all the rage in the interior decor magazines. I often sought her advice in my home decor plans. When I walked down the stairs today my heart was caught in my throat as I saw the walls – she helped me pick the paint. Right now I never want to paint over those walls.
Not only did she have a knack for decorating, she had pretty classy fashion sense. One year for my birthday (I think I was 13) she gave me a pair of jeans. Not your typical blue jeans, but a pair of creamy taupe jeans with dusty rose roses emblazoned all over them. “Thank you, Grandma, I love them!” I said as I unwrapped them. Then later, out of earshot, “These are so ugly and I will never ever wear them!! YUCK! What was she thinking??” Then a few months passed and I noticed something on a celebrity. I wore them until they needed to be thrown in the trash.
When I was in middle school, we had Grandparents day at school (in Ontario private schools elementary was K -8). I was not a very popular girl, though I longed to be. Chubby and with a different last name I was absolutely the odd one out. I was not cool. AT ALL. Until Grandparents day. When my Grandma pulled up in her fancy red Caddy. She stepped out dressed to the nines, as always. And then the whispering began. Instead of the snickering I was used to, I could hear amazment, awe and wonder. Just whose grandmother was that, anyway? Were those giant diamond earrings real? Look at that car! It was my only moment in glory as I proudly stood up and said, “Mine. That is MY Grandma.” Laterthat day, she had her own moment in glory as she danced the Macerena in front of the entire school. And of course, she did it with finesse.
After that visit, I didn’t see Grandma as much. I moved off to school and was living the dream. Before long I was graduated and in University. When I could, I would go back to visit. It was always lovely to see her. She was still part of my life. She was ever present in my life and in my heart, filling the broken places with love and a handmade quilt. That quilt is now on my bed – a beautiful reminder of her love.
I love you so, Grandma. And some day we will be together again, raising our voices in praise together. Until then…until then.