I sometimes wonder what memories I’m planting for my grandchildren. Here are memories of my beloved Grandma Cora…
I could see Grandma out in her yard pulling weeds. Her sack-like patterned dress billowed in the breeze just like fresh clean shirts on our clothesline. Her stockings gathered up like loose skin of an elephant around her ankles and her hair was wound into a tight braided bun low on the back of her head.
A smile creased my face and heart as I ran towards her. I snuggled in for a hug and cuddle as I reached up and put my arms around her face. I loved the way her wrinkly soft skin brushed my cheek like crushed velvet.
I placed my hand in hers and we headed into the house. As the door opened I caught a whiff of something that brought tears to my eyes.
“Are you making lye soap Grandma?”
That noxious smell permeated the landing and up the two stairs into her tiny kitchen.
Mom stepped forward and gave me the evil eye so I knew better than to make a comment that might hurt Grandma’s feelings.
I felt like a pop bottle that had been shook. When was mom leaving so I could start my summer holiday with Grandma?
The table was already set for lunch. Cold tomatoes nestled in a little fruit dish placed at the tip of the knives, canned sausages, fried brown and crisp butter-fried potatoes. Relief flooded through me as I saw only two place settings. Soon Grandma Cora and I would be all alone. Then the fun would begin.
Fun for Grandma and I was different than with my other younger grandma. Grandma Cora told me stories about growing up in Quebec, playing on a hockey team with a long skirt and tobogganing on the snowy cold hills.
She didn’t talk much about packing up her steamer trunk, boarding a coal train and heading out west at 19 years of age to teach school in the prairies so she could decide if her love for my grandpa would last the prairie winters. One year later they were married.
We talked about politics, how I was doing in school, and stories of her youth. Then she would play the piano and I would sing. She taught me many songs and while I loved to sing I never had the patience to learn the piano even though my parents invested time and money in lessons.
Grandma Cora would often tell me the same stories and I loved to hear about the naughty little boy who when asked to say grace at a dinner party said “Darn dittie darn, dittie darn ,dittie dittie darn” and then was spanked all the way to his bedroom. The mother was absolutely mortified at her son’s strong language. Needless to say the dinner party was a much talked about event!
When I stayed with her I had to have a nap in the afternoon. Mom had given up on those for me when I was two. Grandma had a special grey bedroom suite with drawers in the headboard and a beautiful great dresser that “would one day be mine” and that was where I was to lay quietly and rest.
I would lay for a really long time, at least in my brain, then tiptoe toe into her room and listen to her breathing to make sure she was sound asleep. Then I would sneak back to “my room” and amuse myself by snooping through the dresser and headboard drawers drawers. I can’t even remember what was in them, it was just fun to do something naughty!
Even in junior high I loved to stay with Grandma. Her house had a Grandma Cora smell and I always felt loved and safe there. Grandma always had a twinkle in her eye and was quick witted. She didn’t suffer fools and her humour often was black.
My family moved and my visits were less frequent through high school and yet when Grandma came to our house I knew we would share laughter, great jokes and lots of fun. I would hear her favourite stories and bask in the traditions I loved.
When I was in university Grandma took a fall and broke her hip. She was transported to a city hospital and because she was malnourished and dehydrated the doctors couldn’t operate until she was “built up”.
She was in the city where I went to University and I went to visit her and was shocked at how tiny and frail she looked. I could also tell she was mixed up and emotional. She didn’t realize where she was or that she was hurt. She kept asking where Doug was – her bachelor son who she was living with when all this happened.
Eventually she had the surgery and was placed in a Calgary Nursing Home. I often stopped to visit on my way home from university. I would reminisce and remind her of the stories she had once lovingly told me. Sometimes I helped her to the toilet and often took her to her meals. I’d light up a a cigarette for a lady who sat in the hall so she could smoke with supervision. Grandmas eyes would glint and she’d say “Aren’t you the brat, I’ll not tell your dad or mom if you don’t!” We had another secret.
While I could see her fading before my eyes I knew she was a ‘grandma” and this was simply the way life evolved. At 92 she was moved to another level of care and spent most of her days in bed. I got married and had our first child and my visits to grandma weren’t as often.
When I did visit I would hold her hand and often sing to her. If she was having a good day I’d wheel her to the piano and request she play Red Wing or Oh Them Golden Slippers and she would play them by ear just as she had done since she was five years old. After one or two songs she would say “Enough Joanie, you’re going to kill this old lady, take me back to bed.” We’d both giggle and head back.
Grandma Cora passed away at 94. Her aging process, as well as my maternal grandparents was simply part of life. I naively thought as my parents and in-laws aged, I was ready.