This picture speaks more than a thousand words. It could represent the book cover of an entire collection of conversations and general memories I’ve had with my Dad’s parents. The long side yard that took up the majority of their property was many things. It was a yard to run and play in. It was an open space where on the nicest days the breeze would clip against the clothing hung from the long lines. My earliest memories of this yard were its’ divided sections separated two dogs that just did not really get along.
The Matriarch of this home was a relatively quiet, peaceful woman. Sometimes that is still difficult to imagine considering how vocal and opinionated my Grandfather and Dad were. My Grandmother did her damnedest to raise a family of five while working her entire life mostly in the home. In her healthiest days, she was a great housekeeper. She was a bit of a perfectionist. She liked having containers of sweets and different kinds of snacks around. It didn’t matter if she made them herself. Some she did bake. Others were from storefront bakeries, or manufactured processed things bought in preservative-heavy packaging. She loved it all even in her declining years of health when she stopped cooking.
It was her cooking and occasional lunches that drew me there often. In my kid days I loved landing there when she was doing up batches of chips. She loved potatoes no matter how they were cooked. Having grown up on farm country in Prince Edward Island, she was used to the finest crops of red-soil spuds being at the table constantly. If we landed there I would always hope she was planning to fry up a batch or ten. This would always be followed-up with whatever we wanted to help ourselves to.
In 1998 I made a spirited decision that it was necessary to leave home and get away from things. Like my Mom (biggest supporter), she fully supported the decision as did a small number of other close to me. That break did come in April of 1999. Leading up to my leaving, I worked an odd job and attended courses in town that took up my mornings. When I was completed work for the day, I drove the short trek to their home and was lucky enough to have lunch there at least three days per week. Roast-beef sandwiches and plates of chips were the standard norm. On early days out I might land there for morning tea. Morning tea was practically platefuls of sweets with a fresh cup of classic tea. I was drinking a rather appalling amount of cola still. It was an old hellishly unhealthy habit that spilled over from high school and younger days. She usually kept some on hand for any of us who came through the busy house.
And a busy house it was. Visitors would come and go. Like many busy houses of this type, the placed earned the appropriate nickname of Grand Central. It came to such a point that even leading up to my Grandfather’s passing everyone still answered the phone “Grand Central”.
In 1999 when I left for Western Canada, I left without having a real concrete plan as to when I would return. As the summer went on, I made a plan to return home for six weeks. The intention was to see if I made the right decision in the first place. I decided to keep it a secret from anyone on Dad’s side of the family. When I came off the train in November of 99, I arranged for my Mom, Stepdad and brother to pick me up. The night would be spent out at their place then I would arrive in town the next day unannounced. My brother graciously drove out to the country the next day to pick me up. I dropped him off somewhere so anyone driving the car would automatically assume it was him. Word had gotten to me that the family was going to be attending the funeral of my former Aunt’s Mom. Everyone was pretty much going to the service except my Grandmother herself. While still able to do some things, her health problems began to catch up with her. It prevented her from walking steady and for long periods of time.
I drove up to the house knowing that she would be the only one home. The house had already been busy with people coming in and out. She was probably happy to have a few minutes of peace. As I came through the door I could hear her from the other room call out, “Now who the hell is that?” I quickly walked into the dining lounge area where her irritation changed to a boisterous laugh. She was not used to being surprised. I helped myself to a cold glass of Pepsi and sat down with her. We waited for everyone to come back from the funeral they had gone off to.
That visit in 99 was life-changing in many ways. I knew that the decision to leave was the right one. I would have been absolutely miserable returning to my home town. With minimal employment prospects and most of my closest friends having moved away. It was not worth it. The decision was helped by new friends out west who called me at my Dad’s while I was away to see if I was doing well. They were anxious for my return. This made me anxious to get back to the new life I was building.
As for Gram, my next visit home would not be for quite some time. On a cold day in winter 2001 I took a mid-day direct flight from Calgary to Halifax to spend a week with everyone. It was a busy enough week. My scheduled worked in as many visits with each of the Grandparents. I long-treasure those discussions at the dining room table over whatever she had out for snacks and the unlimited supply of tea and cold drinks.
It was during the 2001 visit where she would ask me to make a promise. Somehow we ended up on the topic of friends and relatives who had passed away. The conversation turned humourous somehow. For the life of me I cannot remember why. She took my hand and gave it a bit of a tender slap on the wrist. “Listen”, she said rather sternly. I have to paraphrase her comments as best as possible since I cannot remember them exactly.
She asked me to promise her that when it comes her time, I would not return to Nova Scotia for her funeral. She insisted I needed to find a way to pull it together and keep earning money. It was a moving moment for me. She knew I always dreamed bigger than anyone else I was related to. She wanted me to keep living life and not worry about her. I nodded and smiled. “I promise”. No need to paraphrase that. I DO remember making the promise. In that same conversation she told me how she hoped her and Gramps would make it to 60 years of being married. She didn’t care if she died after that. They made it well beyond 60.
Ten years ago this morning, I remember getting the phone call shortly after three a.m. from my Dad. “You know why I’m calling”, he said in his monotonic tone. I knew right away she was gone. She spent much of the last year of her life in considerable pain residing in a care facility adjacent to the hometown hospital. She fought a hard battle with her health. She wanted to hang on for as long as she could.
We did not always agree on things. Especially when it came to subjects like religion. There was much we did agree on. We agreed on how society needs to treat animals better. I wrote about her love of animals in my book and how it influenced me. We also agreed that memorializing people was a waste of time and money. She didn’t argue with anyone on the anniversary of a passing of someone. If someone wanted to post something she wouldn’t argue about it. She would just accept it and move on.
She believed in encouraging those closest to her to be the best they could be. She wanted me to go after the life I wanted to live. I’m still working on that.
I kept my promise to her. I did not return to Nova Scotia for her funeral. On the morning of her passing I rolled out of bed and went to my day job. I did my best to keep it together during the day and managed a full day of work. My Dad and a few others did not immediately understand why I would not come back for the funeral. It took a ton of convincing for me to explain to everyone that my promise to her was part of a conversation that actually did happen. The suggestion that it never happened was downright offensive.
This is not meant to be an in memoriam type of post. Rather than mourn that she is gone, I chose to spend my time celebrating those fond memories. Have a quiet drink at home, maybe make up a plate of “chips” and be grateful to have had four wonderful grandparents.