The past few months spent visiting with Grama in the hospital was devastatingly sad. She would have brief moments of happiness, recognition and comprehension, but for the most part by the time I arrived out here, the strokes had done irreparable damage to her sharp and remarkable brain. We spent weeks in the hospital with her in silence. Holding her hand, helping her get comfortable, playing music for her, trying to talk to her to stimulate her memory, feeding her and getting her to drink to build up strength; these were just some of the things we spent day in and day out trying to bring Grama back to who she had been, just weeks before.Some days there would be a glimpse of her sense of humour and her smile, but for the most part this final journey was not with the Grama I knew and loved. She was there in body, but her mind and some days her spirit, just weren't with us in the room. I am grateful that she is now at peace, but I wish I hadn't taken all of those years, visits, letters and phone calls for granted. You just never know when someone's voice will be silenced forever.
I wish when I was younger, I had realized how precious and important Grama's wisdom for life, treasured recipes and vast genealogical knowledge was. Until the very end her passion and knowledge boggled my mind. At 90 years of age she could connect, reach for and explain almost any branch on our huge family tree just off of the tip of her tongue. I can barely keep straight our first cousins, so I was always in awe of her memory and the details she could draw out of her ‘files'.
Two summers ago when we scraped together what we could to make a short, but important trip out to visit Grama and Grant and our other family out here, I had the absolute joy of introducing my newborn daughter Emma to Grama. She cuddled Emma as much as she could in that week. Feeding her, rocking her, not worried at all if Emma started to fuss, she was just so happy with a baby in her arms. She was equally patient and good humored with our 4 year old son, with his blonde hair, blue eyes and disarming grin, he quickly earned the nickname “My Little Charmer” from Grama. This is how all of his cards were addressed from then on.
Our visits have come full circle. Most of Philip's and mine childhood summers were spent out here sharing visits between Grama and Grampa on the farm (Russell and Eleanor) and my Mom's family in the Sault and now we bring our own kids out here to the Island for summer break. As kids, we always stayed on the Island and no matter where we bunked out, we usually had dinner at Grama's house.
Grampa and Grant's filthy hands from their work in the garden were of little concern to Grama as long as they got to the table not long after she rang the dinner bell to call them in. Dinner was always an elaborate production, but not always to the taste of this picky city kid, but there was no room for spoiled kids at this table. There was always bread in the basket if there was nothing else I would eat. When there were more Uncles at the table visiting and the conversation was starting to get out of hand, all Grama would have to say would be “Oh Come On Now” or “Pshaw”, and the boys were back in line. She wouldn't often say much during dinner as she would be fussing over making sure everyone was served and satisfied, or putting on the pot of tea to go with dessert, but she would quietly take in all of the conversation and banter. She would sit in her spot in the armchair at the head of the table listening and often grinning with delight at having so much family together in one room.
Over the years we delighted in Grama's vast dessert repertoire and I'm so glad that during our last visit, we sat down together and got copies of some of the family favourites. One flavour of pie was not enough of a dessert offering and usually on top of that, there were date cookies or fruit cocktail cake, or just maple syrup over vanilla ice cream.
After dinner, the boys would settle in the living room and watch Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy, while whatever female family was stuck with the clean up and the dishes. I used to resent having to stand for what seemed like forever washing the dishes by hand, but Grama wouldn't have it any other way. She wasn't a subordinate in the house, but she had her jobs and so did Grampa, and as was traditional during her childhood and early adulthood; cooking and cleaning was woman's work.
While Philip spent his childhood following Grampa and Grant around in the Gardens, I was much more content to pass my time in the house. Grama and I would spend the afternoon, each of us quietly devouring whatever book we were each in the middle of. As I got older, I tried to get more of that precious family information from her and her tips for being a good person and a good Mom. Often when I spoke to her on the phone from Edmonton and I was feeling overwhelmed or exasperated with two kids, I would comment to her that I couldn't fathom raising 5 boys like she did. She would laugh and say, they were good boys and they were outside most of the time! They kept each other busy while Grama tended to their home.
We shared a love of books, cooking, baking and writing, but we also shared a common tie that was less idyllic. We both lost our Moms while we were still in our teens. I cannot express how much Grama's support and help meant to me after my Mom passed away. She had gone through a much tougher time after her Mom passed away, basically being left to care for the home and raise her two younger sisters, but she still went out of her way to phone more, check up on us and offer any advice that I would accept. She was my saving grace. In my hastened attempt to transform from child to adult overnight, she was always only a phone call away if I got stuck in a recipe that I didn't understand or if I needed help or tips on anything. If I just needed someone to talk to, she would be there for me.
A month before I got married in Grama and Grampa's garden, my Dad arranged for Grama and I to go on a trip of a lifetime together. It started out as a fantasy and Grama could scarcely believe that it was coming true, but at the age of 80, she was finally going to visit the birthplace of her Mom in Switzerland. Family heritage and history being such a huge passion of Grama's, this trip was indeed a dream come true and was she ever a trooper! On our long flight overseas, she couldn't sleep a wink, because she was just so excited! She was like a child waiting for Christmas morning! We went and visited her cousins in Ponte Tresa, Switzerland. From there we had a day trip out to Milan, Italy at my request and her journal states that although the town was dirty and smelly and busy, the Il Duomo cathedral was remarkable and she was glad that I suggested we go. Then we drove with her cousin to Zermatt, home of the Matterhorn and we went up 3 gondolas, nearly to the peak of the Matterhorn. There was one more, but after 3 gondolas, I was queasy and green, but Grama was game for more. She and Rico had a lunch of sausage and potatoes at the top of the Matterhorn, while I just tried to keep breakfast down! She seemed to have no fear of anything. She was so grateful for the experiences and was so determined to remember each moment, that she didn't let anything go by without noting it. We wrapped up our trip with a trip to Thun, the town where her Mother was born. This was a short, but very emotional leg of our journey and I think for Grama it was the pinnacle of the trip.
What I cherish most from our trip is not archived in photographs or journals, but is etched in my memory. We had so much time to talk to each other, to actually get to know each other. I learned so many things about Grama, her family and her childhood, that I don't think I ever would have, had we not gone on this incredible journey together.
While I will forever treasure her family recipes, her historical notes, her book and the many photos of us over the years; her at our wedding, snuggling our babies and that epic photo of the two of us near the peak of the Matterhorn, I will cherish most, the memories in my heart. As Anne of Green Gables, the heroine from the books she encouraged me to read and relish, Grama was a true “Kindred Spirit”. I hope to grow up with a fraction of the strength, dignity, intelligence and grace that she carried herself with and I hope the next time I get flustered or frustrated with daily life, I hope I can draw on her most simple, sage and sincere advice: “Count Your Blessings.”
I love you so much Grama. The Island won't be the same without you, but we'll make sure the bell still rings for dinner in the summer and the kids don't end up head first in the pond!
Love Always from your Granddaughter,