There are two times in my life, while I was growing up, that I ever wore a seat belt. One was on our once a year journey to the big city of Edmonton to see my maternal Grandparents. The other, was any time I got in a vehicle with my paternal Grandma Ross.
My grandma had a little red car that she called her “puddle jumper”, and jump puddles it could – as well as clear the tops of hills, take corners on two wheels and miss colliding with stationary objects by just the narrowest of margins. Of course, all of that would be at a high rate of speed. People always tell me that I drive like a Grandma, and I burst out laughing and say “then you never met my Grandma”. When I helped my Grandma deliver the local meals on wheels, I remember climbing in the car and praying. We’d fly around corners and she’d stand that car up on it’s end when she stopped. I was always amazed that as we took the meals into their recipients that not one single pea was ever out of place. I was never sure how she managed it for she certainly left a few finger waving farmers in her dust on delivery days. Those meals never did get a chance to cool off on Grandma’s watch!
It never mattered to my Grandmother that I was the shyest, quietest one of the bunch of her 15 grandchildren, every time I saw her, she would touch my cheeks with her hands, kiss me and say “hello dear”. She was a little sprite of a thing – my feet were bigger than hers when I was five, and I grew taller than she at the age of 8 which isn’t saying much as my family is not known for our height! She may have been little, but she could pack a punch in her words and I knew I’d best mind myself. One day, I was heading off to school from her house as my class was being used to film a story on the twinning of highway 16. It was the “in” thing to wear little keds running shoes with no socks which is exactly what I was doing. Grandma would not let me out of the house in such a manner. I tried to explain to her how dorky it would look to wear socks but she’d have none of it – she lent me a pair, complete with pom pom’s hanging off the end. I was in horror of the fancy little socks that were a few sizes too small for my big hoofers but there was no way that tiny lady was letting me out of her house without them. All the way to school I debated the wisdom of either yanking off the pom poms or better yet, sticking them in my pockets but I valued my life! I knew if I stopped to take them off, one of her many friends would tattle on me and I’d be in for it. Imagine, my immense teenage despair when I found out the commercial was to videotape our feet getting off the school bus. Fantastic, a close up of my pom pom’ed feet. I did inform Grandma of this horror, but she of course did not see what the issue was! After that, I wore socks to Grandma’s house, even in my sandals!
My grandmother taught me my most practical lessons in life – how to do long division, how to back up a truck into the berry bushes to get the biggest, juiciest ones from the top branches, how to butcher a chicken without missing a single feather (by handing off to Grandpa with the blow torch ready of course), how to strip a gizzard or prepare a fresh heart for the evening meal, that Bible study is an important part of life, how to let a child know that his/her best behavior was expected without ever raising a voice or a hand, how to power shop while evading the man folk (Grandpa hated stores because he would always “lose” Grandma, but really, she just knew how to shop around where he wasn’t looking for her), that a proper lady does not slurp her tea nor grip the cup as though one is holding a baseball bat, and that chicken fat makes the absolute best cookies! (seriously could have done without some of those lessons!)
My grandma has spent the past few years locked in her memories. It was at this time, more than any other in my life, that I truly learned about her. I loved to sit with her and ask her questions, usually one was all it took. I’d ask her what it was like to go to “normal school” in the 30’s, or to teach in a one room school house and Grandma would start to tell me about life then. While it was hard to lose the Grandma I knew to her memories, it helped me to know the woman she was before she became my Grandmother. Some of my most precious memories are not from the days when she was one of my care givers, but from the days when I had to help her eat her lunch, or calm her so she could head for bed, or quiet her anxiousness when she could not find her “Willie”, my grandfather who passed four years ago this month. All I had to do was tell her Grandpa was out at the farm as the cows had gotten out, then I’d say, you know Grandma, if we wait a bit longer, we won’t get sworn at for trying to help. She’d giggle and all would be ok in her world again as we giggled about what swears our names turned into on cattle moving day. I never had her as a substitute teacher, but I saw the teacher in her come out, as she’d take my small children by their hand, and help them count or color or participate in the daily craft or listen to her as she discussed the day’s lesson plan for social studies.
When I entered junior high, my grandma sat me down for “the talk”. It’s not what you think. See my grandmother lived with the motto “she who dies with the most great grandchildren, wins”. Each of us grandchildren got the talk at an early age – she informed us that we had one job, and one job only in life……to bless her with lots of great grandchildren! She loved each and everyone of her great grandchildren, and here she indeed was blessed. My youngest was #29, and he is not the youngest great grandchild! When I brought Kaiel to meet her, she couldn’t always remember who I was, but as soon as I said “Grandma, meet your newest great grandchild”, her arms were held up and I was told to “hand him over”. She held him, and instantly fell in love with him. I told her it was my fifth baby and she told me that I was just like her now, that she had five children too and it was the perfect number! She is one of the few people in my life that understands my joy in my large crew of children! My children enjoyed visiting great grandma, and even if she could not remember them from day to day, they, like myself, always felt her love.
Last week, this world gained another angel in my grandmother, and yesterday her immense family packed a church to say goodbye. Again, I sat amongst the hundreds of photographs that told the history of a lifetime and had to choose just a few that would sum up my Grandma’s life. I find that a very difficult task, to narrow down 98 years into one five minute show. How do I show the world who this very dear woman was to me? One thing is for certain, all the photos showed the very heart of this family! On my last good visit with her, I told my Grandma that I loved her, she replied to me “I know that dear, aren’t I lucky?”. It was I that was the lucky one. God speed my dearest Grandma, your sunshine shall always be missed.