The Time To Say “I Love You” Is Now: Trying On My Grandma’s Shoes

When I was small, my mother would always say “When I grow up, I want to be like your grandmother.” Even before I recognized people as models, I knew that my paternal Grandma was admired by others for her character and for her generosity. Later, as a teenager and a young adult, I independantly decided that my grandmother was someone whom I aspired to be like.

My Grandma was into vintage before vintage was trendy, she was the orginal hipster; she would dumpster dive in her wealthy neighbourhood, looking for treasures that she could breathe new life into by refinishing or recovering. When my father would mention that my grandmother had rescued a chair that we were sitting on from the trash, the image of my Grandma upside down, with only her stockinged legs and good leather shoes poking out of a dumpster would pop into my head. This, among other actions of hers reinforced to me the importance of being a steward of the earth and reducing one’s impact on the planet. When my mother deplores my dirty hippie-isms, I remind her where they started.

My grandmother taught me to be resourceful. As a young woman on a tiny income with four children, my Grandma wanted raspberries but knew that she wouldn’t be able to purchase enough for her large family with three growing boys. So my Grandma planted rows of raspberry canes in her backyard, in addition to her large vegetable garden. I carefully observed my grandmother and learned from her. As an adult, it was this ability to stretch a dollar and find unusual solutions which allowed me to go back to school full time after buying a house in the same year.

Despite never being paid for a day of work my whole life, my grandmother worked tirelessly my whole childhood; she had countless charities that she supported. Alongside the eight graduation photos of my cousins and I, my Grandma keeps photos of her “adopted” children from other countries that she sends goods and money to. When I was little, she drove a couple of nights a week for “Meals on Wheels” after spending the day baking for the local youth shelter. On her trips abroad, my grandmother gathered the little shampoos and soaps and upon returning home, would take them, along with other goods that she had to the women’s shelter. My Grandma is the impetus for my own charitable acts, I continually try to live up to her example.

While I admire and aspire to each of these qualities, what I love most about my grandmother is that she’s brave. Most recently, she demonstrated this trait by moving into a retirement home. At almost 92 years of age, Grandma made the decision that she had cooked enough, cleaned enough and taken out enough trash for a lifetime, so she turned to my uncle and said the name of a retirement home she’d heard about on the radio. Next thing the family knows, badda-bing, badda-boom, Grandma is out of her house, mixing and mingling with other nonagenarians, and ever the young hunk loving woman, even some octageneraians. This willingness to break out of one’s beloved and familiar mold and bolding choose a different life captures my grandmother’s determined spirit.

For a time, I was worried about my Grandma moving to a new place, having a different routine, I wondered how she would feel no longer living in the same house that she spent the majority of her life in. But when I visitedmy grandmother at her new residence in June, I found her socializing with her tablemates as if they were old friends and pushing her walker about, on a mission to find the salon in the building. Even as an elderly person, my grandma continues to be brave, pushing forward with determination. As a mother myself now, I find myself repeating my own mother’s words to my little boy; “When I grow up, I want to be like your great-grandmother.” Those are some big shoes to fill though.

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My Gran, the Stage Hand

One doesn’t so much see the stage hands, because they dress all in black and their job description dictates that they remain out of sight, as notice the stage hands’ work. Stage hands are the reason that productions like “Phantom of the Opera” and “Lion King” exist. They work tirelessly to make sure that props are in their appropriate place, that sets are rearranged, they might even work to help light the production, depending how small the play is.

My Gran is the stagehand in the life of our family. During holidays and special events, she works tirelessly, out of sight. And much like the underappreciated, unseen soldiers of a theatre production, she doesn’t demand accolades. Her food has been both the backdrop and center of every get together since I was born. At dinners, the turkey emerges, golden and beautiful from the oven, the bird and my grandfather, who would carve the meat, would star in the show entitled “Thanksgiving Dinner”. During lazy afternoons spent on my grandparents’ deck or sitting chatting in their living room, the plates of appetizers would sit unassumingly on the table. No one goes hungry at my grandmother’s house. And no one goes home with their belt buckled either.

In the same way that my grandfather taught me how to tell stories and star in the show of life, my grandmother quietly educated me on the value and joy of being in the background. It was from my Gran whom I learned my love of cooking. She taught me that the best cookbooks aren’t the ones from a store, but those published by groups of church ladies whose love of God only just trumps their love for their kitchens. Standing next to my Gran, chopping vegetables to help prepare dinner for our family, I memorized her favourite recipes. I watched the way that Gran always had one eye on the clock, coordinating seven dishes so that each would be hot and ready at the same time.

Gran is an expert in setting the stage; she taught me that a beautifully set table is a form of pageantry. My grandmother would painstakingly explain over and over again, for my fumbling left-handed brain, how to fold a plain square of a napkin into a decorative piece for the table. She sets the crystal into place settings with the same care and discerning eye that an artist uses while adding brush strokes to a masterpiece.

Although she is often unseen in the kitchen, busily working, unlike a stage hand, my grandmother does not dress in black, rather, her appreciation for a beautiful home extends to her own appearance as a hostess. My Gran is always stylishly and impeccably attired.

Like any background worker in a production, my Gran wears many hats, one of which is costuming. My grandmother would often share her sense of style and taste with her family, through her sewing machine. From the time I was small, the dresses and outfits that I loved most were the ones that my Gran sewed. The most important events in my life have been marked by the dresses that my grandmother created: every picture day from kindergarten to grade four; the day that my feminist mother finally agreed that my sister and I could wear bikinis, causing my Gran to disappear into the basement to produce two identical lime green two pieces; my grade eight graduation, in a blue dress my grandmother and I made together; my uncle’s wedding, again in a blue dress created by my Gran, a deep navy that I loved and wore whenever the opportunity presented itself, and most recently a pink number befitting a bombshell. Each time that I pulled one of these many garments over my head, it was a reminder of how deeply I was loved. I would appreciate the care that went into every piece and sometimes recall funny memories from when the articles were made, like when my grandmother yanked the pink fabric of the bombshell dress back and forth to make yet another dart, her mouth full of pins as she muttered “your mother is a cylinder”. In my mother’s defense, I’m sure that my Gran meant a shapely cylinder.

In the same way that one begins to read the credits at the end of a film as you age, to appreciate the work of those whose voice is only heard through the setting of scenes and camera filters, through my late teens and twenties, my appreciation for my grandmother’s subtle storytelling grew and I looked forward to hearing her thoughts and viewpoints on a given subject. Though different from my grandfather’s showy, dramatic tales, slowly in my eyes, my Gran became a star in her own right.

All of the Words That Go Unsaid

My sister is the inspiration for this series of posts which will be a departure from my normal humour. During the brief period that she tweeted, Diana expressed multiple times that our Granddad was her favourite person. Immediately after the first time she tweeted this, her next tweet was “How do you tell a person that?” My answer- you just do.

In these next couple of posts, I want to communicate the love and gratitude I feel towards my grandparents. I’ve chosen this particular set of people in my life because at thirty-one, I know I’m running on borrowed time. I’m one of the few people my age with no less than three living grandparents and I recognize how precious and special that is. So without further ado, let’s start with my sister’s favourite person.

Granddad, this post could have been entitled all of the words that go unheard. I love you, even though my voice falls within the exact range of hearing that you’ve lost. I love you even though since you’ve gone deaf, you can’t hear my stories any more. I love you because you are the one who molded me into a storyteller. You’re the reason this blog and all of my ridiculous anecdotes exist. I learned the craft of humour and exaggeration, of careful weaving of details while sitting at the dinner table listening to you talk about gypsy children in Europe. I learned that stories change over time and become better, hyperboles grow and become their own parts of the tale; the bear that the gypsy children led around became more ferocious. You taught me the power in confessing one’s own follies, your frantic gestures conveying your panic as you reenacted tossing coins at the begging children and their “pet”. From you, I learned that every problem is an adventure, and every adventure a story and the bumps along the way only serve to make the narrative more engaging.

Since you lost your hearing, you can’t hear my stories now, but that doesn’t matter because I’m still listening to you. Just as you taught Diana and I to do, because each time you gently beckoned “Come here, I want to show you something”, although the tone was light, it was understood that we were to come now and listen carefully while we were at it. You are teased, somewhat unmercifully for this habit, but even when those explanations meant that my math homework took 80% longer because my Granddad had to explain how nautical miles were calculated even though it was a basic subtraction question which had nothing to do with the speed of ships and had merely mentioned the terminology, I still loved every minute of it. I adored your descriptions of each ingredient’s function in a loaf of bread as you carefully added the warm water, then the salt, then the butter to your delicious dough. Try as I might, my bread is never as tasty as yours.

All of those lessons are ingrained in Diana and me. Every time I mount my bike, I relive your lectures on bike safety; “Let me show you something” pointing to the various road signs, explaining their meaning. It was you and Gran who decided that eight was too old to be riding with training wheels anymore, so the two of you spirited Diana and I away for a weekend, then spent forty-eight hours gripping the backs of our bike seats, running behind us. Not to mention the countless rides we made as a family; you, Gran, Mom, Diana and I traveling along a path towards a picnic spot. To this day, I still hear your voice shouting at me as I approach a hill “Gear down”! Gear Down!” Is it any wonder that I prefer my silver Trek bicycle that you chose for me to a car any day?

I never learned how to dance well, but that didn’t prevent me from delighting in your and Gran’s skill each time that I watched the two of you dance together in the living room, the garage, at the Coyote Cave, or on television when Mom would painstakingly set the VCR to record “Club Dance”. I felt so special and grown up, attempting the steps you would repeat as we moved across the dance floor. I sometimes joke that “Baby Likes To Rock It Like A Boogie-Woogie Choo Choo Train” is the soundtrack of my childhood because I heard it so often. That lesson of life long activity and dedication to one’s passions has stayed with me.

Granddad, I love you, and you are one of my favourite people in the world for all the reasons I mentioned and hundreds more. And even though my son bearing your name probably tipped you off to that, I still wanted to write these words, because you are important; I am so grateful and blessed that you chose to take such an active role in my life.

Travesty Tuesday – Unleashing Myself Upon the World

I’ve decided that this is becoming less of a writing exercise and more of a performance art piece as I gradually morph into a living internet troll.

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This is me, only instead of telling people online that they look funny, I write postcards about python wrestling and don’t sign them. (Photo Credit : shopatnorway.com)

It was an unintentional outcome. I’ve always written lots of letters to family, and on occasion have forgotten to sign my name, leaving my loved ones guessing as to who sent it. But with my sending out more than a hundred postcards to every Tom, Dick and Harry in my address book, this habit of remaining accidentally anonymous has reached a new level. On Facebook, friends who have received multiple postcards are posting “Whoever is sending me mail from Winnipeg thanks for not being a bill”

In addition, I’ve received texts asking “Did you send this?” The funny aspect of writing A LOT is that occasionally, you forget what you’ve written and so the knee jerk reaction is to say “No, that’s some other weirdo” and you hit “send” only to realize that you were that weirdo, and now not only did you forget to sign your name, but you denied it. Oh what a tangled written web I’ve woven, since I haven’t developed any sort of common sense, I’m going to continue sending out cards, here is the latest batch.

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Dear Andrew*

This is the restaurant where at 11 years old, I decided to eat my weight in soda crackers much to my mother’s chagrin. Ostensibly the large basket of delicious, crunchy goods was there for diners to delicately crumble into their seafood chowder. However, my preteen mind took that basket overflowing with individually packaged snacks as a challenge. It was around the 30th packet when my mother looked over from the next table where she and the other adults in our party were sitting and realized what I was doing. She then commanded me to stop. I hold this event responsible each time I devour a box of crackers in one sitting; I’m merely trying to finish what I started.

I didn’t sign this card. The missing moniker had less to do with forgetfulness and more to do with a lack of space. I figured that the recipient would deduce that there are only a few people in his life that would write up, around and back down the sides of a postcard to finish their thought.

This next one was also sent to my friend Andrew, even though I didn’t address him up top, I did sign it. I think I should get bonus points.

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I bought approximately a dozen of these kinds of postcards when my Dad took my sister and me to France. I had great intentions of painstakingly cutting them out and gluing the miniature buildings together so I could film “Godzilla in France: Run! And Don’t Forget the Baguettes” but then that project quickly petered out after I lost my good scissors. It’s just as well, my Godzilla noise sounded a bit like a hamster gargling -not at all terrifying. Whereas a woman who systematically spams everyone she knows with cards from random locations and neglects to sign them, now that’s scary. Or at the very least, a sign that someone should hide my pens. I’ll sign this one to prove how responsible I am.

-Unwashed

2016-08-05 11.44.12The knights are arguing about who can profess the awesomeness of Tom Bricker with more clarity and bravado. The winner will lay claim to the Tom Bricker fan club. You can’t hear it, but they’re shouting “I feel he is awesome and the best for his photographs.” ~Clash, clang~ “Oh yeah? Well I feel his educated but colloquial writing style combined with his photographs, make him the leader and king of awesome.” Ok it might not have gone exactly like that- there were a lot more “doths” and “thous”.

I haven’t actually sent this postcard. Tom Bricker has yet to give me his home address despite my emailing him to request it. I’m chalking this up to his being a busy alien-robot-superhero.

2016-08-05 11.39.13This manatee king is sad because he lost at checkers. Even manatee royalty isn’t impervious to losing. Manatees are notoriously sore losers. It’s one of the reasons there are no tables under the sea; the Gods saw that the manatee’s behavior made the Real Housewives series look tame after a particularly tense game of Parcheesi. Consequently they roam around, convincing the occasional person to play Crazy Eights.

I sent this to a childhood friend and didn’t sign it for kicks. I signed the other one I sent her. It’s like a trust exercise, but instead of catching me when I people surf blind-folded off a table, she has to try and see whether my penmanship has changed since we were friends at the age of eight. It’s possible that I don’t understand trust exercises.

Watch out world, I’m coming to a mailbox near you, until next time.

Accidental Poisoning

It’s “Instructional Guides on Spousal Murder Week” here at The Great Unwashed. I kid, I would never poison Tex and had he realized what I was doing, my loving husband would have stopped me.

I’ve alluded to the fact that our family lives in the middle of nowhere, a place so remote that in a strong wind, we lose cell phone service. It’s an hour and a half to the nearest city, which in the grand scheme of cities, isn’t actually a grand city at all. We’re here for Tex’s job but sometimes Tex’s job decides that a cell phone signal, neighbours and street lights are just too great of a luxury, so we’re sent to places so small that they couldn’t even be called the middle of nowhere because nowhere is a place. The kinds of areas that you can’t say “they roll up the sidewalks at night” because there aren’t sidewalks to begin with.

The accidental poisoning happened just before Tex, Mini-Tex and I were about to head to one such place for a month. Seeing as there are no sidewalks, there are no 7/11s either, thus any snacks must be preplanned events; a challenge for someone like me, who feels it’s their duty to consume delicious goods in their entirety, as soon as they cross the threshold of my home.

As I stared down the barrel of thirty some odd days without cookies, chocolate bars or candy, otherwise known as three of my four major food groups,

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This is me at every meal. (Photo Credit : drafthouse.com)

I felt the need to indulge in a big way. This was how I found myself buying both a package of Glossettes and a family size candy bar at a local store at ten o’clock at night.

I decided to be healthy, so I purchased a family sized candy bar of dark chocolate. Seventy percent cacao dark chocolate is delicious and on the same shelf there was eighty percent cacao, ninety percent cacao and ninety-nine percent cacao dark chocolate. I reasoned that if seventy percent cacao dark chocolate is somewhat healthy, then ninety-nine percent cacao dark chocolate is probably like eating a salad

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One with avocados because it has the kind of fat that’s so good it fights both cancer AND terrorists. (Photo Credit: http://www.recipeshubs.com)

so if I chose that then I should buy a package of gummies as well to reward myself for being so nutritionally conscientious.

When Tex is feeling particularly tired or unwell, he’s fond of saying that he feels like “a bag of crushed @&&holes”. I’m being kind when I describe ninety-nine percent cacao dark chocolate as tasting like an unexpectedly salty bag of crushed @&&holes. However, in the face of thirty days without any chocolate of any kind, either delicious or disgusting, I ate the whole bar.

Chocolate in large quantities gives me a migraine, as does any quantity of red wine larger than a thimble. Supposedly the latter has something to do with tannins. I’m forced to conclude that the ninety-nine percent cocao bar of chocolate was also one hundred percent tannins because extremely dark chocolate left me wishing I was dead. The next morning I crawled back under the covers at the first glint of sunlight, and begged Tex to either shoot me or bring me an intravenous drip of migraine medication. My head throbbed in a way that left me fantasizing about guillotines. It goes without saying that my husband whom I normally encourage to sleep in on days when he doesn’t work, was responsible for Mini-Tex from six o’clock onwards.

It was only when Tex discovered the detritus from the night before splayed across the coffee table that he figured out that I had unintentionally poisoned myself. After copious amounts of Excedrin, I made a full recovery by the afternoon and having learned nothing from my experience, I was pressing for us to make a pit stop at a gas station on our way out of town to procure more chocolate for the road.

 

 

This post is dedicated to Natalie*; I miss you too, thank you for your words of encouragement about my writing.

*Names have been changed to protect the identities of people so organized that they wouldn’t need to hire a hitman to assassinate me for revealing their name to the interwebs; they’d stealthily carry out the act themselves and then cover it up flawlessly.

Stabbing Your Husband – An Unusual But Useful How-To Guide With 8 Easy Steps

  1. Start By Crying

It’s your husband, you’re planning on stabbing him in the back with a knife, unless you’re some sort of monster without feelings. you ought to be upset.

  1. Pick Up The Knife

It might be comforting to use your favourite kitchen knife. Also, your familiarity with this tool increases the odds that your stabbing will be successful.

  1. Close Your Eyes

What you’re about to do is terrible, it’s best not to look.

  1. Open Your Eyes

When you realize that you’re liable to stab at the air rather than your beloved if you keep your eyes closed.

  1. Prepare To Stab Your Partner

Then pull back at the last second because ultimately, you really really don’t want to sink a knife into their back.

  1. Try To Stab Your Husband Again

This only happens after some encouragement from your spouse and more crying

  1. Successfully Poke The Tip Of The Knife Ever So Gently Into Your Other Half’s Back

So lightly in fact that it doesn’t break the skin.

  1. Press Harder With The Knife Until You Stab Your Husband

This part may be accompanied by a turning of your stomach.

This actually happened – I totally stabbed my husband. Tex boasts many wonderful qualities and charms; the ability to jump off a rolling horse, a dashing head of thick hair with just enough salt in it and an almost encyclopedic knowledge of the properties of metals. However, he has extremely oily skin which often erupts into angry blemishes on his back.

A couple of months ago, one such blemish grew up and had a party with a whole bunch of bacteria, so it became giant and infected. Causing Tex to turn to me and say “You’ll have to lance this. It’s easy; I’ll go sterilize the paring knife” in that calm, confident way of his that convinces me to do things I otherwise wouldn’t, like mercilessly murder lobsters or shoot a gun. Tex then spent twenty minutes hunched underneath the best light in our apartment, trying to convince me that I was brave enough the stab him. I cried and resisted the entire time, it was like the lobsters all over again only thankfully no one died.

Addendum: For once Tex’s near eidetic memory failed him and when he saw what I was typing he said in a panicked tone “Are you mad at me? Can we find another way to solve this?”