All of the Good Bits

Some of the last words that my grandmother uttered before she wasn’t able to talk anymore were “I’m not going”. The statement was in response to her family’s attempts to put her in the hospital where she would receive an increased standard of medical care. I love this so much. This anecdote is pure Grandma- a woman who knows her mind, has made up her decision and by God you are going to respect it. That’s the woman I lived with my entire life, the one who inspired me to show that same determination. And the one who strong armed me into celebrating my marriage with Tex.

Our wedding took place on Tex’s family’s farm two provinces away from my family. There were fifteen people there, including Tex and myself. A month later, a party was planned for Tex’s entire family. I’ve been married before. Tex hasn’t. So I wanted his family to be able to celebrate our nuptials, whereas my family had already done that. Admittedly with another man, but a party is a party right? My Grandmother, who wasn’t able to attend the ceremony because it was on top of a steep hill in the middle of nowhere, was having none of this. She hijacked her own 91st birthday party and ordered a three tiered wedding cake. I was not included in any of this. I was merely told after Grandma had picked out the cake and everyone had RVSPed. Classic Grandma.

The same trip to trip Hawaii when Grandma became a boozehound, she also was a mountain climber. Just for a point of reference, my grandmother was 81 at the time and Haleakalā is 3,055 m high or 10,023 ft. for my American readers. “Dad!” my sister, mother and I cried when he brought Grandma back from their hike up the mountain together, “I can’t believe you made Grandma do that!” Looking back, I realize, there was no making Grandma do anything. Ever. Somehow, she funneled all of her octogenarian determination and hiked for hours and hours to summit Haleakalā and take the triumphant, laughing photo of herself and my Dad that’s in our family’s scrapbook. I hope I’ve got half her fitness when I’m that age.

My grandmother has always been a wildcard. Once, she drove across country with four children and her husband, a chemical engineer. My late grandfather drove most of the way and he did so in the same manner that my own chemical engineering husband completes tasks- thoughtfully, at his own pace, so that it will be right the first time. At some point in the trip, my grandfather got tired which was fortunate because my grandmother was tired too- of watching the scenery plod past her. My Grandpa laid down in the backseat and Grandma took the wheel. When my grandfather awoke a couple hours later, he was astounded at how far Grandma had driven. With four children, there are four more sets of eyes to watch for cops and four more people to silently cheer as you set land speed records with an Oldsmobile.

Despite the fact that my grandfather made an excellent wage as an engineer, he gave Grandma very little to run their household, which meant that she frequently got creative. This was how my grandmother ended up being the only woman in a refinishing and reupholstering class. She would dumpster dive to get her materials and then spend her nights sanding the wood down and pulling the fabric taut to cover surfaces. My grandma was full of ingenuity and chutzpah. Many of the pieces she refinished and recovered live in our house. When the movers transferred her furniture from my Grandma’s house to mine, they commented about the nice quality of it, some forty years later.

My sister commented today that something she misses most now is the fact that when my sister asks Grandma how she is, she doesn’t hear the words “Oh, I’m fine” in response. In my whole entire life, I have never once heard my grandmother complain. I’m fairly certain that even after she bumped her head and needed stitches, when she awoke to the firefighters peering over her, she undoubtedly answered “I’m fine” when they inquired how she was feeling. I have this suspicion no matter her state, even if Grandma was dizzy, in a huge amount of pain, with blood from the cut dripping into her eye and she would always answer “I’m fine” with that same cheer and intonation. It wasn’t until I heard Diana say this that I remembered how much I loved this aspect of my grandmother. I’m sure in the coming days, weeks and months I’ll add to the list of everything I will miss about this wonderful woman.


Fileting Open My Brain To Extract Everything That I Can

Sorry, that was a little graphic. But I felt it necessary to warn you of what was coming.

My grandmother is dying. At thirty-two, I’ve never lost a truly dear loved one; someone who loved me and raised me and cheered for me the whole way along, as loud as they could. I’ve never experienced that. And now it’s happening. There’s a part of me that wants to write something for my grandmother to say good bye, to say thank you, to tell her how much she means to me. But according to my husband, people don’t really do that, not through a letter that one of their uncles would have to read because I live a province away. It’s more of a bedside confessional sort of thing.

In thinking about this, I also realized that now is not the time for that sort of material. At the end of life, people tend to be in discomfort, or only partially conscious or unconscious even. The time to tell them you love them happened every single week, month, year and decade before that.

I did that. Not as often as I should have, but I did that. I wrote thank you cards for every birthday and Christmas gift. And once, in September 2016, I wrote a post about and dedicated to my grandmother. I was able to read it to her in person. She listened quietly, then afterwards, she cleared her throat and said “Thank you, Honey.” My grandmother rarely used terms of endearment. She was a woman of actions not words. In that moment, I felt her warmth and approval. I wish that I had written more posts like that, because those couple hundred words didn’t come close of capturing what a force my Grandma was in my life.

If I can’t give what I would deem a “proper” good bye, in lieu of that I’m going to write down every solitary memory or scrap of a story that I have, so I can hold my grandmother close to me again.

Whenever either I or my Dad would visit Grandma, she would always send a rose, from her garden, home for my mom. She did this for all of the aunts. It was like she couldn’t allow us to leave without a show of her love for the family members who hadn’t visited her that day.

After my parents divorced, understandably my mom didn’t feel welcome at my grandmother’s house, so it became protocol that my sister and I would be picked up at a house down the street. I’m fairly sure that Grandma didn’t know about this arrangement otherwise she would have put the kibosh on it earlier. Two years later after my parents separated, my soon to be husband and I were visiting Grandma. When Grandma found out that my mother was coming to pick us up, she insisted that my Mom come in for a visit.

I dutifully texted my Mom Grandma’s instructions, then met my mother in the driveway while Grandma continued to drink tea with Tex in the backyard. “You have to come in” I told my mother. “I can’t” my Mom replied. My parent’s divorce was an acrimonious one and at that time was still going on. “Well you’re going to have to take that up with Grandma, because she sent me to come get you so I can’t return alone” I stated. This was a fact- if Grandma asked you to do something- you did it. There was no questioning my grandmother.

So my mother followed me into Grandma’s house, probably cowering a little in her orthotic sandals because Grandma had a cutting and blunt way with words when she wanted to. My grandmother greeted my mother with kindness and forgiveness. My Mom walked away, once again with a rose from Grandma’s garden. And once again I was struck by the power of my grandmother’s character.

It’s unclear when the obsession with the firemen started, whether it was before or after her fall, I can’t remember, for the sake of a good story, we’ll say after. On one of the trips my Grandma took with my Grandpa, she fell and hit her head. When she came to, she was staring up at a couple of gorgeous firemen. My mother remarked that after every other one of my grandmother’s trips with Grandpa all she talked about was the food, but that trip, every story included the “handsome firemen”. And so became the running gag that my grandmother loved firemen. Each year, for Christmas, my aunts would buy her a firemen calendar. Grandma fell once more, I believe, during a trip, and once again was rewarded with attention from firemen.

More than a decade after this, my grandma was sitting in the car with our family, preparing to take our annual drive to see the Christmas lights in her neighbourhood. I commented that the two simple red and green floodlights that she used to decorate her house were quite old. “Oh yes” my grandma responded- “the wiring was showing on one of them so I taped it up.”

“Ruth!” My mother exclaimed. “You can’t do that- it’s a fire hazard!”

Quick as a whip, Grandma turned around to face my mother who was sitting in the backseat with me and quipped “Did you ever consider that I might want the firemen to come back?”

We all laughed. But the thing with my grandmother was – we had no idea if she was serious or not. Even to this day.

My grandmother was always game for anything. When I was twenty-one, my Dad took everyone to Hawaii: myself, my sister Diana, my mother and my Grandma. One of the nights, we went out to a luau that was all you can drink. My sister, mother and I took that descriptor extremely seriously and ordered every single cocktail on the menu and seconds of the ones we liked. My Grandma didn’t drink ever but unlike my late grandfather, she wasn’t a teetotaler. We’re not sure what happened, whether it was some of the energy of the night or maybe it was the tastiness of the drinks, but something got to Grandma and she started sipping away.

For the record, Grandma wasn’t drunk, she left that level of debauchery to my sister, mother and me, much to my father’s dismay. But oh boy did the pictures we took ever make it seem that way. There’s a section of the scrapbook I made from the Hawaii trip entitled “The Night Grandma Became a Booze Hound”. Grandma good naturedly posed next to Diana and myself, all three of us sipping hurricanes and margaritas and the like. Then my grandmother posed next to my mom and finally, we took of a picture of Diana and me each holding a drink up to her mouth while she drank from both of them. It was like the photographic, elderly version of a keg stand.

She laughed a lot that night. I wish I had a video of her laugh. I have these stories instead. Do me a favor and go tell a loved one a little bit about how much they truly mean to you. Bonus points if you haven’t spoken with them in a while.




**I did not change the name of my grandmother because she’s kind of like my Aunty Betty- she’s so wonderful that the whole world should know who she is.

Just An FYI-My Grandma Was Fierce Even Before Beyonce Made That A Thing

My grandmother is ninety-three and a half. She’s come full circle in life to the point where just as in childhood, halves matter, because halves represent a whole six months of life that you have remained on this earth. As a result of distance, I see my grandmother an average of every six months. With each passing visit, I witness the way that time becomes more precious at each end of life. In the same way that a newborn is no longer a newborn three months or even a month later, my grandmother changes with each of my trips home.

My Grandma has lived a long and wonderful life, and while a part of my heart breaks with each small loss of mobility or mental acuity, I know that no matter how little she can move or remember, my grandmother absolutely still loves me. And that’s enough. It’s enough for her to roll a ball to my son, even if she can’t recall his name; his giggles still bring her joy. We don’t need to go on walks to neighbours’ houses or drive to her favourite charities to drop off goods; talking about her endless good deeds and our past adventures suffice for now. I know that other members of my family struggle with the changes that age has brought, but I am at peace with it. Or at least I was until my father made a statement which sliced through my calm acceptance.

Throughout my life, my own mother, when speaking of her mother-in-law, my grandma, would often comment that she wanted to grow up to be Grandma, which is to say – loving, tolerant, fierce and determined. My parents divorced late in life, so my stepmother is a relatively new addition to our family. I had assumed that my stepmother would share the same admiration for my grandma as my mom. That was until I heard my father carefully explain who my grandmother was to his new partner over Christmas and I realized that my stepmother had no clue of what my grandmother was actually like.

I can’t reverse the effects of time, but I can preserve the woman I love with my words and stories. And I can share these memories, with my stepmother and my son and my newborn little nephew so that they might be as inspired by my Grandma as I am.

Above all, my grandmother is loving; if there was ever a person who deserved such a large family as ours –it’s her. Care is a part of her very being. When I was younger, my grandmother always had causes, endless causes; the women’s shelter, Meals on Wheels, her church, the youth shelter, the neighbours’ kids. My grandmother loved and wanted to help everyone in the world, and so she did, whether it was through volunteering her time or some food or money, my grandmother was there.

The world loved her back too. I remember when she was moving out of her house, listening to her neighbours talk about dropping their children off with her when they were in a pinch. Or the fact that her cleaning lady continued to clean my Grandma’s house for a decade after retiring because they had become such close friends. And all of the thank you cards from charities that lined her mantel.

More than tolerant, my grandmother was accepting. For most of my childhood, it felt like my grandmother was continually executing the wills of family members. She would stand back and watch all the family squabbles that follow a death and the division of property, then would step in and attempt to work her magic to divide things as fairly as she knew how. Good, bad or drama queen behavior, my grandmother accepted everyone.

The quality that helped my grandmother to end family disagreements was her fierceness, her habit of laying down the law in a way that made it clear that arguing with her wasn’t an option. I personally have never been on the receiving end of one of my Grandma’s quips or diatribes, but I’ve heard enough of them to have the fear instilled in me. To this day, even though many of my Grandmother’s qualities have faded and diminished with age, I do not cross Grandma, because I know with absolute certainty that there’s a stern gaze or cutting words hiding behind that nonagenarian façade.

As much as my grandmother loved people, she called it like it is. When my sister poo-pooed a suitor’s attempts at wooing her, despite it being my sister’s birthday, my grandmother looked straight at her and declared “You’re difficult”. My cousin once had the misfortune of being on the receiving end of a lecture, after he announced during a family Sunday dinner that he had gotten a job. My grandmother called him lazy and predicted that he would arrive late as always and wouldn’t keep the job. Even hearing the words secondhand from my father, in spite of the fact that they weren’t about me, I wanted to sink into the floor in shame.

I can only recall two times, that I upset my grandmother. The first was when I moved in with my boyfriend. The stony silence on the phone after I told her that my boyfriend and I shared both a bedroom and a bed still rings in my ears to this day The judgment was so profound that years later when my sister moved in with her boyfriend she jokingly thanked me for breaking that family ground with Grandma so my choice was the first and therefore the biggest disappointment.

The second time, well, to be honest, I should have known better. One of my cousins once starred in a fashion show.  I was enormously proud of my young cousin for chasing after her modeling dreams and figured that my grandmother was too. And no doubt Grandma was, however that didn’t mean that she wanted to look pictures of my little cousin Sophie jumping in a bathing suit or posing with half naked men every day. A month after I gifted my grandmother framed photos of my cousin’s modeling career, my Grandma handed the present to another cousin saying “Get rid of this”. From then on, I stuck with my tried and true Christmas and birthday gifts for her of donations to her favourite charities.

I want to hold onto the memory of my grandmother’s determination. Memories of her always contain a sense of motion, because she was always propelling one project or another forward in some way, whether it was a family dinner or harvesting flowers and vegetables from her garden, my grandmother had an agenda. I try to inject that momentum and drive into my own life. But I never feel as successful as her.

This is the woman I know, the grandmother who took care of me when I was sick, who would cut flowers to bring home to my mother, the one who I look up to. Age has filed down some of her sharper points but what I’m always struck by is the kind warmth that remains. If I live to be ninety-three and a half, I hope I am as happy to see everyone and content as my grandmother is. It’s heartening that even in the decline that comes with extreme old age, my Grandma remains someone I aspire to. But as charming and warm as she is today, I still want to remember and share her sharp-as-a-tack self.

This Troll Is My Grandfather

20171007_120126Because he’s crotchety and barks at people for no good reason. Not really, my grandfather isn’t like that at all, for starters, he only yells with good reason. The following is an abridged and incomplete list of reasons that my Grandfather has yelled being:

  1. Making noise in the backseat
  2. Not learning how to ride a two wheeler fast enough
  3. Pinching your sister
  4. Pulling your sister’s hair
  5. Calling your sister “weasel elbows”
  6. Doing anything besides sitting silently next to your sister without touching each other at all
  7. Trying to swim in a flooded basement
  8. Yapping at the neighbour’s car (that one was the dog)
  9. Not eating the fat on a piece of meat (that was me, the dog will ALWAYS eat the fat)
  10. Showing inadequate amounts of enthusiasm for Granddad’s current interest that he is explaining to you at length
  11. Being in the wrong gear while cycling uphill
  12. Speaking above a whisper volume when Granddad has a migraine

As you can see from the list, my grandfather is both an extremely reasonable and even tempered fellow, not at all troll-like.

But yet, I’ve kept this troll doll for ages. Clearly because of its wicked hairdo; I wake up every morning with my fingers crossed that my own tresses will have formed such an awesome “just rolled out of the cave and off to bludgeon a mammoth” style of their own volition.

All joking aside, I’m not a sentimental person. Tex actually stopped me from sending my framed degree from my Bachelor of Science to the second hand shop. Yet, I’ve carted this troll doll with me across the country and through multiple moves- why? Because I love my Granddad.

My love for my grandfather runs so deep that this tchotchke and I have been together for almost thirty years. At first I kept it because it was a fun toy, then I kept it because it was terrifying and I had grand plans of playing “hide the awful troll” in the same way that my sister played “hide the beady eyed ostrich”, scaring the bejesus out of me when the ostrich surprised me in unlikely places. But most recently I’ve kept it because it represents my relationship with my grandfather.

While unpacking after our recent move, I realized that I kept the troll out of the fear of not being reminded of the stories that accompany it. This is the point in life where being a writer is almost akin to being a super hero, as I realized that I could record the memories, and find a new home for the troll doll.

My grandparents took our family to Walt Disney World. It was supposed to be just me and Diana but then my mother threw a hissy fit, stating that my Gran and Granddad had never taken her to Disney World. This was how my father, mother and uncle went to Walt Disney World. I’d say “with us” but that isn’t true, looking back at the photo album my mother has and the notes she made about the trip, my sister and I spent about 95% of our time with our grandparents while my parents and uncle shucked their parental and uncle-y duties all devil-may-care, in favor of exploring the theme parks.

The first time I visited the Magic Kingdom was with my grandfather. My sister was ill and stayed back at the hotel with my Gran while my parents went on roller coasters and drank endless shots of tequila. (That last part may be a fabrication, but they did really and truly delight in not having a five and seven year old in tow.) The wonder and joy I felt at walking into the Magic Kingdom is tied with the sense of happiness and security I felt at having my grandfather all to myself in that wonderful place. My Granddad enjoys recounting the story of me running at a wandering character and hugging them with all of my might on that day.

That trip was the first time I realized that my grandfather was a flirt. Actually, flirt is the wrong word, my grandfather is charming, utterly charming and engaging with everyone. He just makes a point of being more so with the female persuasion. Disney Cast Members all wear badges with their names. Upon returning to the hotel, I remarked to my mother that Granddad knew all of the cashiers’ names.

As much as my parents delighted in their independence, my grandparents delighted in my and my sister’s joy. They rode the tea cups with us countless times. Diana’s and my explanation to my parents upon entering the ride with them (while they were sobering up before their next tequila binge) was “You spin the wheel whichever way Diana wants, as fast as you can, until Granddad yells “I’m gonna barf!””

My grandfather loves history, especially family history. Growing up, my sister and I donned crowns with electric candles on them and would wander around family parties at Christmas delivering hors d’oeuvres. Seeing us dressed as St. Lucia and honoring our Swedish and Scandinavian heritage made my grandfather so happy that we continued to dress up even as teens if asked.

Thus the Norwegian pavilion at EPCOT, which in the early 90’s still offered unique Scandinavian products rather than all things Frozen related, was a kind of heaven for my grandfather. For starters, it was staffed with gorgeous Norwegian women who were obligated to smile at my grandfather’s stories which he imparted in detail to his blonde, cheerful listeners. The variety of Viking related goods gave Granddad many talking points to remind Diana and me of our heritage. To this day my grandfather never misses an opportunity to share the tale of our brave ancestor Stoingvald who fought to defend his country even after his enemies cut off his legs at the knees. Our visit to the Norwegian pavilion of course prompted said story, so Granddad acted out the battle with Stoingvald on the roof of his home for all the tourists and smiley Swedes.

Granddad bought me this troll that night. I kept it because I wanted to hold onto the love that I hold for my Granddad and that my grandparents hold for me. I kept the doll because it recalled a time when vacations were as endless as the hugs and attention from my grandparents. I kept it to remind myself of my grandfather’s foibles and the way they make me smile. I kept it so I would remember all those stories each time my eyes lit on the troll while in the rec room.

But love, memories and stories aren’t housed in objects, they make their homes in our hearts. It’s through retelling that the memories live on. I don’t need the troll to remind myself to retell the stories of its youth, I can keep a picture of it and pen the words it holds for me instead.


This post is of course dedicated to my Granddad from whom all my stories originate because he is the original storyteller of our family.

That Time My Gran Terrified An Olympian

My Gran can be pretty scary when she wants to be. Of course she’ll hide behind that fascade of pie making, dress-fitting, grandmotherly goodness but underneath, my Gran is as tough as nails. And when she wants to, she’ll remind you of this fact.

Once at Thanksgiving, she commented that I was looking slim. I brushed the compliment off saying “Oh it’s just because I haven’t put on my winter fat yet”. My Gran looked at me sternly and said with a thin lipped voice “You’re not going to do that again this year”. That winter, and only that winter, I didn’t put on weight; each time I met a donut I liked, I thought of my Gran’s expression and left it on the plate.

I wasn’t the first person she scared, nor I imagine, will I be the last but once upon a time, when the strap was still an approved method for teaching, my grandmother terrified the bejesus out of an Olympian.

It was a Canadian winter in the 1960s, which is to say that the drifts were up to your nipples and it was still snowing. This was a particularly bad night for weather, but in spite of that, the twin boys’ parents had gone out, leaving them at home with a babysitter- my mother.

My mother can be as flustered as my Gran is fearsome. And on this howling blizzard of a night, these two boys were taking advantage of that, running wild around the house, whooping, hollering, causing all sorts of mischief. Finally, my mother couldn’t take it anymore, she called my Gran, “Mom please come help, they won’t listen.”

As frightening as my Gran can be, she is always there for her family, so on went her sweater, her coat, her hat, her mitts, her boots, all this just to cross the street. Once she arrived, my Gran was at a loss, along with being an accomplished seamstress and cook, my grandmother keeps her home spotless. Not wanting to drag snow into her neighbour’s house and create puddles, my Gran opened the front door which my mother had left unlocked and jumped out of her boots into the house.

Seeing this tall, angry woman who had just walked across the street barefoot when it was thirty degrees below zero Celsius, the  boys stopped in their tracks. “Both of you, go to bed” my Gran said sharply. Supposedly they never misbehaved again out of fear that the woman who doesn’t need shoes in the snow would return.

My grandmother never laid claim to inspiring the one twin to shape up his act and begin rowing his way to the Olympics but she’s a humble woman. I’m just glad she never told me to do such a thing, otherwise I might have found myself backspringing my way across sweaty gym mats rather than in front of a computer telling my stories.

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.

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.

Grandma Getting Arrested Was Not My Fault

It wasn’t so much that she was arrested as dropped off in the middle of the night by police. Despite what everyone will tell you, it wasn’t my doing. Really if anyone should get the blame it’s my maternal grandfather, he was the one shouting at the bouncers. But I’m getting ahead of myself here.

About a decade back, my Dad took my whole family on vacation; me, my sister, my Mom, my Dad, my Gran, my Granddad, my Dad’s mom and even my boyfriend at the time, we all went to a resort.

The vacation was exactly like this. Only substitute all the kissing and racy bits with shuffleboard. (Photo Credit :

The vacation was just like this. Only substitute all the kissing and racy bits with shuffleboard. (Photo Credit :

If you’ve ever seen “Dirty Dancing” this resort was exactly like that, only without all the interesting sexy bits and desperately attractive men lurking in every corner. Also I never once saw Patrick Swayze. Not exactly a place where a teenager would go to have fun for a good time. However Diana and I were with our family so we were happy. Though I must confess the evenings were quite slow. One night at dinner my family decided that we would all go dancing.

This was around the time that my Mom’s parents used to go out and win West Coast couples dancing competitions. My parents would also attend said competitions but didn’t podium. My boyfriend and I, inspired by watching these two couples had begun to take ballroom dance lessons as well.

Unfortunately Diana was only eighteen at the time so my parents were unsure whether she would get into the bar at the hotel. Exasperated my Gran blurted out “You MUST have a fake ID.” And not surprisingly, Diana did. It was passed around and scrutinized by every member of my family but my grandfather who was in the washroom at the time. After everyone inspected the Northwest Territories driver’s license, it was deemed an acceptable fake.

After dinner everyone returned to their respective hotel rooms, except for my sister and I who always want to spend more time with our maternal grandparents. We sat on their bed chatting merrily while my Gran and Granddad got dressed in their matching cowboy dancing outfits and my Granddad donned one of his impressive western hats. The mood in the room was jovial and excited.

Walking over to the bar with the prospect of spending an evening with his family and getting to dance with his two granddaughters, my Granddad was his extroverted self. Seeing the bouncers’ hackles go up at the sight of Diana and me, he waved cheerfully. “It’s ok boys! They’re my granddaughters.” Grabbing Diana’s shoulders he proudly added “This one’s eighteen!”

“Granddad!” Diana and I shouted indignantly in unison. “What?” My grandfather asked stopping in his tracks. In Manitoba, where my Granddad grew up, the legal drinking age is eighteen. In Ontario it’s one year older.

Kicking at the ground Diana turned on her heel and left in a huff. Walking into the bar Granddad’s shoulder were hunched “I didn’t know, I didn’t know.” He repeated sheepishly. However soon the music started and the mood lightened as the couples began to dance.

A group of three men a little older than me stood awkwardly around the bar. Thinking of my sister who was probably sitting in the hotel room bored to tears while my eighty-four year old grandma knitted an afghan, I had an idea.

“Hey do you want to keep a hot girl company?” I asked. The boys shrugged but then listened eagerly when I told them my room number. They left the bar soon after.

In the mean time, after realizing that she wasn’t going to spend the evening cha-cha-ing with her family, my sister had found another under age youth sitting on one of the resort’s rolling hills. Together they sat in the darkness and shared bottles of booze that the young man had pinched from who knows where.

The three men from the bar, having given up any hope of finding fun in a place filled with middle aged people dancing the East Coast swing, headed over to my family’s hotel room. They knocked on the door.

By this time my grandmother had changed into her nightgown and was getting ready for bed when she heard a rapping at the door. The sight of the three lumbering young men inquiring if there was a hot girl inside ( I hadn’t bothered to give them Diana’s name), spurred my elderly grandmother into action. “No. Only me.” she replied curtly, “Now please go home.” Then, strapping on her fuzzy slippers, my grandma walked off into the night in search of Diana.

This entire time, the hotel police were parked a distance from the hill that my sister and her new friend had been illegally drinking on. The officers were well aware of the illicit goings on, however the amount of flack they’d receive from the patrons of the hotel for busting the privileged teenagers for the offense was greater than the good that would come from stopping it. At any rate, my sister and the young man were not causing any harm.

Around the time that Diana and her companion packed up their bottles and headed back to their respective rooms the hotel police received word that there was an elderly woman wandering around the property in her nightgown. Off they sped in their cruiser to avert disaster.

Diana arrived back at the room just as my parents and I did. Everyone was confused as to where my grandmother had gone at twelve o’clock at night. Then for the second time that night there was a knock at the hotel room door. My father opened it to a squad car with its lights flashing and an official looking man in uniform standing next to his mother. “These nice men gave me a ride back” said Grandma as she stepped past my father into the hotel room.

Although I technically did send a group of strange young men to my family’s hotel room searching for my sister, I still contest that Grandma wandering around in the middle of the night and being dropped off by security is NOT my fault. Clearly its Granddad’s lack of awareness around Ontario’s drinking laws and his overactive bladder.



My Week In A Rolling Prison

Canada is a vast and beautiful country, emphasis on the vast. Sometimes the elderly drive across it in enormous camper vans. Last summer, along with my grandparents, I decided to take part in one of these pilgrimages. The following is my record of the adventure.

Day 1: Ontario, Somewhere in the Kawarthas

7:00 AM – Whoo Hoo! Road trip with Gran and Granddad. With my grandparents, two Harry Potter books and the whole back of the RV to myself, in essence have the whole world. Also, Granddad hinted that may be able to drive the RV. Am so excited that even the sixty pound poodle half sitting on me in a territorial fight for the seat can’t dim my enthusiasm.

11:00 AM – Stopped for lunch. Was instructed to take both the standard poodles for a quick walk while Gran prepares lunch, is possible that the poodles did not receive the same instruction as both are actively pulling me back towards the RV. Perhaps am just a bad dog walker because is more like a drag.

4:20 PM – Suffering from an extreme case of numb bum. No matter, shall delve into a magical fictional world where the only concern during long trips is broomstick crotch.

5:00 PM – Have stopped for the evening. Granddad insisted on instructing me how to connect the poop hose to the site. May need to shower forever. Will never eat again.

5:20 PM – Gran’s spaghetti! Will have to live with knowledge that delicious pasta and sauce may contain poop particles. Remind self that dirt and therefore feces are good for immune system.

Day 2: Ontario, Sault St. Marie

7:00 AM – Have been told I can drive the RV! Very excited; partly for opportunity and partly because will not have to share my seat with a disgruntled poodle. Am still very excited about trip itself, is uncommon to see such savage beauty whizzing by window.

10:45 – Numb bum has returned. Harry Potter’s world only partially distracting from discomfort.

2:01 PM – Is my moment of glory! Granddad has vacated driver’s seat. Am going to drive forever, may drive all the way to Manitoba, perhaps may drive all night!

2:59 PM – Have been told to pull RV over and that my turn is finished.

3:05 PM – Notice that phone was noticeably silent and without any messages during my hour long absence. Realize that have lost signal.

4:10 PM – Made mistake of looking at GPS. Said three thousand and eight more hours of driving until arrival. Ok possibly not THAT long but was close. Cell phone a useless paperweight. Am effectively cut off from everything.

6:00 PM – Pulled into the loveliest, leafiest park ever. Hiked all of the trails while Gran made dinner. Took poodles who went willingly. Suspect they only came because saw potential for a jail break by simultaneously pulling my arms in opposite directions while dashing for the river.

Day 3 : Ontario, Thunder Bay

8:00 AM – On road again. Granddad promised to relinquish the steering wheel this morning. Have lovely fantasies of flying down the road for hours and hours until arrive at Aunty Betty’s doorstep. Am still enthused by landscape however majestic rock faces are beginning to look a bit alike.

10:02 AM – Granddad has just moved over! Perhaps will be allowed to drive all day!

10:59 AM – Was just informed my turn is up.

11:00 AM – Pulled over and took the poodles for a drag. Either my arms are becoming stronger or they are walking more willingly.

12:50 AM – Ride seeming impossibly long. Forcing myself not to look at GPS because feel as if may have to live in RV forever.

1:00 PM – Lunch! But am sadly not hungry, it seems boredom kills appetites.

2:00 PM – Fear that feeling may never return to my posterior.

3:00 PM – Must not ask when we are stopping for the night. Am an adult, will handle boredom accordingly.

3:01 PM – Poodle has sat on my foot in such a manner as to indicate that it’s looking for a fight. It seems all of the natives are restless.

3:07 PM – Do not wish to be an adult anymore, want to stop driving and run into the bush which looks exactly like the wild brush from a couple of minutes ago which is identical to the brush from a thousand kilometers ago. Screw up determination; am going to really appreciate wild beauty around me.

3:08 PM – Rock, rock, rock, rock.

3:09 PM – Tree, tree, tree, tree.

3:10 PM – Lake.

3:11 PM – Tree, tree, tree, rock, tree.

5:00 PM – Have stopped for the night. Take dogs for a walk then take advantage of Wifi which is inexplicably fast despite there being no cell phone signal to speak of.

Day 4 : Ontario, ?????? (Somewhere is the north, this province is endless- we may never get out)

5:45 AM – Wake ridiculously early and go for a stroll so legs won’t forget how to walk after spending four years in RV. Discover magical park with up ended picnic tables which look like they enjoy galloping around in the night. Pretend to be a ninja observing secret life of picnic tables.

I am one with the galloping picnic tables. (Photo Credit : Gran)

I am one with the galloping picnic tables. (Photo Credit : Gran)

7:30 AM – After Granddad disconnects poop hose, a task which was mercifully excused from helping with, we are back on road in my gigantic rolling prison.

7: 37 AM – Press face against window and think happily about a time when the world didn’t move and used to do things like run around. Turn cell phone off to save it from uselessly searching for a signal.

8:30 AM – Start to read Harry Potter but even J.K. Rowling can’t fight this much ennui.

9:30 AM – Resist urge to start marking days and hours on RV wall with butter knife.

10:30 AM – See something strange in distance, is weird and rectangular shaped, like a rock face but with ninety degree angles.

10:32 AM – Is most definitely not a rock face nor the Canadian Shield because there is nothing growing out of it.

10:34 AM – Is gigantic building! Have reached civilization. Would drop to knees but would squish poodle that has taken up residence at feet if did so.

10:44 AM – Watch as building approaches.

10:54 AM – And approaches

11:04 AM – And approaches. Had forgotten it was the prairies, the place where people watch their dog run away for three days. Fall back into despair again. May never leave the RV.

1:00 Pm – Gran says are only an hour from Aunty Betty’s! Is such good news cannot believe it. Cell phone signal returns.

2:30 PM – Difficult to say who tumbles out of the RV faster- me or the poodles. Throw self to the ground so happy to be freed from RV and not in a moving vehicle any more. Was beginning to get bedsores from seat belt.

2:35 PM – Hug Gran and Granddad goodbye, say thank you for driving and wheel my suitcase into Aunty Betty’s house. Success!

Shelf Theft and A Lack of Character

I’ve found myself fantasizing about hard wood lately. Now before any of my readers get some big ideas and start sending me dirty pictures, allow me to explain. Having recently moved houses, my possessions have been dramatically rearranged. For example my books, which once called a series of shelves home are now in piles on the floor of my dining room. The plan was to put them in the giant glass front cabinet from my grandmother’s house, however there was one issue, well two if we’re being exact. The first is that I had no car. The second problem could not be solved by a trip to the local Enterprise; I have no muscles. Or rather I have insufficient muscles to move a piece of furniture that was made when people didn’t move often and shelves came from a local, swarthy carpenter and not from a machine in Sweden.

I could have acquired a bookshelf from a big box store, but as I mentioned before; I’ve been dreaming of wood. Mahogany, red, oak, I’ want them all, and the heavier the better. If only I myself had been born a large, male, swarthy carpenter, then moving such a well made shelf would not have been an issue.

I had plans, big plans. Plans that involved my father and one other large man moving the shelf from my grandmother’s house two hours away to my cozy dining room. Alas it was not to be. Despite having promised the shelf to me, my cousin, who at six foot seventeen, or some other height that is equally giant, spied the shelf in question, liked it and took it.

Two possible conclusions can be drawn, either my grandmother tired of parking her Corolla next to fifty years of exquisite workmanship while the shelf waited in the garage for me to retrieve it or somehow, without meaning to, I royally ticked my grandmother off. Seeing as my track record includes having my Grandma hauled home by the police and nearly killed (two separate incidents if you can believe it) I’m leaning towards the second option.

To better understand why there is a literary mountain piled next to my china hutch, I’ve decided to create a list of all the possible ways I could have POed my dad’s mom.

An Incomplete Collection of My Faults and Shortcomings Compared to my Enormous Perfect Cousin

I frequently appear at my church half naked or only partially dressed: If you would like to read the accounts of all of the times I’ve managed to flash the elders in my congregation they are available



And here

In essence getting dressed in the morning is obviously not my strong suit, whereas my monstrously tall cousin, not only suits up for Sunday morning services, but he also has been known to attend Bible study. Point for giant cousin.

I have been known to say what I’m thinking: This character trait would work better for me if I had nicer thoughts, as it is the words “Your baby looks like a homely Steve Buscemi” never go over well. By contrast, my cousin is one of the nicest most genuine people I know, book case stealing aside. Point for my cousin.

I cannot grow facial hair: Apart from the occasional absurdly long chin hair, I can neither grow a moustache nor a scraggly beard, on the other hand, at Christmas my cousin’s face did a remarkable impression of Farley Mowat’s when he emerged from a two month stay in the woods having subsisted on roasted mice.

Clearly my grandmother admires the wild-man look and lifestyle, point for my cousin.

It would seem that I am deficient in all aspects of life, from grooming to character, little wonder that my cousin is now stowing his worldly possessions in a gorgeous glass front cabinet, while I am pondering a trip to the local IKEA.