- Hug her
- Call her during the day to tell her why she’s special
- Say “Thank You”
- Compliment her hair, or her top, or just tell her she’s pretty
- Offer to put the kids to bed
- Take her on a walk
- Hold her hand
- Make dinner
- Tell her one of the reasons why she is special to you
- Give her a back rub without any expectations
- Say “Thank you” again
- Take her out dancing or to a movie or anywhere that is not your house
- Pack the kids in the car and give her time to herself
- Give her a foot rub without complaining about her ogre feet
- Write her a note
- Complete the small task the moment she asks you about it before you can forget
- Hug her again
- Give a compliment about one of her strengths
- Try a new activity with her
- Come home with wine
- Draw her a bath and take the kids out to play, leave the wine
- Appreciate art with her
- Go on an adventure with her
- Unexpectedly hug her from behind while she’s doing chores, and say “Thank you”
- Tell how much you love her
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.
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.
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.
Because 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:
- Making noise in the backseat
- Not learning how to ride a two wheeler fast enough
- Pinching your sister
- Pulling your sister’s hair
- Calling your sister “weasel elbows”
- Doing anything besides sitting silently next to your sister without touching each other at all
- Trying to swim in a flooded basement
- Yapping at the neighbour’s car (that one was the dog)
- Not eating the fat on a piece of meat (that was me, the dog will ALWAYS eat the fat)
- Showing inadequate amounts of enthusiasm for Granddad’s current interest that he is explaining to you at length
- Being in the wrong gear while cycling uphill
- 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.
Two years ago today, I climbed up the hill on Tex’s family farm to take my place next to him and promise that I would love him and be kind to him forever and ever. I’ve made a lot of decisions in my life, but the choice to be with Tex has to be one of my best. After the decision to hunt him down like a puma of course.
Often, when we’re lying in bed, on the verge of falling asleep, I’ll ask my husband whether the time we’ve been together feels long or short. “Both” he always answers, much to my pleasure, as I feel the same way. When you find someone who is your compliment, who understands you and supports you without question, time seems to stretch and bend in such a way that you can’t imagine your life without that person. But in that same way, the joyous ease of each interaction, each day and each hug makes the years slip past like water in a stream. We’ve been married for two years and I’ve known Tex for three but it seems like both forever and merely a moment in time.
Two years on, I am still proud of the man I married; I still look at him and silently congratulate myself on bagging such a hottie. Meeting, marrying and procreating with someone, all within the space of twelve months means that life together is filled with surprises. Two spins around the sun later, the surprises still exist, but they’re fewer and farther between, yet I still delight each time I learn something new about my fantastic man. I love that his strong sense of character, that he inspires me to be a better more ethical person. His peccadilloes still make me smile; the way he throws himself entirely into whatever new idea, hobby or interest he’s infatuated with at the moment.
Michael J. Fox has been married forever. There’s a quote of his that he says to his wife which I often think of whenever I’m on the verge of being annoyed “Give me the benefit of the doubt; I would never intentionally hurt you.” That sentiment is so true and so perfect for marriage. And also for Tex. My sister-in-law and I often comment that our men are never mean. But sometimes, if they truly despise a person, they won’t be intentionally nice. I love that I married a man whose baseline is intentionally nice. It makes forgiveness, and remembering Michael J. Fox’s quote world’s easier.
Happy Anniversary dear husband, thank you for two completely wonderful years. When we are only bones in the ground, I promise to still turn and whisper “I’m so glad I married you” at night.
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.
SPOILER ALERT: I had a baby. Or at least I think I had a baby, it’s hard to tell because I have essentially made a tiny carbon copy of Tex. In my sister’s words “If he hadn’t come out of your va-jay there might be some questions.” Thus I have dubbed my newborn “Mini Tex*”. At any rate babies are super time consuming, thus any posts published in the past six weeks were scheduled posts that I wrote before our new person arrived so this post is late but I like to think of February as the “Love Month” so as long as there are still discounted chocolate hearts in stores, I figure I’m within the acceptable range for sending out valentines. This is why many of you receive “Happy Easter” cards in July.
Before I got pregnant and had Mini Tex, I was all “pregnancy and breast feeding are just another physical feat that one does with their body; I rock at physical feats”. I’m not sure whether to laugh at my pre-pregnancy and motherhood self or slap her for being foolish. I was far from a glowy pregnant lady. I was a nauseous, vomit fountain who was exhausted all of the time, yet despite all of that I enjoyed being pregnant. This was entirely due to how hard my husband worked.
Initially our household arrangement was that I cooked and did dishes while Tex cleaned and did laundry. Early on, it became apparent that cooking was no longer possible because I was too tired when I got home from work and also too ravenous. Tex might have lost an arm if he had asked me to keep to our agreement when I arrived home starving and foul tempered from hunger.
Gradually even the dishes became impossible, as did my walks home from work. I never heard Tex complain, he merely picked up the slack silently, doing yesterday’s dishes while he prepared today’s dinner, texting me to see when I would need a ride home. He was amazing. The only reason I didn’t receive rides to work was because the lack of exercise would lead to restless leg syndrome and me becoming an antsy anti-Christ in the evenings if I missed my morning walk. But even on those days Tex would massage my legs and bundle himself up to walk with me in the cold winter air of the evening.
Relationship experts advise couples to continue to try new activities together. Until recently, I thought that was all hooey because how could I possibly love my husband more than I already did? I mean he checked all the boxes: Hottie- check, Super Hottie – check, Nice – check, Has a job that isn’t playing the accordion outside the liquor store- check. (For the record musical liquor store Abe, I am not judging you; I merely feel we would make a poor couple.) Pregnancy allowed me to love my husband as someone who I had no choice but to rely on. I pride myself in being independent; carrying Mini Tex around for nine months rendered me the opposite of that.
At nine months pregnant, I thought I couldn’t love Tex any more than I already did. Then I went into labor, and the only time he left my side was when I went into the women’s washroom. Labor is a lot like running a marathon only better because they give you a baby at the end rather than some bling and a bagel.
Mini Tex was our marathon, and my husband was my coach who spurred me onward even when I was tired and couldn’t see the end. While I suspected that he could be patient and caring even under duress and fear, he shone brighter than I expected during those long twenty eight hours.
People don’t really talk about it, but breast feeding hurts. Like a lot. Possibly more than the actual birthing process if one were to add up the time and pain and lump it all together into one horrible day of bloody, painful nipples and engorged breasts. Again Tex showed his devotion to both me and his newborn son by placing boiling hot compresses on my giant, painful mammaries multiple evenings in a row. Watching the steam rise from the cloths, I worried for his hands (No amount of heat would ever be enough to hurt boobs with blocked ducts). “Unwashed, I was a blacksmith” he reminded me, replacing the lukewarm cloth with a hot one. I’m sure that devotion was there all along but during those early week when Mini Tex and I were still figuring out how to breastfeed, it wrapped itself around us like a comforting blanket.
I’ve learned to love my husband as a father. Coming from a farm, where from an early age, boys learn how to take care of not just animals but plants and the land, I had high expectations of Tex as a parent. Seeing our little boy listen with all his might to his Dad’s voice as he plays with him and tells nonsensical stories has given me another way to love this man. So for all of these reasons and for all of the ones we will discover together in the future, Happy Valentine’s Day Tex. I’m very glad I said vows with you on Lightninghill last August. It was one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life.
*Please note, I didn’t actually name my newborn “Mini Tex”, I feel his life will be embarrassing enough with me as his Mom.
Since Tex and I moved in together and got married, there’s been a period of adjustment. For example, previously, I considered soup to be the most important meal of the day, so I ate it every day, sometimes twice. By contrast, Tex is a real man, who considers beer a breakfast food and soup a dish that comes before a meal. After a discussion, it was decided that I would cook food that was not soup occasionally because according to Tex “There’s a reason they call it supine- you eat too much soup, you go tits up”.
My love of hot liquids extends to beverages as well. My extensive tea collection recently came out of storage, since then Tex has had some fun trying all of my teas, although he isn’t always enthusiastic about every flavour.
Tex- ~pulling out a tea bag from the tea chest~ “Purple calming chakra tea? Made with dragon fruit and the hibiscus flower, to soothe energies? What is this? I feel like if I drink it, my underarm hair might spontaneously braid itself.”
On the topic of body hair, I’m thirty-six weeks pregnant, which is to say I’m like Gaston from “Beauty and the Beast” but not in the sweaty, athletic, “watch me lift this tree trunk over my head” kind of way, more in the massive “will you please help me untie my boots” kind of way. This past week, I sadly informed Tex that I was now too big to shave my legs, because I could no longer easily bend to reach them. “That’s ok Unwashed,” said Tex curling me into a hug, “Why do you think I don’t shave my asshole?”
As I’ve said before, Tex is a manly man, who enjoys beer drinking, riding horses and knife making. He’s introduced me to his passions, hence how I spent Thanksgiving helping with a cattle drive. By the same token, I’ve introduced him to mine. We recently took in a production of the Russian Ballet’s “The Nutcracker” together. While walking back to the car, I hopefully asked Tex what he thought about the dance, thinking that perhaps if he enjoyed it, I might take him to see more ballets. “It was like Christmas on acid:” he replied shaking his head as if he still couldn’t believe it, “giant mice, some weird guy jumping around waving a stick and toys that come alive.”
I’m still not sure whether that was a critique or an endorsement of “The Nutcracker”.
Regardless of what Tex says, I know that behind his words are warmth and humour. Just after we got married this past summer, we were lazing about in our apartment and I turned to Tex and asked “How could your life be better?” He looked at me and drawled “Well I could have two penises” then winked, which was his way of saying “What a silly question, can’t you see how awesome my life is? I have a wife who is five months pregnant with my son, what more could a person want?”
I almost didn’t take the call. In fact I almost hung up the phone. When my behemoth, construction worker cell phone started to vibrate on my desk in the middle of the day I thought “Who is calling me while I’m at work?” The twelve digit phone number was a question in and of itself. Against my better judgment, I pressed “talk”
“Hello?” I said to silence.
“Hello?” I repeated, waiting a beat to conclude it was a telemarketer. The moment I was about to pull the phone away from my ear to press “end call”, I heard the words that only one person in my life ever says.
“The Great Unwashed”
There is exactly one person in this whole world who loves to say my full name as much as I do.
“Sula!” I half cried and half cheered into the phone. Then my words became a hurried conjoined sentence as my brain tried to right itself from the surprise of hearing that voice, her voice, the one I had been missing for nearly a month; “Imissyousomuch.Icantbelieveyou’recallingme.HowistheArctic?”
“What?” My beloved friend yelled from across the frozen country.
“HowistheArctic?” I repeated.
“You have to talk slower it’s a satellite phone.” She explained, her words staccato stripes through the crackly connection.
“How is the Arctic?” I repeated slower this time, my brain which was slowly catching up to the situation was able to process instructions and the limitations of incredible, new technology which allowed me to hear my friend’s voice over a distance of thousands of uninhabited desolate kilometers.
“It’s cold.” Sula laughed, “It snowed today.”
Knowing how badly that would affect her work and research, I apologized, then my brain finally recognized that I was talking to my cherished friend who was in THE ARCTIC, and blurted out another rushed sentence; Areyousafe? Isthecrewsafe?
“Orry?” Her voice, went in and out over the tenuous connection.
“Are you safe?” I enunciated loudly.
“Yes, I’m safe.” She replied.
“Is the crew safe?” I asked more tentatively, not wanting to hope too hard that she and thus we could possibly be that fortunate.
“Yes, we’re all fine and getting along.” She laughed in the way that only someone who understands how to foster easy camaraderie in the most terrible of conditions can.
A small lump formed in my throat from relief and joy at these last two statements, but then I remembered the sight of my friend’s hands when she returned from our true Great North last summer. The rippling scars that crisscrossed her skin, from small cuts received in the field, which in the cold climate that prevented adequate circulation, were unable to heal. “How are your hands and feet?” I asked worriedly.
“They’re fine.” She assured me.
Next she inquired about my medical condition. Last year, when life was hard, but truly just its run of the mill self, I didn’t warrant such luxuries as the sound of Sula’s voice from the middle of the tundra. Especially in the midst of antenna problems, this made already tenuous connections nearly impossible to keep. This year, an improved antenna bought me just under ten minutes of short shouted statements. I was elated.
I stayed late at work that night, and puttered about at home for an hour or so before I realized- I hadn’t called Sula’s mom, Mrs. Jackson. I rushed to the outlet where my cell phone was charging, the effort of holding the connection with the satellite phone having exhausted the battery.
“I talked to her today, she’s safe.” The words tumbled out of my mouth, I was so eager for Mrs. Jackson to feel my relief. While she’s in the Arctic, Sula and her crew are busy and although occasional calls home are permitted, they’re expensive – think 1960’s trans-Atlantic phone rates but adjusted for inflation. I had received one of her two monthly calls, thus it was my job to share the good news with everyone important in her life; for today Sula is safe, and her crew is safe.
Sula loves her work and is successful. Thus being her biggest fan (next to her Mom of course) I love and support her work too. That being said, sometimes being the person who is left, the one who can only worry about cold and polar bear visits and all of the other dangers that are inherent to the Arctic and thus Sula’s work, is hard at times, which is why short conversations, the knowledge that for the moment she is safe, are reassuring. Sula, ever the adventurer counts down until she leaves for the Arctic, the rest of us count the days until she returns. Safe travels my friend, 44 day until you are home once again.