Today would have been my Grannybears (grandmothers) 97th birthday. Although she has been gone for three years now, her spirit and love live on in her children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and all who ever knew her.
This time of year is always emotional for me. My Granny and I had an amazing bond starting from the day I was born. One that, despite her not being physically present, is still as strong as it was when she was here. I guess because of that, for a few days before her birthday I can feel my emotions well up and I spend a lot of time with tears ready to well over. Then her birthday comes and the tears flow. To be honest, this behaviour of mine ticks me off. For one, from the time my Granny was in her 70s she always said to me 'I have had a great life - if I go tomorrow it will be ok'. Usually when she said this I would say 'Well I'm glad you are okay with that but I'm going to be selfish and say that I don't want you to go!!' She would always laugh at that.
Today I took the day off work to make the trek over to the island where she lived and where I would go visit her all the time. I will apologize now for not telling my family (parental unit, cousins, aunts and uncles) that I was doing this...and that I didn't visit you guys as well. The thing is, I used to go visit Granny all the time on my own and I just felt that I needed to go alone this time as well. Ever since I was a wee one I would visit on my own. (Of course it was visiting Granny and Grandpa up till I was 16, then just Granny.) In fact, my mom said that the first time they went to leave me alone with my Granny and Grandpa they were worried I would have a bit of a fit of separation anxiety. Apparently after mom set me down I turned around said bye-bye and shut the door on my parental unit. No worries there! But I digress.
I took the ferry over to the island with one purpose - to walk the waterfront like Granny and I used to do and to think of all the wonderful memories I had of her. If I cried, well so be it. I was going to try not to though.
Granny was one of the greatest influences on who I have become - whether by genetics or example. I learned a lot from her and hope that who I am represents the qualities she taught me. So who was my Granny? Well she was someone with an amazing sense of humour, she was smart, down to earth, and typically Dutch in that she was stubborn and would say it like it was - although always in a kind way. She was an amazing listener and was never judgemental. She was very social and had a lot of friends. She always got the facts before making a decision. She was practical about things. She was the best dang Granny a kid could ever have. So here are some of the stories and memories I thought of today as I walked along the waterfront like we used to do...
With all my weepiness I thought about the fact that I don't recall ever seeing my Granny cry, except for once...which was actually a fake out. When I was a little kid I decided that I wasn't going to eat anything with 'specks' on it. (Parents will appreciate this story I'm sure.) Can anyone define what a 'speck' is? I didn't think so. I think the only one who knew what specks looked like was me, which made feeding me quite challenging. At one point during this stage we were at my Grandparents and I wouldn't eat. We were in the kitchen - just me and Granny. She put breakfast out for me and I wouldn't eat it - the toast had specks. So she covered her face and pretended to cry and said 'Oh I'm so sad, Sue won't eat the food I made' (or something of that nature). Well heaven forbid I make my Granny cry! So from that day on I pretty much gobbled up everything in front of me.
Granny always did make the most amazing food. To this day her potato salad recipe is held in very high regard! And her cookies. No one has ever been able to make speculaas or chocolate chip cookies like she used to make. When I was in university in the east, my Granny would make several batches of both cookies, then package them up in extra large Rice Krispies boxes and send them to me via Canada Post. Of course they would arrive addressed to 'Sweet Sue' (she remains the only one who would be allowed to call me Sue I may add...) and they would be mostly in bits. That didn't stop me or my roommates from devouring them (when I let them have a few crumbs). We would pour the cookie crumbs and bits into bowls and eat them with spoons!
And let us not forget the blackberry jam she used to make! I have only tasted jam once that was remotely like what she made - and for some reason it came from France. Who knew they had blackberries there?? There was a whole row of blackberry bushes beside Granny's house and her and I (and I'm sure the other grandkids) would take our gallon ice cream buckets and delicately pick those blackberry bushes clean. It was well worth all the stabs and scrapes from the thorns just to have some of her jam or compote once it was made.
She loved putting blackberry compote on vanilla ice cream. Ice cream was a weakness for my Granny. Well, ice cream and cheese...but never together. Without fail, she would always have a gallon pail of Island Farms ice cream. Raspberry swirl, chocolate swirl, and sometimes just vanilla. (I personally loved when I got to choose the flavour!) At one point she decided to store it in the freezer in the carport. I asked her why and she said so she didn't eat two bowls of it after dinner. I asked how that was working out for her...she laughed and replied that at least she got a bit of exercise walking out to get her first and second helpings!
I loved going over to visit her. She was so much fun to hang out with! When we lived back east I would fly out on my own during summer break and stay for weeks at a time. We would go down to the beach and collect seashells and walk. She was the one that taught me the healing powers of salt water. Whenever my allergies were bugging me, which was all summer, she would take me down for a swim in the ocean. It always worked at cleaning out my sinuses! As I grew older, and after we moved back here, I would go over just to hang out. She could always tell if I was troubled by something but she never pried. Instead she would let me talk when I needed to or she would just be present if I didn't want to talk. That is a HUGE gift to a kid. Her ability to do that always seemed to make things better. It was like her presence was enough to help me figure out what to do.
A lot of times when I was there we would walk. Granny was huge into walking. She taught me the importance of being healthy and making sure you did some form of exercise. Even when I was a little kid we would walk for hours. We would walk to Bowen or Beban park where she would take me swimming or to the petting zoo. I think she was the one to take me on my first trail walk! We would walk down at the waterfront. Pretty much everywhere. Even when her eyesight started to fail, she would walk.
In fact, she was never one to be still. If she wasn't walking she was out driving somewhere. She loved to drive. She was the one who would pick up all her friends to go play bridge, which was most nights of the week. It got to be a joke that we would have to make an appointment to see her as her calendar was full up with bridge nights! She was also a speed demon - despite the fact that her car wasn't that speedy. I recall vividly driving down the Malahat with her towards Victoria. She decided to pass a truck that wasn't going fast enough for her. As we are passing I see another vehicle heading straight for us. At this point I am silently praying to God, Buddha, Allah you name it. I am wishing the car was a Flintstones car so I can help it get past the dang truck! My nails started to dig into the armrest... We just make it past the truck when the other vehicle goes by. "I knew this old girl had it in her" she says smiling! I am not sure when I started breathing again but it took a few minutes!
She loved her car. It wasn't anything fancy, but she took very good care of it. She told me once that Grandpa said to take the time to sit and listen to the car when it has just been tuned up. That way you'll know if something starts to sound off. One day it did so she took it into the shop. The fellow gave her some spiel about what needed to be done, but it didn't sound right to her. So she called up my dad and said what sounds she was hearing and what the guy said had to be done. He was familiar with the car and advised that it sounded like they were making more work than need be. So she asked my dad what exactly would have to be done - step by step. She wrote everything down, and then checked to make sure she had it right. Then she memorized it. The next day she went back into the shop and talked to the same fellow and she called him out. She said she thought he was giving her the run around because she was elderly. Then she told him exactly what she thought was the problem and exactly what steps would need to be taken to fix it. I so wish I had been there...I am sure his jaw hit the floor. She said he apologized, got her some coffee and asked her to have a seat while they fixed things right away. The car ran as it should after that. He learned rule #1 that day, never ever ever mess with my Granny! She continued to go back there and always got preferential treatment, as she should!
As mentioned above, she did have her stubborn side. It wasn't a stick in the mud stubborn thing, but there were times when she got an idea in her head, she would go with it and nothing was going to stop her. I am sure my father will never forget one of these times... I believe I was about 8 or 9 years old. Granny decided I should have pierced ears. I agreed with Granny (as I always did) that I definitely should have pierced ears. My father, on the other hand, forbade it. No, Susan did not need pierced ears and that was final. Yeah right. Very shortly after Granny took me on one of our Granny-Susan trips and bada bing, bada bang, I came home with pierced ears. They were gold and amethyst studs if I recall correctly and I loved them. My dad did not. Ooops.
Stories, stories and more stories. I guess when you live to 94 years old there are going to be a lot of stories about you! Talking about Granny takes away the sadness of her not being here because it reminds me that she actually is here. She is always with me in spirit. She is here with me when I am knitting (which she was a master at!), she is here with me when I watch Poirot (she loved mystery novels, especially Agatha Christie), and she is here with me whenever I am troubled with something and think 'What would Granny do?' I make sure that I pass along stories to my cousin's kids because I want them to know what an amazing person she was. She was an example for us all.
Happy Birthday Granny. Lots you lots, Sweet Sue.
Granny in her favourite chair.
Granny and I at my graduation. Nope, no family resemblance there! Ha ha