I’m three years old, dressed up in a white fur coat, and I’ve come to visit my grandma. Across the street, the Church parking lot is empty except for a heaping pile of snow the height of a two-storey house. Inside, My-my has unearthed my mom’s old dollhouse for me – a fully-furnished wonder with a balcony and a yellow slide. We go to the shopping mall to visit Santa Claus and I get to sleep on the hideaway bed in the den. I love the snow and the dollhouse and sleeping in a den and I adore My-my. Grandmas are pure magic.
I’m eight years old, spending the summer in a cottage on Lake Superior, and I’ve come to visit My-my in town. We skip along the boardwalk by the St. Mary’s river, and when it starts to rain we run laughing back to the shelter of the gazebo. After dinner, she pours me a rose-scented bubble-bath and shows me the fluffy pink towels she’s laid out for me. In the morning she makes me a poached egg and toast with honey and pours me a bowl of Frosted Flakes, purchased specially for the grandkids, and she tells me about the time she got the strap for standing up in class to watch an airplane.
I’m ten years old, up for the weekend with my mom, and I’m playing the piano for My-my her living room. She listens carefully and wants to know the name and composer of each piece. She tells me how people would come from far and wide to hear the organ concerts her father would give at his Church in Orillia and how he sent her climbing behind the pipes to help him with tuning it.
I’m eleven, twelve, thirteen, and standing next to My-my at the Christmas Eve Church service in Buffalo. We sing Silent Night by candlelight and in her crystal clear soprano I can hear the girl who decades ago sang at farewell parties for soldiers who were heading off to war.
I’m about to turn fifteen and going up to spend my birthday with My-my. It’s my first time flying alone, and when I get off the plane, there she is, smiling and waving to me from just inside the airport door. She takes me skating at the outdoor rink (later we look at photos of my earliest skating endeavour, taken some thirteen years before at the very same place), and to Bon Soo, the Sault Ste. Maire winter festival. There we admire the ice sculptures and climb up the snowbanks to get a good view of the sled-dog races. The littlest dog can only make it to the finish line when his master walks along beside him, nudging the sled with his foot, and My-my laughs and laughs. When we go home, she makes me a birthday cake with my favourite kind of icing (the one my mom refuses to use because it’s unnecessarily sweet), and she decorates it with the silk flowers she once used on my mother’s birthday cakes.
I’m seventeen and eighteen, loving life in Europe but missing home from time to time. My-my sends me notes full of stories about the snow and the bear that’s appeared in the woods behind her building, and I read them again and again, loving that life in Northern Ontario is plodding on the same as ever.
I’m twenty, and My-my’s getting older. It’s reading week at U of T and I’ve come to spend my holiday with My-my in her new little unit at the retirement home. We run errands and this time, I drive her around town and give her an arm through snowy parking lots. She feeds me tea and cookies and we watch the Olympics on TV. “My oh my oh my,” she says about the bobsledders and snowboarders. When the curling comes on, she snaps to attention and offers a play-by-play critique of the game.
I’m twenty-three, recently returned from England, and making regular visits to My-my in her new place in St. Catharines. I give her concerts, we go for walks or we cross the street to buy ice creams. Sometimes I spend the night in her spare room, and down in the dining room My-my tells the servers that her granddaughter would like both dessert options, please. (She’s right, of course.) Mostly, we sit in her living room and talk. She tells me about growing up during the Great Depression, and about the men who sometimes arrived in Orillia by train and turned up on her family’s doorstep looking for something to eat. Many were well-spoken and well-educated and, at her house, they were always fed. I tell her about Random or Geoffrey’s latest antics, and she is delighted.
Now I’m twenty-six, half a world away and thinking about the last time I saw my dear My-my, the last time I would ever see her. She stood outside the elevator as my mom and I left her hospital wing, looking faded and frail but smiling that devoted grandmother smile and wishing us love. I’m here in Australia, where the sun is shining and the summer flowers are coming into bloom, where people around me are going about their lives, working, soaking up the sun, none of them realising that the world’s most doting, adoring, kind-hearted grandmother has died. I wish I were back in the soon-to-be frozen north instead, with people who know what a momentously sad thing has just happened. Better yet, I wish I were back in the Sault, walking with My-my by the river or learning to make blueberry pudding in her kitchen.
All present and future grandmothers out there, pay close attention. Tell your grandkids stories about your life. Teach them how to make the family recipes. Sing to them. Take them on special outings. Take them to market. Laugh. Write them letters. Use the special plates when they come to dinner. You can call them ‘Blessing’ or ‘Twinkletoes’ if you want – you can get away with that in public even if their parents don’t.
Just pile on the love, and they’ll adore you forever.