My last one-on-one memory of my beloved Nan takes place at my parents oak dining table just a few short weeks ago. It had been a tough day for her, as many of her last days were. With a body and mind that were slowly and ever so surely failing her, she sat there, carefully flipping through the pages of her self-written memoir - "The Story of Joe + I". As she quietly mumbled the words to herself, a process that would often calm her, I sat down beside her, gently pulled the book from her tiny hands, faced it towards me and began to read aloud. I've heard this story more times than I can count, but one thing that I know for certain is that I will never, ever tire of it, especially of the way that she tells it. A little girl growing up in England, looking lovingly at her Father, playing hooky from school for a chance to spend time overlooking her home town of Durham in the tower of the Cathedral. World War II. Bomb threats, gas masks, dance halls and nights out at the movies. An Irish soldier. A young bride. And a long trip overseas away from her family and life as she knew it to follow love all the way to Canada. A true war-time romance.
At the end of each paragraph I'd look up at her, her pale blue eyes glassy and faded met with mine and she'd smile. We made it about halfway through and had to stop, it was time for her to go. I gave her a hug and said "...don't worry Nan, we will finish it next time." When I spoke those words I didn't realize that she wouldn't need me to help her finish this story, as one day very shortly she would be able to finish it herself.
Sadly, today was that day. She passed away earlier this evening, and if there is one thing that I know for sure it is this - the first place that she headed was straight into the arms of her husband, my Pa, Joe, whom she loved fiercely until the very end of her days. After all, incredibly, he passed away exactly 20 years ago on the very same day, January 2nd. If that isn't a sign, well, then, there is no sign. After he died, she made sure that his photo was always placed carefully in an important spot, visible to all, and sometimes, when the light would hit it just right, you could see the kiss marks smudged across the glass portion of the frame.
She was to me, more than just a grandmother, she was also one of my dearest friends.
In elementary school I'd walk to her and Pa's house for lunch. Sometimes alone, sometimes with my little sister by my side. Always an amazing cook and homemaker, my Nan would serve us perfect, soft boiled eggs in pretty, little porcelain cups with toast "soldiers" for dipping and a side of grapes. Dessert would be chocolate finger cookies filled with coconut. When it was time to leave she'd walk us outside waving vigorously at us as we walked down her street towards our school. I still remember looking back at her, seeing her shrink into the distance until she was just a tiny speck that seemed to suddenly be so very far away. She didn't leave that spot on the sidewalk, nor did she stop waving, until we were completely out of sight.
Christmas time. A season that is so full of memories that it is hard to hear any Christmas song at all without thinking of her. There is the smell of a glue gun, which always triggers a strong memory of standing beside her surrounded by an excessive amount of pine cones, ribbon, and old Christmas cards crafting until our fingertips throbbed. And there is of course, Christmas Eve. A time that always meant a packed church, a basement full of family, and the rush of cold, snowy air down the stairs as each of us would come and go. There was a pool table covered with plywood and red and green lacy tablecloths full of pickle plates, fresh buns, meats and cheeses, and the most amazing spread of Christmas baking. 25 gifts were personally picked and packed for each of us in front of the brick fireplace. There was Christmas music, there were After Eights and there was so much joy. These are the kinds of memories you would pay a hefty price to relive, if only you could.
Speaking of priceless memories, my Nan was one of my biggest fans. No matter the family function, without fail, she would always ask me to play the piano. She would follow me into my parents living room where our little upright piano stood. I'd sit down and grab a book and I'd play. She'd stand behind me with her hand on my shoulder and she would sing. Her lovely, alto, vibratto filled voice would carry through the room as I'd play. She would ask for another song, and then another, and when I was finally done she'd make me promise her that I would never give up on my playing.
As I grew so did our friendship. I would pick her up for dinner dates where we would sip wine and eat good food, or head to the mall where she would put any other granny her age to shame with the way in which she would waltz down the aisles of the mall, into each store, picking out the most amazing outfits at every turn. She shopped and she did not drop. I'd wait for her to change and help her pick, which was easy ... after all she had the best taste, and she looked fabulous in pretty much everything.
And then there is the little spot in my heart where I hold my most favourite memories with her. Like sleepovers at her apartment. Everything, from the "ding" of the elevator as I reached the third floor, to stepping out into the hall where I'd find her leaning eagerly out of her apartment door, arms out, beaming, as if to say that I had made her the happiest Grandma in all of the world, me on the sofa, and her in her cozy recliner, to the Audrey Hepburn movies, the late nights, the chocolate and hot tea, all of it, it remains, in this little cavern of my heart dedicated just to my Nan, always.
She had this way... this way of making you feel like you were the most special, the most talented, the most wonderful, every time you were with her. This is how she was with those that she loved, her friends and her family. In her heart and mind we were the best family that had ever existed anytime, anywhere in the entire world. And she wasn't afraid to tell the world ... all of us, her friends, people at the church. So brazenly at times it could be embaressing ... people would confide in her about their own family problems and she would respond with something along the lines of "well, if only your family was more like mine ..."
She will live in me every day, she did while she was here and she will now that she is gone. Her love for fashion and design, her orderliness, her love of music. I've said it before and I'll say it again ... I have always found her to be fabulous in every which way. Her style, the way she carried herself, she was tiny but she was also so very mighty. Her feist, her devotion to God, her love for her husband. The way she loved us all.
And now that I am a Mother, I understand her story from a whole new perspective. With the love that I have for my own Mother, and the love that she has for hers, watching her take the absolute BEST care of my Nan when she became old and needed her to. I look at them both, and I look into the eyes of my daughter and it's hard to grasp the gravity of it all. What my Grandmother's life meant. What the word Mother, Grand Mother means. She defined it. She and my Pa built something that is not only grand in size but it is also so incredibly grand in love, our extraordinary family.