When I was a child I spent a great deal of time with my Grandmother. During school holidays, my Mom would bundle me and a few belongings up & send me off to spend a few blissful weeks at Grandma’s tidy, white stucco house with the deep covered porch and two creaky wooden rocking chairs that kept rhythm to the endless beat of conversation. Her house provided me a sense of refuge and I always gained a calm, reassurance from the stories of prior generations as I moved in and out of each room.
Grandma’s life revolved around people and food. Be it planning what to prepare for lunch, dinner or visitors, a quick trip to the corner shop for necessities, or washing up a basin full of dented tins and floral tea cups. She always washed. I always dried. We’d spend our days baking, singing songs, re-potting her pastel shaded petunias or hosting family and friends before retiring to the front porch to talk over the top rim of a steaming cup of black tea.
Her kitchen was a delight to the senses. From the lingering aroma of a recent meal, the cosy warmth of her oven or the fine dusting of flour that lightly enveloped everything, including fingertips. Her freezer was a treasure chest that released a white puff of crystal air before revealing lovingly stacked homemade pies, cakes, cookies, tarts and something special she’d made “just for me”.
Some days Grandma would sit on the front porch knitting mittens, sweaters or slippers for those less fortunate, while keeping a watchful eye over me while I scampered the street with a gaggle of kids. Her street was a place where kid’s climbed maple trees to carve initials in bark, amblers stopped to comment on the garden bed and cars drove slowly, ever-mindful of bikes or runaway balls. We’d often play in someone’s backyard, lingering for a while to pick an apple from their tree before another adventure beckoned and a herd of feet pounded urgently away. When the sun began to dip, parents called out for such-and-such to come inside and wash hands for dinner quickly followed by the sound of flyscreens slamming shut signalling the close of another timeless day.
Grandma and I would lie in bed at night and she’d tell me tales of her childhood during the War, the adventurous pioneering years she’d endured in rural Canada and the lessons she’d learned along her path ‘til today. She’d ask me gentle questions that allowed me to express my feelings on any particular subject while she patiently waited and listened by my side.
When our words finally slipped into silence, she’d turn the light off and I’d roll onto my side, gazing sleepily out the window into the night sky. And every night her last words to me were always, “Do you know who put those stars there?” And I’d say, “God” because I knew how happy that made her feel and slip silently away into a quiet dream.
I had a sense of complete surrender in her presence. There was no need to be anything except me.
Even when faced with the adversity and pain life presents us, I never heard her speak ill of another. I had the sense then, as I do today, that there was greatness contained within those moments we shared. I recall an intuitive awareness that my time with her was limited and it was important to sew her words into the fabric of my memory so I could reference them in a future time of need.
In my 20’s, I told Grandma how much she meant to me and that I felt I could never be as selfless as she. She smiled and lovingly patted my knee, “Rhonda, one day you’ll have children of your own and you’ll experience a mother’s love. It’s noble, powerful and limitless and will enhance the best that’s already within you.” I was doubtful.
Years have past and my Grandma has gone, but her spirit has never left me and her words often dance lightly into my mind. My kitchen tends to have a fine dusting of flour, our daily routine is structured around family, visitors and meals and I tend a pot of pink and purple petunias that I’m terribly fond of.
She taught me many things but most of all she taught me what the substance of a good person is, the meaning of family, the importance of patience, the value of trying and the harm contained within judgement. She taught me how to love selflessly and in the absence of conditions, that listening was essential and giving was the greatest gift of life. She taught me that a Grandparents love offers a wealth and wisdom beyond measure.
You know, I think next school holiday’s I’ll let my son stay over at his Grandma’s house for a few days. She’s been asking. She’s been waiting. And there’s much to learn.
Written by Rhonda Sweet