Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Grandmother

by Elizabeth and Jordan Ramsey


Grandmother with Jordan and Elizabeth


The one thing that always sticks out to me about my grandmother is her stubbornness. If the woman had made up her mind about something, that was it. Grandchildren were to be spoiled. If you’re going to have a party, you have to invite every possible guest. She was not sick. She did not want to eat…unless you were offering her cookies or coffee. She did not need a walker, she didn’t need help with anything. Even when maybe, she might have needed a little help, and she might even have eventually accepted it, but she would never admit to it. I might relate to this a little.

I think this got everyone a little annoyed, from time to time. Especially towards the end of her life. Or ask my dad about what she’d do when he told us we couldn't have ice cream before dinner. But actually, I think that was one of her more admirable qualities. According to my sister, she did her Master’s thesis before Cambridge even recognized women as full students. Despite being a fairly shy person, she still seemed to belong to every organization. She married late and still had a full family. She did what most people wouldn’t have had the courage to do.

Some of my happiest memories as a child were visits to their house in Tumbler Ridge. We’d arrive late at night and I’d  wake up to see their big brown house on the hill lit up by the moon, and quickly pretend to be asleep again so my dad would carry me inside. In the morning we would have our mandatory bowl of cereal with granddad while he entertained us with what were apparently inappropriate songs and stories. Grandmother would scold him as she scurried about preparing for whatever her next event was. Even as I kid I knew she was trying not to laugh.
Kieran, Jordan, Hart, Eric, Kyla, Darby and Elizabeth
Their job was to spoil you, and they did that job very well. I remember one time they took us to the grocery store and let us pick out whatever kind of cereal we wanted: even one Mom and Dad would never have allowed. The box of Trix came with a fee toy, so of course they had to get a separate box for each kid. Turns out Trix is actually a terribly disgusting cereal, and we rediscovered the boxes of Trix months later in the cupboard. This time the box came with a new surprise: moths. Our trips to the store always took what seemed like a lifetime. They knew everyone. And everyone needed to meet their grandchildren. I felt like a celebrity.

Jordan and Elizabeth with Grandmother
Chaos reigned in their house. There were no rules, and an endless supply of sugary treats. There were treasures and half-finished projects everywhere that you were free to explore. No surface, horizontal or vertical, remained uncluttered with books, paintings, old photos, old newspapers, stuffed toys, and potted plants. Everything had a place. And everything had a story. Jordan and I were once told to go through my grandmother's mugs with her, to make more room in the cupboards. None of them were particularly nice. But every single one had a story. Which she told us. After a few hours of this I think we finally gave up. There might have been a couple she allowed us to remove. And to be clear we weren’t planning to throw away the mugs, we were just going to put them in the basement.

The first time I realized something wasn’t right with my grandmother was when I saw her napping one day. She rarely sat, so sleeping was pretty alarming. She was never quite the same after that day. She still tried to do everything she did before, but it became a struggle and frustration was not something she liked to deal with. My granddad bought a smaller house without telling her. Eventually she agreed to move into it. As long as she got to renovate it the way she liked. The day I saw her actually watching television was even more alarming, and not just because of the volume.  We used to dread grandmother coming into the television room. She’d walk in, coffee in hand, take one quick glance at the screen, and you knew your television programme was about to come to an abrupt and unsatisfying end. Grandmother would immediately turn to the person sitting next to her and begin to regale them with tales of Jean, Aunty Peggy and the Beaverlodge crew, or something happening in the community. It was astounding how long she could carry out a conversation with little to no encouragement and undeterred by the television, three grandchildren running through the kitchen and Granddad yelling after them, two dogs barking, three more family members barging through the door, and countless other distractions that were common occurrences at any family gathering. At the end of her story Grandmother would always pause and laugh, she would reflect on what she’d just said, another thought would come to her, and she’d be off again.

Through the breast cancer, her days with the walker, her stroke, and her dementia, certain key traits of grandmother always came through. Her stubbornness was one, of course. Another was her love for her family. I wouldn’t call her affectionate (that’s an understatement), but there was always an unspoken understanding that nothing could ever be more important than us. We saw it when Grandmother and Granddad would drive for miles and miles for the ‘Ramsey family birthday’ and Christmas concerts; we saw it when she would proudly show us off to anyone we encountered in town; we saw it in her face when we showed her our latest report cards or shared our latest achievement (let’s not count the time Hart failed Grade 3 Social Studies). And we saw it in the understanding that we would always be together for Christmas, playing canasta until late, surrounded by family, accepted and loved. 

Jordan and Grandmother
Other people have a granny or a grandma – I had a grandmother. For some reason, that name was what suited Janet Hartford and for that – with everything it came with: the stubbornness, the stories, the competitiveness, the hoarding, the altruism, and the loyalty – I am grateful.