Memories can be such wonderful things.
When I was a little girl, I had long, blond hair and I used to pretend that I was Goldilocks, especially when visiting my Nanny and Grampy. I used to sleep over at their house fairly often, but the year that I was 3, my mother needed bed rest while she was pregnant with my sister. I remember staying with Nanny and Grampy for many nights in a row. Every morning of that stay, my Nanny would make me a bowl of oatmeal porridge and I would eat it at the dining room table, sitting on the Yellow Pages phonebook so that I could sit high enough. I would pretend to be Goldilocks and as my grandfather came down to eat before work, he would stomp down the stairs, booming in a loud voice “Someone’s been sleeping in my house!” I would tremble with a mixture of excitement and terror as he rounded the corner and sat down at the table. He would peer over at me, lowering his eyebrows in a scowl and demand “Is it too big?” looking at my bowl of oatmeal. I would shake my head or squeak out a “no” in response. “Is it too small?” he would growl next and again the answer was no. Finally, I would pipe up and say “It’s JUST RIGHT!” Then everyone would smile and the game would be done.
With the passing of my grandfather on Monday, I have become deeply aware that his death also marks the end of an era for our family. He was the last of my grandparents to die and with him passes the memories of life in a very different age. The world was much larger when Nanny and Grampy were my age. Oceans took longer to cross. Letters often took months to arrive from my Grandmother’s sister in New Zealand. I can still remember her telling me how jealous she was that we grandchildren could keep in touch by e-mail. My grandfather was part of an era where golf was a gentleman’s sport, fine art and literature were meant to be appreciated as was a fine glass of red wine. At his dinner table for Sunday dinners, no slouching was allowed and no fidgeting, even when the second half of an episode that you really wanted to see was going to be on Disney. Limericks and risqué jokes were as respected as the poems he could recite from his school days. Children might be seen and not heard, but we listened, learned and joined in as soon as we were deemed able to carry on an intelligent conversation. From Grampy, I also learned the art of debating an issue and making your point clearly, though to my great chagrin, I seldom won any arguments. Grampy was able to argue his point in true lawyer fashion. As a young adult, I grew to understand that his deep love of the law and its interpretations is what called him to accept an judgeship with the Quebec Court of Appeal.
My grandfather was also a frustrated artist. Born with an eye for colour and deep appreciation for Fine Art, he was never truly satisfied with what his hands produced when compared to the vision in his mind’s eye. Yet, he continued to sketch scenes and people whenever he had a moment and paper at hand. I often wonder if he would have pursued an “impractical career” in art if he had been born with more talent. His love and appreciation of those who created the paintings was evident in every book of masterpieces that he showed us when we were growing up. A.J. Casson and the Group of Seven, Renoir, Matisse, Manet and Rembrandt were all familiar names to me, long before my first art history course. After his retirement from the bench, he rediscovered the true joy of painting through local art sessions in the Town of Mount Royal. My grandmother began to proudly complain that she was running out of wall space in the house as the living room and sun room walls began to look more like a gallery or artist’s stall. His painting style became far looser as he continued to age and in many ways, his paintings grew better as he focused more on shapes and colour than exacting detail. During the time that I lived with them during my first job after university, or whenever I was home for a visit, we would try to paint or sketch together. In Grampy, I found my finest supporter and harshest art critic in one powerful combination. One of our last truly clear phone calls together was when he received his copy of the children’s book that I illustrated after it was released last fall. He kept telling me how proud he was of the vivid colours, the detailed illustrations and how much my Nanny would have enjoyed seeing the book. Memories of those words comforted me as phone conversations grew vaguer and vaguer.
Both of my daughters have been fortunate enough to truly know their great grandfather, though it makes his passing hurt a bit more. They have eaten meals around the same dining room table where I sat eating oatmeal...
they have sketched with him and shown off their drawings...
they have posed for generational photos... (the one on the sideboard behind Erin is of her as a child with my Nanny and I. I actually had lots of hair back then!)
they even got to meet WHUMPY, a mischievous puppet that used to nibble noses whenever it was on my grandfather’s hand and hid in the lowest drawer of the kitchen where every grandchild or cousin could find it.
Instead of celebrating his 95th birthday at the end of April, our family will now gather to celebrate our memories and his passing. Most of us already have airline tickets that we cannot change or come from distances too far to make the journey twice. My mother and aunt will attend the funeral service next week on behalf of the whole, far-flung family.
Grampy lived to see each of his 6 grandchildren settled with people that they loved and meet each of his 8 great-grandchildren. He wrote limericks for almost every big occasion in our lives and read them aloud at the events. His love of art and literature was passed on to us and through us, growing in many ways.
The frailty and confusion that he experienced over the past few years and most intensely over the past few weeks is not how I will remember my Grampy. It will be with the same joyful excitement and terror that I felt as I waited for the Papa Bear voice or his reaction to a piece of artwork. I will remember and honour his command of the english language, writing limericks of my own for relatives and friends as well as teaching my girls how to count out the meter of a poem. I will visit places that he told me about as a child with my own children. I will appreciate quality over quantity with every fine cheese that I eat or glass of wine that I drink. I will remember him in all these ways... and I will always miss him.
Goodbye Grampy. I hope that you and Nanny are holding hands and dancing together again.