My grandma would have turned 106 years-old today. I spent every weekend from the age of two until twelve with my grandparents. She loved me unconditionally, confided in me, listened to all of my blathers, and never questioned the truth or validity of any of my stories (“Oh, aye now, really? Well, isn’t that just an awffie (awful) thing to have happened to ye? Ah well, dinnae ye worry aboot it, Lovey”). She would sit in the backseat of my grandfather’s car with me (while he sped, swore and occasionally hit things with his car) and sing, laugh and delight in our time together. I could do no wrong in her eyes, nor she in mine. I was her best friend and she was mine.
We would sit and talk for hours on those weekends, she would tell me stories about growing up on Malcolm Street in Dundee, and how they would move house occasionally, but always stayed on Malcolm street. She told me about her brothers and sisters and the one baby girl who did not survive infancy, about her stern mother and wee-Irish father, and going to school and being forced to use her right hand rather than her left (she ended up being ambidextrous as a result) and about how terrified she was when she was sent out to work, delivering milk to houses with dark doorways in the wee hours of the morning as just a tiny five-year-old, because her family needed the money. I’m still not sure if she was more scared of the police officer who brought her home or her mother’s reaction that she’d be ‘caught’ and the resulting at the loss of income it caused.
She talked about being a nurse when she was a young, single woman in Scotland, about her dreams of being a nun and being told ‘no’ by her mother, as she was needed to earn money to support her parents and siblings. She told me about working in the factory during WWII and meeting my grandfather there and how during their first date, his temper got the better of him and he threatened to punch another man in the theatre for being too loud (in hindsight people, the signs are ALWAYS there if we are not blind to them).
She told me about coming to Canada on the boat while she was almost nine-months pregnant and tending to her toddler while my grandfather socialized with other travellers for the duration of the journey. She told me about their early years in Canada, the struggles, the scares, the near-misses.
She always stood tall and proud, she always sat straight-backed and knees together, perhaps crossing her feet at the ankles. She wore skirts with tights and was always clean, presentable, no matter the time of day or the weather outside. She tended to her family, house, and home with a fierce determination and pride. Her house was immaculate and her floors were waxed by hand. She worked outside the home for thirty-odd years (retiring at age 67) and still cooked dinner every evening. She cooked, cleaned, ironed, mended, sewed clothing (she made that dress she’s wearing in the picture above and almost all of her other clothes) and she made ends meet. The beds were always made, the mirrors always shone. She had her hair washed and set by the hairdresser every Friday and never once polished her fingernails.
She refused to let the outside world know her pain, heartache or difficulties. “Don’t let anyone know it hurts. Walk on, like your ankle isn’t sprained, like your back doesn’t hurt, like your heart isn’t broken, don’t limp, don’t frown, and for heaven’s sake, don’t cry. Smile and keep your head up and look them in the eye as you pass. You just need to get home. You can cry there. Never let anyone see you cry.”
My grandma never stood taller than 4’10” a day in her life. By the end of her time with us, she was closer to 4’7″ and could no longer sit or stand quite as tall, and her clever and sharp mind had betrayed her, but she was never less than a titan to me.
I will continue to miss her every day of my life.
Happy birthday, Grandma, until we meet again. xoxo
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