Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Memoir - grandad

I don’t remember grand dad dying.  I remember visiting my mother’s father and mother in their Toronto home.  I was born in the Toronto General Hospital. I don’t remember that at all.  From what I was told I didn’t want to come into this world.  I’ve always felt that others that my life could be explained by that defining moment.  Others escape their mother’s intolerable interiors.  I was content to die with her.  Apparently I showed no desire whatsoever to come into this world and would thereafter maintain that I was meant for a different kind of place.  Armed masked men ripped open the side of my first home with knives.  They dragged me out of a perfectly good place with all that I needed into a cold harsh world brightly lit by incandescent bulbs, with loud noises and garish big people with little sensitivity for tiny awkward different sorts of things. I was that oddness.
I loved my mother. I remember never wanting to be apart from her. Even now I cry remembering her. And I do remembering her dying.  Valliantly. Sadly. Quietly.
We had lived with my mother’s parents in that house in Toronto.  I had an older brother I adored.  He was the biggest brightest best and kindest of all the children in the whole world to me back then.  My whole world was so very few people.  Mostly it was family.  Individuality and independence didn’t mean as much as family and interdependence did back then.  Mom and dad lived with grandma and grandad. After grandad died, grandma came to live with us. It was years later then.  Mom and dad had had their own house in Toronto and even moved to Winnipeg by the time Grandma joined us.  I was 7 or 8 or 10 back then but I do remember her dying.
She lived in our sun room and I visited here each day.  She had arthritis. Her hands were more like birds claws in the end.  She was bony and frail.  She smiled and her eyes grew bright when she saw me. Mom and her talked for hours alone together. I didn’t spend that much time talking to adults.  I’d sit with her usually holding some toy in my hand letting her touch me while I answered her question, turning the dinky toy model car or plane over and over in my hand.  Adults always wanted to know how I was doing and what I was doing.  In my family they mostly liked to hear about what I was doing at school, what I was learning.  Sometimes I’d talk a whole lot about what my friends Kirk and Garth were doing. I’d talk and talk and talk and she’d laugh touching my arm with her little claw hand. Then she might start to cough. Mom would come then and say that your grandmother needed her rest. I’d go out to play.
Then one day she was dead.  I found her that way. Silent. Still. Cold.  She just died in her sleep in the next room, only ten feet from my bed.  I cried more than anyone would have thought I would. More than I’d ever cried.  In some ways I didn’t know how much I’d miss her till then.
I never knew my mom and grandmother to argue.  They always talked but I never knew them to fight.  My mother loved her mother something fierce.  And Dad loved her too.  I loved her but we didn’t talk about those things back then.  People didn’t talk so much in my home and church and community.  Not like they do today.  In our day people ‘showed’ their love.  I think today people talk and talk about love because they fancy themselves so much.  When I was growing up people really did care for each other.  My grandparents had cared for my mom and dad in their home after mom had her babies and dad and mom cared for grandmother when she needed help and came to grow old and die in our home.
I just don’t remember grand dad dying.  I guess he died in Toronto when we were living in Winnipeg.  We’d visited grandmother and grandfather travelling on the train and travelling by car but only grandma ever came out west to stay with us.  And that was only because she was old and needed some place to die.  Family were close back then.  A whole lot closer than we are today.
But really I can’t speak for anyone but myself and what I see.  I see new families coming from other countries close like ours was and then moving apart as we did.  So many transformations occur because of wars and weather,  economics and migrations.  Mom’s dad who I don’t remember dying had come from Northern Ireland.  My grandmother came from Glasgow Scotland.  My mother had two sisters.  My so very much loved favourite Aunt Sally and my cousin Ruth Anne’s Mom, Hannah.
A story goes in the family how Hannah being oldest had married a Dentist and when Mom married Dad who was working as a millwright despite having an Engineering Degree. Hannah had put on airs about her husband being superior to my father.  Mother never spoke to Hannah for years after.  Nothing close.  I think they’d talk on occasion as needed but only formally.  I only remember them being close again after the Dentist died.  I guess knowing my mother and Irish pride I felt she forgave her sister in her misery thinking as she did that a live husband was superior to a dead one by anyone’s counting.  I’ve always thought since that a live Engineer trumps a dead Dentist and how foolish the little things we say unthinkingly keep us apart.  Because really that one conversation between two loving sisters separated them for decades.   My mother and Aunt Hannah were close thereafter till Hannah died.  We all loved Ruth Anne.  How could anyone not love Ruth Anne.  She was my brother’s age and beautiful like the movie star hippies of the 60’s but she was a very refined and proper Baptist young lady so not at all like that Hollywood trash.  She look like her own movie the way she shined from within when I met her as a boy.  She was delicate to my clumsy.  The older girls were all very beautiful when I was growing up as a boy.  Only girls my own age played jokes on me and made fun of me.

(Note to self: - need to add description.  The red brick exterior walls of those old Toronto homes with ivy growing on them need to be mentioned.  The elms and oaks need description. The flowers and dogs and cats need inclusion too. Also it might be an idea to record the ‘conversation’ of the events, maybe the sister falling out.  I remember it as history but it might well be remembered best as ‘dialogue’ in the writing tradition of ’show me’ , ‘don’t tell me’.  I’m sure there’s pictures of the house, Marchmount and such.  I took some the last visit.  Ron always has and can find the best old pictures. There should be a black and white one of the grandparents. I remember seeing one with Ron and me as a baby.  You’d only need one or two. Each of the people needs a picture.  I love the one I remember of Grandad in his Orange sash.  I never think of grand ma when she was younger and larger but she’s always in my mind withered like a rare bird in the front room of the house where she enjoyed the sunshine and warmth watching the children come and go to school.  As a writer I guess it’s okay to use a picture but really it would be better to describe her. I would include here the poem I wrote about her and her dying.  “Gnarled”.  Arthritis runs in the family and I’ve had my share of the agony for decades.  My nephew Allan’s joints became inflamed as a teen ager.  Now I’m in my 60’s and I worry for my fingers.  As a child I remember so vividly her swollen twisted reformed hands and her great loving welcoming warming smile.  In my minds eyes she’s an homunculus, all hands and eyes and smile.  She was a wheelchair when she lived with us, that or the little sunroom bed.
I think I’ll have to rewrite the sister thing because reading that paragraph it sort of captures the irony but doesn’t hold the love the two girls felt towards each other even though they probably didn’t hug as fiercely as they had as little girls and as fiercely as they did as older women, when their husbands were alive and young
I can see that memoirs will need to rewritten and rewritten like they are in our memories.  Glancing over another paragraph there’s just words and words and words without any of the colour and charm and hope that was so much apart of that time.  I ‘ll have to write about the church. I especially want to write about Aunt Sally’s red coat and babe’s driving.  So much will have to be cut away. The anecdotes are what are important. This forms a kind of background or cradle for holding growing things.  It woke me in the night. Now maybe I can get back to sleep for another hour.  Too many people are dying this week.  Too much talk of death.  I guess I felt a cold wind on my own shoulder.  This memoir project was something I’d thought I’d do in my old age.  But I’m turning 63 in a week or so but though it doesn’t feel old it seems old as people I’ve known who were my age or younger are dying.  I’ll likely live to a hundred as more of a curse than a blessing.  )

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