Wednesday, October 04, 2006


When I was little, I had 3 living great-grandparents on my mother's side: Mamere & Papere, and Granny Carter.

Papere is probably not worthy of a lot of remembrance. Living just a couple of houses from my mother's childhood home, he was the source of constant trouble for the family. My mother recounts stories of him trapping her inside garbage cans as well as several incidents involving rodents that still send shivers up her spine. She once told me that at a family wedding, he spilled his wine and blamed her. He spent the rest of the reception harping on about how children should not be invited to functions....40 years later, this is still her most embarrassing moment. My grandmother, ever the polite hostess, remembers her father as a man of atrocious table manners, 'atrocious' being a very kind word for some very rude behaviours. My uncle remembers Papere giving him a BB gun and encouraging him to shoot a neighbour lady in the ass. These are the glossified versions of a dead man's mischief; with time and forgiveness they have boiled down to hazy, vaguely humourous stories that reveal the only the essence of a very mean man. I was very young when he died, but what I do remember of him is this: if we were at my grandparents' and saw him walking up the street for a visit, my mother would lock my younger sister in the bedroom because just seeing him would send her into hysterical fits. We chuckle over the bb gun incident, but a man who inspires that much terror in a 2 year old child is no treat.

When Papere died, he left behind a wife, a woman I mostly knew as Ida. To be honest, Ida only passed away a few years ago, and yet, I have rarely counted her among my relatives because she was never treated as such. I have more memories of Papere, who died when I was 3, than I do of his wife who outlived him by 20 years. Ida was not my great-grandfather's first wife, nor was she the mother of my grandmother. She married him only after my biological great-grandmother passed away at an early age. I only heard about Ida when my Nanny would dutifully pay her visits. I would often hear about Ida's failing health, how Ida had grown less lucid, and finally how Ida failed to recognize Nanny when she sat with her in the hospital. Though I often heard her name, I only connected Ida as being my great-grandmother when she died. My Nanny was a bit blase about the funeral - she didn't think my uncles should bother to make the trip. My mother had to remind her that biological or not, Ida was the only grandmother she'd known. Sadly, she remained the great-grandmother that I didn't know, and now I never will.

Granny Carter, my grandfather's mother, is another story. She was exactly what a great-grandmother should be. She was a tiny little woman with a fierce personality, not mean, but surprisingly forceful for such a small person. She had curly gray hair, and wore granny glasses on a chain and floral print dresses and tiny orthopedic shoes. When we were lucky enough to have her over for family dinners, we would sit around the table afterwards playing 31. She played bingo and lottery religiously, and was lucky at both. She socialized at the food court in the mall. When she was finally placed in a home, I remember my mother signing her out for a visit - we went to the Dairy Queen where she had a baby cone, and to Home Hardware, where my mother bought her an electric fan. I remember that she died just days after my budgie, Polly, did. I remember that I was eating toast and molasses when my mother told me the news. I remember wondering if she would also be buried in the garden, where I knew my father had put Polly. Hers was the first funeral I remember; years later, I surprised my mother by recognizing the church when we drove by. It's funny that so many things stay with you, and it's sad that so many don't.

The one great-grandparent that I didn't know was by all accounts the one most regrettably gone. My Pa's father was a stark contrast to Nanny's: this one was a good man, a great man, even. Even Nanny, his daughter-in-law and everyone's biggest critic, remembers him with a dreamy look on her face. She is quick to say how much she loved him, and with a guilty look, admits she loved him more than she did her own father. He died when my mother was just eleven. He was dying of cancer, and they kept it from her; she learned it surreptitiously by reading a note not meant for her eyes. Still, she remembers the time she spent playing cards in his lap, and is convinced that he visited her on her wedding day. My Nanny once told me that in her 55 years married, she has seen her husband cry only once, and that was on the night his father died. I can picture my grandfather crying about as easily as I can picture Weird Al Yankovic winning America's Next Top Model, but apparently on that night he came home from the hospital, threw himself on the living room floor, and sobbed. My great-grandfather died a decade before I was born, but according to my mother, that didn't stop him from babysitting me now and then. She believes that he "haunted" the first house she lived in when I was just a baby. On the nights when her husband was away from home, she would hear his footsteps on the stairs and be comforted that he was looking out for us. Even his ghost was benevolent.

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