Happy Wednesday, everyone! I’m in Montreal and, as we transition into fall, I have been walking down memory lane more often. There is something about fall that is so nostalgic, something that makes memories so crisp and clear.
I’ve been thinking about my grandma a lot lately… my “Nanny” or “Nan”. She passed away in 2016, and before that suffered with Alzheimer’s disease for eight years. But sometimes I’ll have flashes of memories from before she got sick, from my childhood.
My earliest memories are of sitting on her knee, nuzzled close, taking in the scent of her perfume. She was one of the few people outside my immediate family with whom I could feel this level of comfort.
I also think of our early mornings together. I used to have trouble sleeping when I wasn’t in my own bed, so I would wake up early when I visited her. She was always up too, and she’d prepare us both peanut butter and toast, and pour me a cup of tea even though I normally wasn’t allowed. “Don’t tell your Mum!” she’d say, and we’d chat in just above a whisper about everything and anything. My Nan always seemed fascinated by what I had to say— never discouraged my talking. Sometimes we’d sit in her sun room and watch the birds, look through all her bird books to see if we could identify any of the rarer species.
I remember how she’d never let me spend my own money. One of our favourite things to do was go shopping, with my aunt and my mom, and I’d bring my ten dollar bill in my little purse, anxious to find my next treasure. And whether it be a tea cup of my very own or a tiny blue glass dolphin, when I would take out the bill she’d say, “Oh, you put your money away!” and then buy it for me.
We had so many little traditions. When the blueberries were in season, we’d go and pick the ones near her house. She’d give my brother and me each a basket and we’d compete to see who could pick the most. We’d eat some of them later in the day, in a bowl with milk and sugar, but most of what we picked was frozen in the freezer so we could make blueberry pie in the fall. I also remember how she’d always buy me the Pillsbury sugar cookies as a treat, since my mom preferred everything homemade, and how we’d make them together around Halloween or Easter.
Apparently, she’s the person I said my first words to. She lived close by and would visit my mom most mornings. She’d come in while I bounced in my jolly jumper, and she’d always greet me with an enthusiastic “Hi!”. One day she forgot to say it, so I greeted her with a “Hi!” of my own.
Alzheimer’s disease robbed me of the opportunity to form a relationship with Nan as an adult. But, despite all the hardships, the disease never took away the essence of her I remembered from childhood. Even as she lost her words and her memory of who exactly we were, she would still always greet us lovingly. She’d still hum to Patsy Cline and try to give advice: “Oh... you know what I mean,” she’d say when she couldn’t get out full sentences. With her expressions and gestures, though, you could read her intention.
Even in the worst of times, she was always checking in on everyone else. We had a scare one night when she collapsed and became unresponsive. We called the ambulance and gathered around her because we thought she was gone. My mom was sobbing when Nan suddenly squeezed her hand, opened her eyes. Even as she was coming to, her first instinct was to comfort us all.
Memories of my Nan will always live with me. Some are so vivid that I can be taken right back... back to those early mornings drinking tea. It’s as if the moment exists somewhere within infinity, and it’s a place I can visit whenever I need to. Do you have any vivid childhood memories with someone you love? Are there smells, seasons or objects that can bring you right back?
If you want to read more about grandmas, be sure to check out Heart of Gold, a reflection on what it’s like to get closer to a grandmother as you get older.