My father was a Canadian. My mother was an American. My mother’s mother, my maternal grandmother, was Canadian. As such, my mother grew up in Canada. I spent a lot of time with my Grandparents on my father’s side of the family during the many family visits we made to Ontario whist I was growing up. Time spent with them was a joy. They were simple, hard-working, family-loving people. They weren’t rich by the standards of the world. For a portion of their lives, they farmed the land in Nova Scotia. And, after a fire that burned down the barn, my Grandfather worked for the Canadian Railroad. He only had a sixth grade education, but he was smart, kind, and loving. My Grandmother fared a little better in her education, having graduated high school.
There was always the warmest welcome at the door, with great big bear hugs from my Grandfather. And, I will never forget all the time that my Grandmother spent in the kitchen, she was a great cook, nothing fancy, just always great food! We never went out to eat, we always stayed at their home and visited. All of us kids, the many cousins, played and created all sorts of havoc, while my Aunts, Uncles, Parents, and Grandparents caught up with each other. The highlight of every visit was the fruit of the time that the adults spent in the kitchen – they cooked, and cooked, and cooked. Roast beef dinners, with all the trimmings. Home-made mashed potatoes heaped tall in a bowl with gravy on the side. Fresh carrots from my Grandfather’s garden, parsnips, and sometimes turnips (not my favorite, but the adults seemed to like them). Pickled relish, olives, and other garnishments were carefully laid out in the many cut glass serving dishes that my Grandparents acquired over the years. The table would be overflowing. My Grandmother made these rolls that to this day are unrivaled by anything else that I have ever tasted. Dessert was often a homemade apple pie served not with ice cream, but with a good sized slice of sharp cheddar cheese.
Oh, and the doughnuts, simple, plain, and delicious! I always remember while we were leaving to go home, my Grandfather would give me a doughnut for the road. They would stand in the driveway of their home and wave to us as we headed back home, and I loved watching them watch us until our car got out of their sight.
I have such warm, wonderful memories of my good, kind, down-to-earth Grandparents. Today, as I reflect back over those times, I am thankful for the many trips that we made in our car, three hours each way, so that we could be with them.
Then there was my mother’s mother. She was a stark contrast to my father’s parents. She liked to be called Ma. I called her Mean Grandma, but not to her face. She lived in Nova Scotia, but would come to visit us every year, and stay for months at a time. I am sure that she had a hard life. Her husband, my mother’s father, was kicked out of their home by my mother’s older brothers (they were 14 and 16 years older than my mother) when my mother was around four or five years old. I can only assume that my maternal Grandfather was abusive.
If you were the oldest child, Mean Grandma was nice to you. That was good news for my oldest brother, bad news for me, the youngest. Ma too could cook, which was probably the one good thing that I remember about her. She also was a basic cook, but food was good. That was always welcome as my mother was not a good cook. We kids took the good food in exchange for the bad attitude.
Ma didn’t seem to like much of anything, except for game shows that is. She would spend hours watching shows like Let’s Make a Deal, Password, Queen for a Day. She loved Bob Barker, Bill Cullen, Gene Rayburn, and the like.
It seemed to me that game playing was intrinsic to Mean Grandma. While she alway feigned that her eyesight was bad and that she couldn’t see too much of anything, even I as a child noted that she never missed a single detail of what she saw on her beloved shows. She worked at manipulating people in the household, often setting one child against another. Hateful things were said to us out of the earshot of my parents. She even hated our dog, and when she thought no one was looking she would try to kick poor Spotty. Regardless of her behavior, I still loved her, just in a different way.
I marvel at looking back over the temperaments of my grandparents, and how despite the times in which they lived, their outlooks on life were diametrically opposed. They were all products of the same era: World War I, the Great Depression, World War II, etc. They each experienced the same turmoil. My mother’s mother, Mean Grandma, took many hard knocks in her life, and she seldom exhibited joy, peace, and kindness. She was miserable and it seemed to me that she set out to make others just as miserable as she was. You know the old saying, misery loves company? While my father’s parents also had a hard life, with many big losses and disappointments, yet they were kind, loving, generous people who were always happy to be with family.
To me, it all boils down to their faith life. As far as I know, Mean Grandma never went to church, and if she spoke about the Bible, it was in disparaging references. I never heard her speak about Jesus and a belief in faith. While my father’s parents were Christian, they expressed and lived out gratitude to God by the way that they lived their lives. Their expression of faith wasn’t overt in nature, but rather seen in the way they conducted themselves with family and others. As an adult, I came to realize something that I didn’t reconize when I was a child, my Grandmother and Grandfather were shaping my faith and view of life with their simple, sincere actions.
Yes, each of my Grandparents gave me gifts of priceless measures. To this day, their lessons stay with me. I gleaned those things that I should do, those ways to conduct myself, the value of honesty, integrity, and hard work. I also witnessed how our outlook about our lives can turn us either into someone who is miserable and manipulative, or someone who pushes forward in faith and trust.
I chose to follow the path of the simple, trusting faith of my father’s parents. And, my relationship with God has grown, blossomed into real treasure, greater than the riches of this world. Thank You, Nanny and Grampy for what you sowed into my life!
“One generation shall commend your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts.” (Psalms 145:4, ESV)
“Only take care, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life. Make them known to your children and your children’s children -” (Deuteronomy 4:9, ESV)