A young woman sitting on the summer grass in a white strapless party dress with a black stripe, legs hidden under her large skirt. Her dark hair was swept back in a classic early 50s style, dark lips curved into a slight smile.
The first time I ever saw the faded black and white photo I couldn’t believe it was the same sturdy woman who served me the best homemade perogies fried in onions and butter and always had ice cream in her freezer. I peered closer. It was definitely her, just not the way I knew her.
Our grandmothers weren’t always grandmothers, were they?
Decades after the party dress was gone and only the family album remained, a gaggle of grandchildren ate carrots straight out of her garden, dipped fresh rhubarb in a dish of white sugar from her kitchen and clambered up into the dusty hayloft while she mucked out stables in her tall rubber boots, jeans and t-shirt, cropped bleached blonde hair blowing in the prairie wind.
A stark contrast to the figure on the lawn.
Strong childhood memories are tied to pickled beets, beet borscht and finely crafted doilies, and her signature classic fragrance was Estee Lauder Youth Dew. She moved away when I was still young and distance kept her from the day to day of my life, but I still wrap my family in blankets made with the crochet skills I learned from her strong, well-manicured hands.
Hardy and hardworking, sharp as a tack, quiet but feisty, she loved classic country music, Scrabble and her “Story”, a particular soap opera with a 50-year run. She was a bit of a dish fairy with a penchant for abandoned coffee mugs. At least, she thought they were abandoned. Every time you’d put down your coffee mug for more than a few minutes, regardless of how full it was, you’d blink and she had whisked it away to the sink full of warm, soapy water for a scrub. “Where’s my coffee mug?” you’d say and she’d chuckle and shrug in her way.
Despite a remarkably challenging life, her faith formed her and held her. She rarely spoke of the difficulties but the lines in her face revealed more than words ever could. In recent years, she found herself in a more restful season living closer to family, and I’m so thankful my children came to know and love her, sharing Christmases together in our home. Over the past nine years we visited her at the seniors lodge, then in long-term care and finally, her hospice room where we sang her favourite song while and my eldest daughter played violin, like her great-grandfather had so many years before.
Tears would slip down those finely etched cheeks, her words barely intelligible as she sang along.
This weekend, she passed into the loving arms of Jesus, finding the true rest and peace she so longed for. On my final visit, I leaned close, kissed her cheek and told her I loved her and that I would see her again. Although her speech was muffled by her illness, I could still hear her say, “I love you too”.
I come from a long line of determined women.
Some would say stubborn, I would say tenacious.
Some might say bullheaded, I would say unshakeable.
Some could say unbending, I would say steadfast.
She was the first of us all.
She was stunning.