Guest post by Danielle Hines
Who She Was
"I was a writer too, you know," she said over the phone after asking me about my idea for a novel. This didn't surprise me. My grandmother was thoughtful, intelligent, intuitive, and empathetic—all cornerstones of a great writer. And immediately, my storyteller's brain imagined her in the 1930s, pen and paper in hand with her hair just so. Or perhaps she clacked away at a typewriter until her story or poem took shape. Of course, back then, love and marriage called. Children beckoned. But I didn't detect an ounce of regret in her voice, simply: "It's in your veins."
Every child in this world just wants to feel seen. And I think it's a talent to be able to see a child—past their behavior, straight through to their innocent little heart. It's a talent that can be honed, but it's also a gift that has been bestowed on some in a life-altering way. My grandmother, Norma, was one such person.
When I say life-altering, I mean for the people blessed enough to know her, to be loved by her. I have many cousins, but I think I speak for us all when I say our grandmother saw us. She knew each of us in a way that maybe our parents couldn't—being bogged down with the day-to-day stresses of raising a family. As kids, my brother and I would fly out West to stay with my grandparents over our summer holidays and I can say with full certainty that, during our stay, my grandmother spoke of each of my cousins at some point with a proud and glowing heart. We knew we were her world.
And somehow, she managed to love this way effortlessly. She was not a woman who was kind so that you would like her. She did not do things for others while secretly wanting recognition. She was naturally giving and loving.
I remember standing in line with her at the grocery store. First, she'd say, "Oh, Danielle. We forgot those cookies you love (Peak Freans and Viva Puffs). Go and grab them." And then she'd endear herself to the person ringing us through. She'd say, "This is my granddaughter and she's visiting us from Ontario." And inevitably, the grocery clerk had family there too and five minutes later, I'm certain Grandma had made yet another person's day. My adolescent irreverence would try to be annoyed at how long this often took but I never could quite muster it. She was just that good.
Summers in British Columbia
My grandparents' home on Pender Island was the stuff of childhood dreams. Perched over the Pacific Ocean, the views were incredible. To be able to grow up spending summers seeing killer whales, sea lions and bald eagles was a blessing, to say the least. And indoors, Grandma's cooking and keen attention were a soft place to land at the end of a busy day. She taught me to play cribbage and 'Go Fish.' She introduced me to angel tea and peaches and cream pie. She let me watch soap operas with her. And I remember how much she disliked it when my brother and I fought. Like, it didn't just irritate her, it hurt her. And wow, even now, the thought of hurting my grandma in any way makes my chest go tight.
I was 12 when my grandparents moved to Abbotsford and I was there when they moved. I remember thinking how modern and fancy their new place was. And again, their home was the hub of many family gatherings. My brother and I would continue to visit when we could. I will never forget Matt going through a Kiss phase and bringing the cassette to play for our grandmother. She listened, truly listened, tapping her foot and keeping rhythm with her hand on her knee. And she did this without being patronizing. She was genuinely trying to connect with my brother and his interests.
It takes a Village
My grandmother loved my grandfather, her children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren fiercely. But her love was never an us versus them kind of thing. Her love was all-encompassing. She noticed and remembered so much about even the people we loved. If it mattered to us, then it mattered to her. My best friend as a kid had always wanted to be a chef. When she was thirteen, she showed my grandmother her take on a grilled cheese (which was basically to add Dijon mustard). For years afterward, she'd say: "Tell Olivia I still put Dijon mustard on my grilled cheese!"
I can only hope I've inherited some traits from Grandma. Like listening. Even now, I can see her sitting with my Aunt Sharon or Linda, or with one of my cousins. She's holding her mug of coffee, listening intently, nodding, giving her full attention, offering a kind word, understanding, a safe space. We all need someone like this in our lives. I'm glad I got to see it growing up so I can try to emulate it now.
She was so proud of all of us, and we knew it. And proud doesn't begin to describe how we feel about her.
She was a writer
Grandma was a writer. She was a wife, mother, grandmother, friend, sister, daughter. But more than these, she was a model of how to be in this world. Through ups and downs, through life's wins and losses, she remained kind, never disillusioned. Everyone who was fortunate enough to be in her presence left her feeling better than they did before.
She did that. That is who she was.
Photo courtesy of Sharon Hilts.