A Thanksgiving reflection—16 years ago, it was within days of today that my Grandma died. She was a hard-working, pitiless feminist (although she would not have known the word ‘feminist’ and, as she was a product of her time and generation, she would not have thought this term applied to her—yet it did). I loved her with every cell of my being. When I was very little (pre-school) my sister was chronically ill, and so my Mom had to stay with her in Calgary, 5 hrs away from where we lived on the Alberta prairies. My Dad worked every day, and so that meant that during these long stretches (weeks, sometimes a month or more) I lived with my Grandparents (and apparently spoke fluent German while I was with them, though I no longer can do much more than understand snippets here and there—and I sure know the word liebchen). The second-language thing made me think, the other day, about how remarkable Grandma and Grandpa really were: they were both German-as-first-language, and educated very minimally (Grandpa had Grade 3, Grandma I believe Grade 5), and spoke German at home almost exclusively until their own sons went to school and (presumably) introduced English more and more as their vernacular in their home.
Both my Grandparents were AVID readers. It was Grandma who made me a Harlequin Romance junkie (I still want Harlequin to pick me up as an author!), and Grandpa always had a Louis Lamour western on his sofa. Their chicken coop (once it no longer held chickens!) had box after box of Harlequins and westerns stored there. Reading was something that was such a ‘given’ with my grandparents, that it is only now, in my 40’s, that I can reflect on how incredible this really was: two uneducated, German-speaking people who read—fluently and with great joy—books written in English. How did they come to read so well? Did their boys (my uncles) teach them? Did they pick it up on their own? Did their minimal base of English-speaking schooling take some sort of hold?
When Grandma died, it was after she was told that her cataracts were inoperable and that she would never see well enough to read again. It is my belief (with apologies to any family I may offend by asserting it) that it was losing her beloved ability to read that pulled the trigger for Grandma to give up and call forth an end to her life (of natural causes, but on her own terms. What a woman! God, I loved her! I still do).
The other day I was chatting with my dear friend Heather—my soul sister—and we agreed that we don’t think of the best questions to ask our Grandparents until we are mature enough and seasoned enough to actually have good questions—and then they are gone. But if Grandma and Grandpa were here I would ask: Why was reading so important to you? (for clearly it was). What did you love about it? Was it difficult to master? Who taught or helped you?
I wonder, often, what Grandma and Grandpa would say if they knew I wrote stories and had a bona-fide book out there in the big bad world (Grandma would be pissed off about the graphic sex. The swearing would be a-ok, though ;) )
This Thanksgiving I am grateful for a heritage and ancestry that’s made me sit in the space of having these questions and memories. I am grateful my Grandparents were (one born, one emigrated) Canadians who had the latitude and permission to learn and become something beyond what they already were.
I am grateful too, that I miss them—for that means I had the opportunity to know them and love them, and that I remember how much they also loved me.
Peace and gratitude be with you this Thanksgiving, friends <3