My maternal grandmother, aka Memere, has been on my mind often, of late.
When she passed on, she was just five months shy of turning one hundred years old. Because of her longevity, my own children had the great fortune of knowing her, if only briefly.
I often see posts asking, “what person had the biggest influence on your life?” Memere is always the first to come to my mind. She retained the naivete of a Quebec farm girl with a particular wisdom I have carried in my heart. I adored her! ❤
One of the most memorable anecdotes took place when she was ninety-two years old, riding up the elevator at the Seniors Home she was residing in. My mother and my aunt were with her and a few other residents who were there with their walkers and canes. In complete innocence, she whispered in French to my mother and aunt that “everyone is so old in this place!” My mother giggled out loud…Memere was ninety-two years old. There is deep meaning in that story. Memere didn’t measure her life by numbers, it was measured primarily by a ‘joie de vivre!’
I believe her secret to a long life was to never have a visage that declared to everyone that, “I have given up!”
Memere never answered the door without her lipstick on, slept faithfully with her kerchief tied around her coiffed hair and cold cream on her face. She said her prayers kneeling beside her bed at night and was always exceedingly generous to people with her time. She cared for my grandfather lovingly, by cooking all his favorites, meticulously ironing all his clothes and working beside him in their huge vegetable garden.
I was the fortunate one, being the first born of her grand-children. She would cut out paper dolls for me, set me up with my own rolling pin at the end of the counter when making pies. She sewed dresses for my dolls on her old Singer sewing machine and made teddy bears from left over fabric. She actually took me to see “The Planet of the Apes,” when it arrived the movie theatre, dressed in her linen dress and nylon stockings. I don’t recall if she liked the movie but I loved it because she went with me.
In my early childhood years, she was a foster mother and kept many children, some I recall fondly, long before foster parenting was even a thing. She won “mother of the year,” three years running. I realize now, that having been a foster parent myself for many years is directly attributed to Memere’s great example and profound love of children.
When Memere was in her eighties, in her little French accent, she enquired of my cousin and me, “Tell me my girls, I been wondering – me, what do the lez-beans do?” We were suddenly agog at the innocence and profundity with which she asked, but we bursted out in giggles at the impossibility of explaining the sexual mechanics of things to her, let alone her ability to comprehend the science behind sexual preference and orientation. “I told her simply, “they love each other Memere. If you went 85 years without knowing how, I’m not the person to ask, go ask my Mom!” Her naivete was astounding and I still wonder if I should have explained the sexuality of it, to this day. She was one of the most inclusive people I ever knew. When my own son came out to me, had she been alive, she would have loved him unconditionally.
When the call came that Memere was failing and that if I wanted to see her I should come now, I boarded a plane and went immediately. It had been two years since she recognized my mom and my aunt as her daughters, often asking them, “have you seen my daughters, do you know my daughters?” It was painful for them to repeatedly tell her that they were her daughters! I held trepidation about the fact that she likely didnt know me anymore.
I nervously entered her room, shocked by her snow white hair, lips without the stain of lipstick, as tiny as a baby bird. Her cornflower blues eyes met mine as I bent down and looked into her face. There was instant recognition! “Ma Belle!” she said over and over, pushing my hair from around my face, stroking my cheek. My mother and aunt cried openly. “She waited for you!”
I spent her last week on this earth, pushing her in a wheelchair, stroking her face, her unblemished legs, studying her hands, listening to her respond to her last rites. She asked me in French if I remembered making cookies with her, if I remembered the doll she made dresses for?” It was an honour and a priveledge to be with a woman in her final days, who had given her life to us. It was also fitting that her daughters were alone with her when she finally went home.
I looked into my mirror this morning..I am forty years to being one hundred. It is just a number, isn’t it Memere?
© Brenda-Lee Ranta 2019