My Grandmother was one amazing lady. Her life was far from easy. She had a husband with a fondness for the whiskey. She gave birth to five babies, one while by herself in a truck on the side of the road in a snow storm. That same baby, they would later learn had Down's Syndrome and they kept him at home with the family. Their house had no running water. Every load of laundry required someone to pump bucket after bucket of water up from the well and dump it in the wringer washer and two rinse basins. All the clothes were line dried all year round. My Grandma was eco friendly well before it was ever popular. No running water means the "bathroom" was an outhouse. And it stayed that way until I was well into my teens.
There was no electric stove, no furnace. All the heat and all the food came out of the large black cook stove that stood center stage in the kitchen. So much energy was devoted to firewood. First acquiring it, then splitting it, storing it and then loading the wood box in the house. Then there was the fire itself. Starting one, keeping it going, getting it started again if you went out or went to bed. And then the cooking. I have never been able to figure how she managed to bake such amazing goodies in such an uncontrollable environment, but she did. Her hot cross buns were incredible. I haven't had one that comes even remotely close since she died.
My Grandma had no conveniences. No luxuries. She had no choice, but to be frugal and she was a master at it. Once all the grandchildren arrived our numbers hovered around 20 and even still there was a Christmas present for each of us. Anniversaries brought a care package to each of the "kids". A box filled with pasta, spaghetti sauce and various other pantry items. She knew how to work the sales. She was the money manager of the family. I still have one of her "ledgers". A cheap little lined notebook, that she bought for a quarter, where she carefully recorded that she had spent $12.58 at the grocery store, $2 on Robert's birthday and gave $2 to the Canadian Heart Fund. She was the money manager because my Grandpa didn't read or write, very well at all.
So my Grandma didn't have a life that could be described as easy. It was a lot of hard work, every day. Amazingly, it didn't make her bitter even though I don't think any one of us would have faulted her for it. What was even more incredible about her is she didn't judge. She didn't mind telling you how she felt, but there was never any judgment attached to it. In the year before my Dad passed away my parents separated. By and large it was amicable or at least they went to great lengths to make it appear that way to my brother and I. We did the typical children of divorce thing, spending every other weekend with my Dad. I remember Dad taking us to my Grandma's house on one of his weekends. When we got there she flat out told him that his name was mud with her, but that didn't mean he wasn't welcome in her home or at her table. You always knew where you stood with Grandma.
My Grandma was a good Catholic and while I think she may have been disappointed that I am not Catholic, she would love that I do attend church and would probably attend a service a two at my church, if only because Abby was singing. Religion was big with my Grandma and you think at some point in her life God would cut her a break, but that's not how it happened. Instead, my Grandma got cancer. And she didn't tell any of us. I still remember the night we found out something was wrong. My Grandparents and Ricky had been here visiting. It was only about 10 minutes from their driveway to ours, so they were here and awful lot. Especially after my Dad passed away. They were a big help during my Mom's adjustment to life as a single Mom. My Grandma had used the bathroom and when she came out she was adamant that they leave immediately. Not much gets by my Mom though and she knew something was up. Under Mom's persistent questioning, she finally spilled the beans. I don't remember the exact moment I heard the word cancer, but I know I never believed she would die from it. Probably because to believe that would have shattered my heart.
So she had radiation and then chemotherapy. Mom and I used to sit in the hospital with her during the chemo treatments. Often times it was just the three of us in the room late into the night. While I still believed that she would come through this okay, I missed tons of school just to spend more time with her. In the summer I lived in a tent in her yard, just so I could be of some help. Amazingly the "grown ups" all agreed to this, even though it is entirely possible that I had created work for my Grandma. Eventually it became clear that there would be no getting over this. That we were playing out a waiting game. And then finally, mercifully her suffering came to an end.
Explaining her death to Ricky was not without it's own challenges. We couldn't be certain how much he was understanding. Could he grasp the concept of forever? Could the rest of us? She was what kept this family together. She was the matriarch in the truest sense of the word. I miss her very much. It breaks my heart that she missed out on meeting my girls. And so I strive to teach them the very best of her and all the gifts she's given to me I hope to give to them.
Not surprisingly Cancer research is a cause that is very close to my heart. This June 21st I will be walking in a 12 hour relay as part of a team to help raise funds for the Canadian Cancer Society and cancer research. I have set a personal fundraising goal of $250. If you would like to help me reach my goal you can donate online here. Choose the "pledge a participant" option and type in my name, Shannon Revill, to get to my pledge page.