Tuesday, February 24, 2009


On the day when Granny Smith got the news that tomorrow would fine her moving from her small room in a seniors’ lodge to a shared room on the Alzheimer unit of a nursing home she said, ”I’ll take it one day at a time.” That was vintage Granny—good-humoured and willing to make a change.
I did not know Granny Smith well, I just knew her distantly for a long time, never once called her by her first name. I met her when she was the age that I am now. I thought of her as a senior then. She died the other day at the age of ninety.
Born in a large farming family at a time when few Canadians lived in cities, her life is a metaphor for our fundamental societal change. She got married young to an older farmer. They farmed, they sent their children away for the higher education that was not available near their home. They retired to a small town. He died. Alone for the first time in her life, she followed her children to the city.
The intersecting circles of marriage brought me into relationship with Granny’s daughter, and ultimately with her. Though she still lived on the farm when I first met her, and I once called in at her small house in town, the Granny Smith I knew best was a senior in the city. We sat in close proximity at large overlapping family events. Sometimes we did dishes together. She wasn’t one to talk a lot about the past, preferring to make light conversation about the present. She set up housekeeping in a small seniors’ apartment and settled into active senior social life. She traveled, and one time her luggage got lost at the beginning of a cruise and stayed lost for several months, returned finally after all her things had long been replaced. She knitted camels for nativity scenes and fashioned cute little men origami-style with folded one-dollar bills. She transformed a mop into a dance partner, named him George, and escorted him to counter-balance the gender inequities at lady-dominated dance parties. Then she downsized to a single room in a lodge, and finally to the shared nursing home accommodation.
Today, as I ponder the selection of music I ought to play at her funeral, I think of her life as a long journey with many stops and try to fix a picture in my mind. Will I think of the little girl Gladys, or the farm wife canning garden vegetables, or the active senior, or the Granny who became someone to ask about when noisy Sunday gatherings were no longer an option? And I am oddly aware that my own life is exactly at the spot where I first experienced Granny’s, and that everyone meeting me from this day forward will have only that version of me to relate to.

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