Today, a beautiful woman, who told me it was her 80th birthday, came up to me and said she knew my grandmother and that, “She was such a lovely lady, so kind and sweet to us girls.”
My eyes welled up with tears instantly. My grandmother was born 121 years ago. She’s been gone for 34 years. I didn’t expect to run into someone who actually knew her on this ordinary Thursday morning.
This dear woman gave me such a gift in that moment: the gift of missing my grandmother. The gift of longing for her, remembering her touch, her smell, her voice and how she was a lovely lady and how she would have been kind and sweet to young girls all those years ago, as she always was to us.
And it struck me that our lost loved ones are so close to the surface in our everyday lives. We get used to missing them after many years and that reality becomes almost a backdrop, but bam, come face to face with someone else who talked to your grandmother and suddenly you want to take this woman in your arms and say, “Tell me everything you remember! What was she doing on that day? How did she look? What was she wearing?”
I missed the ache of losing her. And when that pain comes rushing in, so does her spirit. I welcome it.
I am so envious of women my age who still have their mothers. When it becomes too much and I need my mom, I’ll take her perfume bottle and open it. There she is.
Lately, if I meet a woman named Bernice on one of my book tours, I instantly get up and hug her. Mom was a kindergarten teacher and whenever I hear the word “kindergarten,” my heart does a tiny dance.
A few years ago, a car pulled up to my friend’s bungalow. It was her friend, taking her elderly father out for a drive to the places he remembered in his youth. He couldn’t get out of the car, so we shook his hand through the car window. He asked who I belonged to and I told him my grandfather owned Shaw and Macdonald Machine Shop in Glace Bay and he said he knew my grandfather very well.
I didn’t let go of his hand and he let me hold it the whole time we were talking. It was my grandfather’s hand I was holding, reassuring me that he wasn’t very far away, even though I lost him when I was 12.
Memories are powerful and to be able to mine someone else’s memories of your loved ones is astonishing. Human beings are connected to each other and if they have stories of the people you loved, you want to hear them. You need to hear them.
The lady who knew my grandmother told me she read my novel Kin, which is the story of my family. She said it made her very happy because she knew all the people in it, but she especially loved that I included my grandmother’s lemon meringue pie recipe because she knew that my grandmother, Abbie, was a marvellous baker. She actually made that pie from the recipe in the back of my book and it thrills me to know that she did.
I don’t know why. It just does. Possibly because the thought of someone eating that pie brings Grammie back to life again.
All I have to do is listen to the first six notes of Claude Debussy’s Clair de Lune and my dad is in the room with me. He’s right there, playing the piano.
I think those we love are always right there, closer than we think. It’s just a wondrous surprise to be reminded of that every so often.
Lesley Crewe is a writer living in, and loving, Cape Breton. These are the meandering musings of a bored housewife whose ungrateful kids left her alone with a retired husband and a fat cat who couldn’t care less. Her 10th novel, Beholden, is in bookstores now.