When I was younger, one of the things I always looked forward to was going to visit my granny. Mary Agnes Posey. She was one of my favorite people ever. I loved spending time with her. She always had great stories to tell and I could listen to her endlessly. (Maybe that’s where my love of storytelling comes from…?)
She lived in a small town in northern Alberta called Kinuso, about three hours away, in a small house on the front edge of town. I can still remember the smell of her house. In fact, I used to look forward to walking through the back door into the mud room and taking my first breath in, I so loved that smell. Couldn’t tell you specifically what made up the aroma but to me, it was the best smell in the whole world. It smelled like family. And it smelled like love.
From the mud room, you walked into the kitchen. She had an old formica kitchen table with four vinyl-covered chairs (six chairs when you pulled the halves of the table apart and put the extra leaf in the middle). Some of the most enjoyable hours of my young life were spent sitting at that table. When I was very young, my parents and my brothers would be there, usually a couple of my aunts as well. When I got a little older and could drive myself there, lunch would be me, her and a couple aunts; dinner would be just me and her. After dishes and a bit of TV, we’d spend an hour or two before bed, drinking tea and talking — well, mostly it was me listening while she told me about things my grandpa did “back in the day” or what my father and his sisters used to get up to when they were kids. I loved it so much, I often used to think it would be great to live up there so every day could be like that.
In the center of the kitchen, stood a large, black, cast iron wood-burning stove that not only cooked all the meals but heated the house, as well. Every morning, Granny would get up, get the fire going and get back under the covers while the house warmed up. (Out behind the house, there was a wood shed filled to bursting with chopped wood.) I suspect, in the winter, when temperatures would get down as low as -40 C, she would probably have to get up a couple times in the middle of the night, too. Most people today would consider that a hardship but I don’t think she did. It just had to be done, same as cooking a meal or getting dressed. (She eventually did get central heating but not until about the mid-1980’s.)
When my son, Matthew, was an infant and a toddler, he loved to spend time with her, too. And she loved him just as much as she loved all of her great grandchildren. And her grandchildren. And her children.
Mary Agnes Posey died on May 24, 1994. Two weeks after Matthew turned four and two months after she turned 87. It was one of the saddest days of my life. Looking at that date, I can hardly believe it’s been nearly 27 years. Especially when, if I sit and close my eyes for a moment, I can still smell that smell; I can still hear her laugh.
I brought four-year-old Matthew to the funeral. (I’ve never thought that kids shouldn’t be exposed to stuff like that. Better to expose them and help them learn how to deal with it, in my opinion.) I was honored to be one of her pallbearers along with her other five grandsons and had to leave Matthew with the rest of our family while doing that.
The next day, after we’d got home, Matthew asked me, “Dad, why did Granny Agnes die?”
Hard question to have to answer at the best of times. Harder still when you have to couch it in terms that will comfort a four-year-old. So, I went with, “Because she was old.”
“Well, you’re old. Granny and Grampa are old.” (He was refering to my parents.)
“Does that mean you’re going to die?” I added silently. I munched on a nacho chip while I thought about how to get across the difference between my age “old” and Granny Agnes’ age “old”. And, while looking at the big bowl of nachos, it hit me.
“How old are you?” I asked him.
So we made a pile of four nachos at one end of the kitchen table.
“Now, I’m twenty-nine,” I said. (And I was, at the time.)
And we counted out 29 more nachos and put them in a pile beside his pile of four. And we made a pile of 58 nachos for my parents. (They were both born the same year.) And then we made a pile of 87 nachos for Granny Agnes. The difference in the sizes of the four piles was blatant. And he got it. I could see the relief wash over him.
The three remaining nacho piles are now 27 chips larger. There have been many ups and many downs and there will continue to be. That’s called life. I was thinking of my granny while driving the car just the other day. On the radio, they were asking listeners to answer a question: “In the event of a fire, and assuming your family and pets all got out safely, what item or items would you run back in to save?” I didn’t even have to think about it. That was the easiest question I ever had to answer.