This has been an impossibly difficult week.
My grandmother passed away. She was less than two weeks away from her 101st birthday and in good health, but she suffered a stroke from which she didn’t recover, and passed peacefully at home in the Richmond Villa in St. Peter’s. As I wrote when my grandfather, her husband, passed away in 2012, the world is now somehow less.
Grandma has played a big part in me writing for this paper over the past 10 years. I have mentioned her countless times in my columns directly and indirectly. Every year, I would buy her a subscription to The Reporter for Christmas, and she clipped and saved every single one of my columns. More than once she chastised me to keep quiet about my opinions, but more than anything, she liked to hear what I had to say and I think she enjoyed telling people her granddaughter “is the one who writes for the paper.” So, because I’m not in the mindset to write anything else, please allow me to ramble on about her for a few paragraphs.
I know everyone thinks this of their grandmother, but mine was a saint, an actual saint. In 38 years, I never once had the occasion, not even one single time, to hear her say a negative word about another person. (I do remember hearing her say “damn” one time before, but only that once). It was a running joke around the time Pope John Paul II died that she and grandpa were in contention for the job.
Grandma had two kids and six grandkids, and all of us lived with her at some point – me more than anyone – at all stages of my life, up until I got married. Because I grew up next door, I spent a lot of time at grandma and grandpa’s. I knew every inch of the place, inside and out, including “the junk room” (a huge attic with a tiny door) and the coat closet in the hall that grandma made me stand inside for a few minutes when I misbehaved. I can still remember which stairs creaked.
Grandma bought me lots of things, including my very first New Kids on the Block cassette from Woolco, but my favourite was stopping at Sampson’s Store on the way home from church on Saturday evenings, when she would give me some change and I could pick out my own penny candy. My tastes got a bit more extravagant as I got older and I graduated to those caramel-filled chocolate squares, but she still came through for me.
We had rituals, she and I. We read our prayers together, she would quiz me on crossword puzzle clues and Jeopardy questions, and I would watch her bake. I would usually stay over after church on Saturday nights, and she would put on The Tommy Hunter Show and Up Home Tonight, and make me cinnamon toast. She always pushed the coffee table up against the couch where I was laying, so I wouldn’t fall off in my sleep. In the winter, she’d put my shoes in the oven part of the wood stove before I left for school in the morning, so my feet would be warm.
One evening when I was in elementary school, just before bedtime, I broke the news that “tomorrow is Crazy Hat Day and I don’t have anything to bring.” She told me not to worry, that she would think of something. When I woke up in the morning, waiting for me on the kitchen table was one of grandpa’s old fedoras, dressed up with everything you can imagine, from feathers and ribbon to fishing lures and random safety pins and buttons. She had spent hours attaching things to every square inch of it, and even at a young age, I knew how much work it must have been. I’m not sure why, but that gesture has always stuck out in my head, and I was always a little insulted that I didn’t win Best Hat.
Grandma was home base. She was the constant. All roads led back to her. No matter what we needed, no matter what stupid mistake any of us had made, or how much of a disaster we had caused, we knew, 100 per cent and without question, that we always had a home on the South Side, and that she would always be there waiting for us.
And now that she’s not here, that lighthouse is gone. It will probably take me a long time to come to terms with that.
I thank you for indulging me in the meantime.