Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Here's To You, Mrs. Robinson

This post has been rattling around in my head for a few days now - actually, for nearly two weeks, when my grandmother turned 88 years old. In fact, it's the only post I've ever left in the "edit" folder without completing and posting in one sitting.

I think I wanted to take the time to say the right things here - although I often think when you write from the heart, the words flow naturally and little editing is needed (except for spelling, grammar and those types of things).

When I noted Granny's birthday on the calendar, I wanted to write a few things down, to share some thoughts, to write a personal birthday message. For once, I just didn't know how to put the pieces together into something readable.

It's interesting because when I think of 88-year-old women, I think of old ladies. But when I think of Granny, I think of anything but old ladies. Images of rocking chairs and aprons are nowhere in the picture.

Granny is a soft-spoken, petite, put-together lady - typical English, just as you'd expect given her heritage. Because my family moved around when I was younger and, for most of my life, didn't live near extended family, I grew up without that typical grandchild-grandparent relationship with most of my elder relatives.

That's not to say that we didn't have sleepovers and holidays and hugs and hand-knit sweaters; it was just a different kind of relationship than most of my peers share with their grandparents.

I have fond memories of my grandfather ("Granddad"), even though he passed away when I was in third grade. I still vividly remember my parents calling us downstairs, just as we were sorting through our Halloween candy, to tell us that the cancer had won out.

I really wish I had the opportunity to know him better. I think even as a youngster I was aware of the fact that he was a little eccentric - but it was the kind of eccentricity that I think I'd like.

For example, he once packed up a tent and left on his bicycle to ride from Toronto to Cape Cod, befriending people along the way for dinners, a warm bed or just some lively conversation. Along the way, Granddad kept a journal of his travels, documenting his mileage (kilometers, actually), the people he met and minute details of his trip.

The journal also includes a handful of (somewhat badly taken) photos of the people he met, along with a log addresses and phone numbers of these new friends. When he passed away shortly after his return from that trip, Granny contacted them to let them know.

I've secretly (and now not-so-secretly) thought it would be cool to retrace his path someday on my bike - although I'd probably skip the room-with-strangers bit.

Of course at eight years old, there was no way of appreciating this feat. I just knew that Granddad was going on a very long bike ride. That's a pretty relative thing to a kid. He could have been riding across the city for all I knew.

I'm glad that he took a moment to jot down his thoughts, take some pictures and share a bit of his story with me - even if it was years later when the tiny journal was passed down to my dad by my grandmother.

Granny is one hot ticket. Really, that's the best way to describe her. Sure, she's soft-spoken and proper at times, but just beneath the surface - when you start asking her questions about her life - you find out there's so much more to this silver-haired, spunky lady.

For example, she married my grandfather after a penpal-type relationship they had during WWII. They met face-to-face when he returned on leave one weekend, and shortly after that she received an engagement ring in the mail.

Imagine doing such a thing now!? (By the way, they were married for 38 years, cut short only by his passing.)

I've learned that I have a lot of my grandfather in me - he loved to run long distances, worked as a bike messenger, had a sense of adventure and a sense of humor that not everyone understood.

All of this I've learned through my grandmother, who has shared stories during the past couple of years, mostly in response to direct questions I asked over the internet as she started to embrace online communication. (Yes, my 88-year-old grandmother is tech-savvy. It's awesome.)

I cherish that I've been able to learn more about her, despite the fact that we live in different countries, and that our relationship has given me a glimpse into parts of my family and stories that I probably wouldn't otherwise have known.

She's taken a keen interest in my running progress and other aspects of my life - she's a big dog fan, so I always am sure to send her the latest pictures of my boy.

I feel a connection to her through these stories and moments (yes, I realize I should also pass to others in my family). I'm reminded of that connection everyday when I put on my two standard pieces of jewelry - a round opal and diamond ring that I wear on my right hand and a dainty ruby and diamond band I wear on my left.

Both belonged to Granny.

The opal piece was given to me by my mother, who thought it looked like something I would wear. And the ruby and diamond band was given to me directly by Granny, who pulled it out of her coat pocket during my last visit to Toronto to see her. If I'm not mistaken, it may be her engagement ring.

This post started out as a pseudo-birthday greeting for Granny, but as I finally finish it up the day before Thanksgiving, I realize it's a reminder to be thankful for family and important relationships in my life. I hope it reminds you to do the same.

Happy (now belated) birthday, Granny. And Happy Thanksgiving.


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