The lifeguards at the Orleans Recreation Centre know my Grama well. She’s there at the crack of dawn as they sleepily open the pool gates for the early shift. She knows them all by name and often brings them little morning treats she bakes. She drives down every morning for a swim to start off her day, except in the summer, when she rides her bike to the close outdoor pool. She is never put off by how the cool the water is, even when everyone else is shyly dipping their toes in and shivering.
I used to dislike my Grama. In my teenage years, I’d written her a couple of letters complaining about my mum and how unfair she was, and could she just talk to her for me? Instead, my Grama told me to be patient with my mum because she’s a busy lady. Well, if she wasn’t going to listen to the desperate (dramatic) pleas of her eldest granddaughter, then I would have none of it. Forget the childhood summers spent swimming and eating freshly picked strawberries on top of vanilla ice cream with her. I was 15 and had no tolerance for her dismissal of my pleas, or her excellent climbing tree in the backyard.
The dynamic shifted when my parents divorced and all of a sudden we were all on my mum’s side. My mum and I learned to overcome the distances of my teen years and unite in this time of need. Consequently, I tiptoed out of my Grama anger, still leery. I knew she was a wonderfully generous person. She spent her days volunteering and visiting, and had all the time in the world to help anyone else. I grew into my young lady days and into a respect for her. I learned more about her, all she’d overcome with the ability to smile through each day, and I was impressed, but never as much as I was this weekend when I heard this story.
She brought over a DVD of my aunt’s and parents’ weddings because the VHS tapes had almost worn out. I watched them with my mum and laughed at the hilarity of my aunt’s wedding. It was held in Greece following a movie-caliber romance between herself and a Greek fisherman who instantly fell in love even though they didn’t speak the same language. My aunt was the first ‘foreigner’ to get married on his island and it was quite the affair. My mum was the maid of honour, so she flew over with my grandparents, two cousins and a friend of hers for the wedding. I asked my mum how expensive that must have been, as I am learning about all the intricate wedding costs myself. She explained that there had been a deal at the time where if you sent in your grocery receipts from a certain chain brand, you would get points towards airfare. My Grama stood outside the local grocery store all day for days and weeks asking people for their receipts as they left the store to help for her daughter’s wedding. Some people looked at her like she was scum, and some obliged. Eventually, she had collected enough people’s grocery receipts to get free flights for her, my Grampa, my mum and her cousins. I imagined her, all 5”0 in her overcoat and hat asking people in her high-pitched, gentle voice if they would give her their grocery receipts. I imagine people looking at her, my beautiful, sweet Grama, like she was dirt. I was touched at how much toil she would go through, for days on end, for the greater good of her daughter’s wedding. The indignity she must have suffered and felt moves me. Then I felt awful, guilty at how easily I too had dismissed her because things didn’t go my indignant 15-year-old way.
I am lucky because at 80 years old, her swims and bike rides have kept her body young, so I don’t fear her time is running out. If I’m luckier still, I have a good many years to make up for my anger. I know she may not recognize the change, because she’s always seen the best in me, believed in me. Now, I hope, she will feel it radiate from me as I intend it to.