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Tuesday, October 11, 2011

One Final Thanksgiving Dinner

Hello, all, and a happy Tuesday to all of you. If you're American, you probably just got through Columbus Day, and if you did have that day off work, I hope you enjoyed it.

As for any Canadians who might be reading this entry, I wonder how many of you are recovering from a hangover from turkey, ham, stuffing, and pumpkin pie. I know I certainly had my fair share of it.

I know that in Canada, Thanksgiving was yesterday, and that I am writing this blog entry one day late, but sometimes there are some subjects that you have to write about. And sometimes, there are some days where you kind of have to put pop culture aside and write about something a lot more personal in nature.

This is one of those days.

The year 1991 was a year which ended on a rather low note for me personally. It was the year that I ended up having to say goodbye to somebody that I really loved, and having to deal with it as a young boy.

It wasn't the first time that I had experienced the sadness, but necessary event known as the death of a loved one. When I was about eight years old, my uncle Roy passed away, and for some reason I remember being at the funeral, but I wasn't exactly sure of what was going on. I of course knew who Uncle Roy was, but I didn't exactly have what one would call an inseparable bond...I mean, I was only eight at the time. Needless to say, I knew back then that when people died that we had some sort of memorial service for them as a way to say goodbye to them, but I didn't exactly understand why it was such a big deal. Looking back on it now, when we were all at the burial site in the cemetery for my uncle, the only thing that I actually remember from that day was seeing a small garter snake slithering along the ground next to one of the tombstones.

Kind of funny how the mind can remember something completely unrelated to an event, isn't it?

But, that was back in 1989, when I was a small fry of eight. Two years later, in 1991, I was still a small fry at age ten. But this loss would be one that really affected me.

In order to write about the end, I have to start at the beginning of this particular memory, which takes place on Thanksgiving.

As I explained earlier, in Canada, we celebrate our Thanksgiving in October, on the same day that the United States celebrates Columbus Day. Because of our cooler temperatures in general, our harvesting season is six to eight weeks early in comparison to the United States.

In 1991, Thanksgiving fell on October 14, and this is where our story begins.

1991 was the year in which we had a change of venue in our Thanksgiving celebrations. Usually, we had decided to just have our Thanksgiving celebration at the home that my family lived in until the year 2000. That year, we had decided to have Thanksgiving at my maternal grandparents home instead. I have no idea whose idea it was to have it there, but from my understanding, my grandmother had come up with the idea herself. If that were the case, then it makes this account seem even more emotional, but anyways, let's go on.

That Thanksgiving was one that I can remember as being extra special. Aside from my family being there, my aunts, uncles, and cousins were all in attendance. And, it absolutely blew my mind because my grandparents house wasn't exactly all that huge. Believe me, I know.

When I was three years old, my family had some bad luck, and my dad ended up getting temporarily laid off from his job (luckily he was brought back about six months later), but it was rough going. For six months, my parents and I were forced to move in with Grandma and Grandpa, and to say the quarters were tight were a bit of an understatement. Nevertheless, it seemed to work. Although going outside to play was an option (though only in the backyard as my grandparents home was across the street from a major railroad crossing), some of my earliest memories was watching television with my grandmother. Sometimes my grandmother and mother would walk with me to the nearby corner store to buy candy and all sorts of other treats, as a way to try and make childhood as normal as possible. I can't imagine that having three extra people living in the house with her and Grandpa was easy on her, but I can't ever remember one instance where she complained about it. At least not in front of me anyway.

In fact, I think that's probably how I ended up developing my obsession with pop culture. I think it was through her. She would watch television every morning, and the television would always be tuned into some daytime soap opera, or a game show, or old reruns of sitcoms. I can still remember watching old reruns of Three's Company on my grandparents television set while munching on Oreo cookies and Cherry 7-Up (Yes, back in 1984, there was such a thing as Cherry 7-Up).

Certainly not every memory was idyllic like that. I remember causing a little bit of mischief for my grandparents by being a little bit on the hyperactive side. I think I remember her cringing every time I went to examine her cabinet filled with breakable knick-knacks (of which I am proud to say that I only managed to break one...believe me, as a kltuzy child, this was good news!), and of course, we can't forget about the time I almost drowned in a neighbour's pool, which lead to a fear of the deep end of the pool for two decades.

But really, most of my memories of my grandmother were positive. I have absolutely no bad things to say about her at all. None. She was that fantastic of a woman. I loved her so much.

That Thanksgiving was one memory that I will always have of her. She insisted on making as much food as possible, and I can remember that nobody went hungry at the dinner table. But I do remember that I had gotten into some trouble that day.

At the time, I was playing with a couple of my cousins, and I doubt that they would remember this, as they were only toddlers at the time. My cousin Natasha for instance was only two and a half at the time, and I remember playing this game with her where we would grab one of my grandmother's potted plants, put it in the middle of the room that joined up the living room and the kitchen (though ironically enough, it wasn't a dining room, we all dined in the spacious kitchen area). If you can guess what happened next, you get to pull the wishbone with me, but I'll tell you anyway.

I can't remember whether it was my fault or my cousin's, but somehow, one of us accidentally kicked the potted plant, and it fell and broke on the ground. And, the noise it made was loud enough to get everyone's attention.

Oh, my mother was furious. So was my aunt. Apparently, that plant had been one of my grandmother's favourite plants, and it now lay on the floor all broken because us two kids played a stupid chasing game. Both of us felt bad about it, but since my cousin was barely three, she didn't know how serious the situation was. But, I felt terrible about it, and I felt bad that I wrecked Grandma's plant.

But, you know what? Grandma was perfectly fine about the whole thing. If I remember, I did apologize to her, and she told me not to worry about it as it was just an accident. She said that she could always get another plant, but she was concerned that we would end up cutting ourselves on the broken pot pieces, and she didn't want that to happen. One thing I can say about her is that she loved all of her six grandchildren (at the time), and I have to believe that she would have done anything for any of us.

And after 'Plant-Gate', Thanksgiving resumed as normal, and we all ate to our heart's content, and I think my grandmother was absolutely thrilled that everything had come together almost perfectly.

I often wonder if my grandmother had known that Thanksgiving 1991 would end up being her last one. Maybe that's why she worked her fingers to the bone making this Thanksgiving so memorable. Because she wanted to experience one last holiday with her whole family by her side.

A few days after that Thanksgiving, on October 28, my grandparents went out to the local arts center to see a concert. The Irish Rovers were the main act that particular night, and my grandmother had been a fan of that band as long as any of us could remember. I can only imagine just how much she would have loved that concert, and I can't help but think that one of her final memories would be seeing a band that she loved in concert.

Just three hours after that concert ended, my mother was woken up early by a phone call. It was from my grandfather, and the news was very grave. On the morning of October 29, 1991, I had gotten up for school that morning, excited to tell the kids in my class all about my Halloween plans, and how I was dressing up as Super Mario, and how my costume was made by my sister, and how much fun it was going to be.

It was only when I ran downstairs to the living room that I sensed that something was wrong. When I asked what had happened, my mother would only tell me four words.

Your grandmother passed away.”

I almost couldn't believe it. At the time, both my grandmothers were alive, so I actually asked which one passed away, but seeing my mom's face that day, I knew that it was my maternal grandmother. Turns out that on the way home from the concert, as my grandfather turned the corner to the street where my grandparents home was, my grandmother had a heart attack and passed out cold. The doctors did everything they could to save her, but by the time they arrived at the hospital, it was too late. My grandmother had passed away just after midnight on October 29, 1991. She was only 66 years old.

I was only ten years old at the time, and I remember being kind of in a daze for the first two days after I had heard the news. I know that my family had tried to go ahead with life as best they could, and because of my young age, I naturally had a lot of questions about what had happened. They answered some of them honestly, but others, they never answered. I guess maybe it was because they didn't think I would understand at the age of ten, but I think that they might have been surprised to know just how much I did know.

There was one thing in agreement with members of my family. Although my grandmother had passed away, the last thing they wanted was for me to miss out on the Halloween festivities. This however would prove challenging, as my grandmother's wake was scheduled, ironically enough, on October 31.

A plan was hatched though. While my parents and sisters attended the wake, the mother of my sister's boyfriend at the time would take me out trick-or-treating. And, prior to my grandmother's death, I had helped my sister decorate our house for Halloween, and we ended up spending hours doing up the special loot bags that we were giving out that Halloween. It would have been a shame to let that go to waste. So, my sister's boyfriend at the time stayed at my house, answering the door to trick-or-treaters who came around.

I admit that going out trick-or-treating without any immediate family members there was kind of weird. Not that my sister's now ex-boyfriend's mom was bad...she was a really nice lady. Still, it wasn't quite the same, as I had gone out trick-or-treating with my mom in previous years. Nevertheless, I did have a good time, and I think I set a record in just how much candy I managed to get. And a funny incident actually happened after my mom picked me up and drove me home. When we arrived, there were a group of college aged boys inside our withered tree trying to steal the dead body prop we had thrown in the tree for decorating purposes. And we ended up watching as my sister's boyfriend tackled one of the boys and ended up sailing right into my mom's rose bushes. It was quite comical. Turns out that they needed the fake body as a scavenger hunt item put on by their fraternity or something. We let them have the prop in the end, and definitely provided some much needed laughter at the end of a hard day.

My grandmother was laid to rest on November 1, 1991, and I'll admit to completely being inconsolable during the whole funeral service. I think partly it was because the makeup artist made over my grandmother to the point where I didn't recognize her, and that sort of freaked me out. But I was also at the age where I was aware that this would probably be the last time I would ever see her again, and it just hit me at once. Oh, my family did the best they could to console me, but it wasn't until after we left the church that I dried my tears. I think a part of it could have been my age at the time. My two sisters were in their late teens, early twenties at the time, and had experienced funerals before. My younger cousins ranged in age from two to five, and I think were too young to know what had happened. But at the age of ten, I remember all too clearly how badly I felt. I think my heart was broken that whole week.

My mother took her death really hard too. It was bad enough that my mom had lost her mother. She was in many ways one of the few people my mother really laid her trust in, but to make matters worse, my grandmother's funeral was just two days before my mother's birthday. It was doubly devastating for my mother in that regard.

It's been almost 20 years since my grandmother passed away, and in a way, she still lives on. My grandmother had a recipe for jam filled cookies that have been in the family for generations, and I suppose a little bit of her lives on in all of us grandchildren. Since my grandmother died, three more grandchildren and four great-grandchildren have been born. She never got a chance to meet them, so all we can do is tell them what she was like. Kind of like what I'm doing in this blog entry.

I think that last Thanksgiving is how I remember her the most though...when she was at her happiest with all her loved ones by her side. Somehow, I think that made it a little easier to cope after she passed away...knowing that at the end, she was truly happy.

In loving memory of my grandmother
July 13, 1925 – October 29, 1991

1 comment:

  1. You know what Matthew, this is a beautiful commemoration to the memory of your grandmother. People will read this and think, wow, what a way to go. Doing something she loved doing, sharing that last bountiful dinner with the family she loved. Giving that last lesson that YOU are the most important. Not some object.