My parents recently returned from a trip to Canada to visit my aunts, my mother's two sisters, who live there. My mom was born and raised in New Brunswick, in a small town bordering Quebec. Now that they're back from their trip, we've been catching up and today she was telling me about how things are there.
I spent most of my childhood traveling there on an annual basis to visit my grandparents. Dad was in the Navy, so it was one of those big adventures to go visit family in Canada, even if dad was deployed at the time. Looking back, I realize just how strong my mother must have been...a two- or three-day drive with two kids couldn't have been the most fun experience, but she pushed through and got us there safely each time. My brother and I looked forward to the time spent there each year, and it was just bonus if dad was able to travel with us, too, depending on his deployment schedule.
My grandparents were amazing people, and I was definitely lucky to make so many valuable memories of them that I can carry with me forever. My brother and I would get so disappointed about going in summer because that meant missing the snow, but then we'd miss berry-picking season if we traveled there during the winter. Regardless of the season, we always found plenty to keep us busy, and that was in no small part thanks to Grammie and Grandpa. As soon as we'd arrive, if there was still enough daylight left, they'd slip us each a dollar or two and we'd dart up the road to the little "canteen," a small convenience store. I'm surprised I didn't have more cavities as a child, considering just how far you could stretch a dollar when penny candy was involved!
My grandfather would take us out in his canoe, paddling up and down the river. We'd go fishing, listen to him sing songs (some well-known, others that he would just make up on his own). He was so devoted to my grandmother. I realize now that we build our relationship expectations for later in life based on what we see and experience as children, and I'm glad that my grandparents (and my parents) have been such good role models!
My grandfather passed away the day I left for college my freshman year. It was a horrible loss, since it was quite unexpected. I made the decision very soon after that I would travel on my own to Canada the following summer and stay with my grandmother for a while. The idea that she was there alone after so many years of being half a couple was just too sad for me to think about, so I figured I would help in any way I could. I knew my family couldn't make the trip as a group, so I approached my parents about finding a way for me to fly up there for a month or two.
The first summer there on my own, I stayed with her for six weeks. We laughed, watched her favorite television shows, cooked meals and yummy desserts, went for long drives with no particular destination. She had been treated for lung cancer when I was only 13, so her health wasn't the greatest at that point, but I think that she worked extra hard to hide that from me while I was there. Still, the signs were not easy to hide, and I knew that she wasn't going to be around for too many more years. You try not to focus on the negative when you're in that situation. That's what building memories is all about, right? So I focused instead of finding new ways to make her laugh, helping her with errands and sneaking the answers into her crossword puzzles when she wasn't looking.
By the following summer, the summer after my sophomore year, I knew I'd be going back to stay with her again. I opted for two months this time. And I'm so glad I did! Her health was still in decline, but her spirit was amazingly infectious. One of my aunts had told me she wondered if Grammie had lost her faith, fallen down spiritually over the loss of my grandfather. One night we were watching television, and I was too curious not to say anything, so I asked her, "Gram, have you lost your faith?" Her response? "No dear. I lost your grandfather, but not my faith. If I lost my faith, what would be left for me to hold on to?" She was so sure of where he was and I think she knew she would be seeing his beautiful face again soon. We had many discussions that summer, ranging from what I wanted to accomplish with my education to what I was looking for in a future relationship. Our conversations weren't always "deep," but each one had special significance to me.
My family joined us at the end of my eight weeks, and they stayed for a few days before we started the trek back home. Before we left, my grandmother told me to keep my eyes open, because the man I was looking for was not as far off as I thought. She told me that I may have already met him! When I asked her if I could count on coming to stay with her again the following summer, she hugged me tight and said, "I don't know...I might have other plans."
The day I arrived back home in Florida from that visit, my mom convinced me to call a friend and see if she wanted to go out to a club and unwind a bit. I did, and we went. That's the night I met Steve...for the third time. You see, I met him briefly when we attended high school together, just for a moment in a crowded school hallway. Then again, just for a brief minute, when I was home for Christmas break my first year at college, and I was working right around the corner from him. Neither encounter registered a second glance, because I had been so caught up in my life at the time. But that third time, the day I came back from Canada, and the day after my grandmother had predicted I'd find him, that was the day I was really meant to meet him.
Steve and I started dating almost immediately, and less than three months later my grandmother's health took a turn for the worst. Mom flew to Canada to be there by her side with her sisters in the days before Grammie's passing, and Mom took a picture of me and Steve with her so Gram could see us together. They put the picture on a bulletin board next to her bed, and later my aunt told me that she had woken up, looked at the photo, and told my aunt that she was glad I found someone who could take care of me, because she couldn't be there to do it any longer. Grammie passed away the next morning, October 1998.
Lessons learned in those summers...I thought I was going to Canada those two summers to take care of my grandmother, because she needed ME. What I didn't realize was that she had been taking care of me that entire time as well. I needed her more than I ever knew. And I am so grateful that I had that time with her, because she gave me life lessons without even letting on that she was the teacher.