I identify a lot with my grandmother.
My paternal grandmother is a funny woman. Full of contradictions, so loving in her own way and so crazy making that her grandchildren just shake their heads as our parents lose their minds.
She grew up in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, the 3rd daughter of 4 kids and was more than kind of neglected by her parents, who have been described to me by multiple family members as “awful”. In her stories, she was left to her own devices from a very young age and got into the sort of trouble you would expect a 6yr old who’s parents didn’t care if she came home or not would.
Born around 1925 (I’m not exactly sure), she would skip school as a small child, find a penny on the street and take the ferry over to Halifax where she would wander around for the day in the hopes of finding a penny to get back for dinner. During WW2 she worked in a number of factories, fixing planes and something to do with trains. She’s told me stories of explosions that shattered the windows of her entire neighbourhood and knocking her over. Stories of saving up to buy a flat bottomed boat and charging bored soldiers for rides out on the lake. She gets a glimmer in her eye and laughs when she gets to the part about getting out to the middle of the lake and rocking the boat to scare the shit out of “prairie boys who couldn’t swim”. My favorite story from that time is when the war ended and she ran out of work to take the ferry over to Halifax and watch the soldiers destroy Barrington, breaking all the windows and throwing furniture and fur coats of the 4th story window of department stores, of having to dump out bottles and bottles of booze stolen from barracks as the military police searched houses for stolen items.
I’ve heard a lot of stories about her life in Nova Scotia, when she was free to do what she wanted and was happy according to her. I’ve heard less stories about her life after she married my grandfather, who was a WW2 pilot from Saskatchewan. They married and he took her back to very small town Saskatchewan. She didn’t like it, she never liked it, and although they were married for years and she raised 3 children there, she tells it like she always hated it. Its never been clear to me if she hated the place or just the life my grandfather gave her but either way she has nothing good to say about the place that all her offspring and most of her offspring’s offspring are from.
Her first husband, my grandfather, used he’s military education stipend to become a pharmacist once they got back to Saskatchewan. I’m not really sure if he was in another city studying or what the deal was but it seems like my grandmother spent a lot of her time alone with her small kids. Apparently she also worked at a hockey arena, where she once got to see Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong play. She said it was one of the most amazing moments of her life, that they took up the stage in ways she had never seen before and she was transfixed.
Life between my grandparents sounded pretty shitty. They both drank a lot, fought a lot, and cheated on each other. A lot. Finally, my grandfather kicked my grandmom out for cheating and they divorced. Only a couple of years after divorce was generally legal in Canada. They fought over their kids and generally made life difficult for each other and their family for as long as possible. My grandmother moved in with her lover and married him, she took her youngest child with her but left her two oldest children, my uncle and father, with her alcoholic and largely absent ex-husband (my grandfather). Something her sons may never forgive her for.
Eventually her and her second husband, tired of being shunned as divorced family #1 & 2 in the whole town, and because of my grandmother’s continual love for Nova Scotia, moved back to the East Coast. Where they lived together for years until they divorced also. Its funny but I don’t really know at what point they divorced, though I do know that it was sometime when I was a kid.
One more thing that’s important to know about my grandmother is that she has always has been an artist. She attended the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design (NSCAD) when it was just one tiny building (it now takes up a huge section of downtown Halifax). The story goes that she had a teacher that paid for her to attend because he believed in her so much, her parents disapproved. She was a painter through most of my dad and his siblings life. Though apparently my grandfather was not a fan and often trashed all of her art supplies (breaking every single paintbrush), she still painted huge and lovely painting from pictures. My dad and his siblings all have several hanging in their houses and there are even a few original ones kicking around of her kids at various stages of life. As she got older though she moved into clay sculpting, and although I remember her painting, its the clay sculptures that I remember the most.
I have this intense urge to record everything I know about her. Like we will all live through these memories.
I don’t know that my grandmother worked that much after getting married. I know that she taught here and there, especially art. I know she sold a lot of her clay statuettes, I don’t know how much that paid the bills. I don’t have the perception that this was particularly unusual for her time. I know that she was never one to sit around. Even as her mind fell apart she was always in pretty impressive physical shape.
Anyway, she lived in Paradise, Nova Scotia for years in a little farm house while I was a small child. I have vague memories of this place. Just before my brother was born (I was 2) we drove out there from Saskatechewan to visit. For all that she was sometimes a sketchy parent, she was a pretty amazing grandmother. I remember a kiddie pool and a big black dog. I think my earliest memory in life is working on clay sculptures with her in her barn studio. A bare lightbulb lighting our progress. I’m told I made lots of “octapussasusses”.
When my parents separated she moved to Regina to help my dad out. I don’t remember much about the short time she lived with us. Except lots of baked goods. She stayed in Regina while we were young. Taking us on days when we were sick and couldn’t go to school or the babysitters. I remember her feeding me lots of donuts and cookies when I was home sick, and letting me make things out of clay. This was a pretty precarious thing to do because I was quite the vomit-er when I was younger. I remember once my now single mom getting really sick and fainting in the middle of the night when she was home alone with me and my little brother. Not knowing what to do I called my grandma. She arrived not long after with a bag of food and juice for my mom (the woman who left her son). My grandma was always good at knowing what to do when people were sick. My mom needed someone to look after her kids and give her electrolytes. I needed baked goods and artistic activity. She knew that without asking.