Before, I ever grew up to worry about things; before I ever had things to worry about were the days I spent out on my grandparent’s acreage in Brightview, Alberta. My grandpa was a pastor and their small quaint two story parsonage was next to a small church incidentally, where my Aunt Josie ( my godmother) was baptized.
The acreage was full of long green grass that my grandpa mowed with a large red riding mower. It was the height of all things to go riding on the mower with Grandpa, to hear the loud grind of the mower as it swiftly cut through the grass all along the parsonage and all along the church, back to the dirt road leading to the acreage. I would balance between my Grandpa’s skinny knees half sitting on the comfy black seat helping my Grandpa steer the mower. To start the mower was a clear scratched little white keychain of an owl attached to a key. The mower would start with a growl than cut its way through the grass slowly. I often had to take turns with my brothers riding the mower, which I was not happy about because that was one of the best things about going to my Grandparent’s acreage.
I remember one particular day dressed in a yellow and white dress; it was the height of summer and the giant garden my Grandparents kept was full of vegetables. I was about 3 years old wearing a white brimmed large hat, the kind women wore outside in the 50’s and 60’s, and the sun beat down on me on my smooth white baby skin and long blond hair. I could feel it’s heat but I was comfortable helping my Grandma pick vegetables from the garden while she was inside. I picked out crisp orange carrots and raw green beans placing them in a basket. Then when I had been outside long enough for my pale white skin my Grandma would call me inside and we would bake cookies, cut green beans, shell peas, and make raspberries into jelly; we would also do crafts.
Besides a giant garden ( or at least a huge garden to a 3 year old) were long prickly bushes of raspberries that I could run along and eat berries off the branches. But I didn’t run along the raspy raspberry bushes much, they cut my delicate white legs. Some summers there were so many raspberries that my entire family would have to come out – aunts, uncles, cousins, and spend a day picking the raspberries. My fingers were sore and dyed red by the end of this event but we would all have raspberry jelly, and fresh raspberries to take home to freeze to put into jello salads and raspberry crisps.
Beyond the large vegetable garden that held corn, potatoes, peas, carrots, cauliflower, broccoli, beans, peas, and squashes, and parsnips, was another large garden. Walking through the foliage on a trail, my Grandpa and I would come across a giant strawberry patch. My Grandpa took care of this and we would often visit the strawberry patch in the mornings to pluck the small sweet strawberries from the bushes. Sometimes there were only a few strawberries sometimes there were tons. We would pick them and eat them if there were only a little but take bucketfuls to my Grandma in the kitchen for jam, freezing, and fruit plates if there were a lot of strawberries. After the strawberry trees were the apple trees, but I never went back there with Grandpa as there was too many bushes and bugs in the way of the trees; besides the apples were never ready to later in summer, after the strawberries were gone.
I loved going out to my Grandparent’s acreage because of these beautiful gifts of nature and the freedom I had playing outside. The first time my parents left me though, I was wearing a purple sweat suit and I did not know my parents would just take off and leave me there. I cried and cried and cried. But I sat on my Grandma’s lap on the stairs at the front entrance of the acreage and my Grandpa sat beside me and they promised me we would go outside, make cookies, do crafts, and play games. Eventually I believed them and was not happy to go home later on. My parents brought me a purple balloon but I wanted to sleep over at my Grandparents. Later I would, and such as at home I would go to sleep in the master bedroom and my poor Grandma would drag my pudgy toddler body upstairs to one of the two bedrooms – one with a slopped roof where my Grandma sewed and one with a double bed with light almost turquoise blue bedding and white sheets; that is where I slept. I enjoyed having my own room upstairs because I had to share a room at home but I would never have given up going to sleep in my Grandparents bed first, until I was at least 6 years old. When I was a bit older, I would come up to my Grandparents acreage for two weeks and go to vacation bible school in the mornings.
Vacation Bible School was held at the Brightview Church downstairs and my Grandpa taught the older kids in grades 5 and 6. I was happy he did though as his preaching although perfectly acceptable, was not my favorite thing at 5 or 6 years old. My Grandma would pack us lunches and she would pack me these little plastic margarita glasses full of pink mints wrapped in tule and tied with a curly white ribbon; left over wedding guest gifts I suppose. But I looked forward to those pink and white mints all through out Bible school.
At VBS children would learn about Jesus, do crafts, place stickers and colour in activity books, and play. I liked the other children and playing games and singing The Farmer and the Dell and Red Rover. But I have to admit, even at such a young age I felt superior to the other children because I was the Pastor’s grand daughter- funny how children think. After VBS, I would wait for Grandpa downstairs in the church and eat my lunch; then we would walk back to the acreage and it was back to lush fruit and vegetables, long grass, tractor rides, and doing things with Grandma.
But if I go back to that day when I was 3 years old, and wearing my yellow and white dress and big floppy white hat; it was the most important day, one I would not remember until I was 14 years old and my Grandpa reminded me. I was riding between my Grandpa’s knees on the mower helping my Grandpa mow and my Grandpa said:
“Pretty soon I won’t have a little girl to sit on my lap anymore?”
He looked at me gently an inquisitively. I remember thinking about my response and wanting to see my grandpa smile because he rarely did; I had also begun to become aware of the fact that my grandpa was getting sick, although I really did not know what this would mean yet.
So I said, ” Grandpa you’ll always have a little girl to sit on your lap.” My grandpa smiled the grandest smile I’ve ever seen him smile and hugged me. But the truth was, he was getting ill.
Later, when I was maybe 9 or 10 years old,my Grandparent’s moved into the city into a house they had bought in Clareview, where my Aunt lived in the basement. My Grandpa had retired from the Lutheran ministry at Brightview and the acreage was too much for them to take care of anymore. I missed it terribly, though I was in school at that point but still slept over at my Grandparent’s house whenever I could. I played a lot of games with my Grandpa and had become a good crib and excellent chess player for a time. In Jr. High I competed in chess two years in a row coming in second and third in a tournament in Calgary; this was after beating my grandpa twice at chess at his house. It was the only time I ever beat my Grandpa and it was when he was having bad days if I am honest. But somehow I learned to think 2 or 3 moves ahead in chess playing Grandpa, something I lost when he died and I could not practice as much.
When I was 13 years old my Grandpa went into the hospital for the last time – of course we always thought it could be the last time and this time was no different. Grandpa had emphysema from all his years of smoking. He breathed from an oxygen tank and became tired easily.
The second last time I ever saw my Grandpa my family was just about to leave and although I loved my Grandpa I was a snooty teenager ready to leave the hospital, to get back to grade 9. But Grandpa grabbed my hand and wrist tightly and said, ” I remember one time, when you were sitting on my lap and I asked if you if one day I’d still have a little girl to sit on my lap one day.” I had not remembered the moment till Grandpa grabbed my hand and he hung on so tightly with his frail old hand that I knew it was important. ” You said I always would, and I hope that’s still true” he begged me.
I could barely speak. The memory and the moment was so painful and I knew he was saying goodbye. He had paper thin skin, red eyes, and his breathing was raspy, and a big tube had been shoved down his throat for the longest time. ” Of course you do.” I managed and he tiredly let go of my hand before squeezing it tight.
I saw my Grandpa one last time before he died and he said he wasn’t doing too good. The morning of my 14th birthday my dad awoke my early. It was only 6:25ish and I wondered why he had woke me when he said with tears in his eye’s and most seriously that ” Your Grandpa passed away this morning?”
” Oh early, around 5 in the morning.” I cried into my day’s shoulder remembering the second last time I had seen my Grandpa.
On the day of the funeral, I was a pall bearer and rode in the limo with my Uncle Barrie my Godfather. He said to me ” You know Amanda, your Grandpa gave you the greatest gift on your Birthday, he wen’t to heaven; and he’s no longer in any pain.”
I did not think so at the time but my Grandpa did give me the greatest gift. Not only did he go to Heaven but he gave me a memory, a memory I will have of him until the day I die; a memory I can share with my kids when the time comes. You see my Grandpa, a Pastor loved God most of all but he also loved me, and this is something I never forget, something I always remember on my birthday. Next year will be 14 years, twice the age I was when Grandpa died, but the memories of Grandpa and his acreage, seeing Grandma still in church some Sundays, they give me hope and take me back to simpler times, and simpler days when I was only a child.