For most of the time my Grandma T and I walked the same Earth, she was a tiny and nearly batty old woman. And like many grandsons, I probably didn't show her the respect she deserved.
She lived most of her adult life in Toronto, but moved to London, Ontario when my grandfather retired, somewhere around the time I was born. They visited us in Leamington every few months.
Inevitably, every morning of her visit, she would creep into my bedroom at some ungodly hour to retrieve something she had left in my closet. Whatever it was, it was hidden at the bottom of a crinkly Eaton's bag. The harder she tried to keep the crinkly plastic from making noise, the noisier it got.
Me: (after several minutes of crinkling) I'm awake now, Grandma. Do you want me to turn a light on?
Grandma: Oh, goodness. I didn't wake you, did I?
One year at Christmas, my aunt tried her new hair-trimming kit out on my teenage head.
Me: You're not going to buzz me, right?
Aunt: Of course not. See? This is the longest attachment.
Her first swipe at my skull began at the peak of my forehead and ran to my crown.
Aunt: (looking, tilting her head) Oh my.
Aunt: Nothing. It's just...
By the time she finished, I was nearly bald -- which, at the height of my sloppy, grungy, indie-pop years was just about the worst thing that could ever happen to my head. Grandma T knew just what to say.
Grandma T: You look like one of those football players!
Grandma T: You know! A football player! Very preppy.
I didn't think much of my grandma. Which is not to say that I didn't love her, or that I thought poorly of her. I just didn't think about her.
I was in college when she had her first stroke. It was big. It was followed soon after by a string of others. Overnight, my grandma transformed from the woman I'd always known to a frighteningly pale human form lying very still on a hospital bed.
Our family moved her to a care home in Leamington. She eventually recovered a bit. She could speak and feed herself. But she was never again the Grandma T I had known. She was way better.
Every time I visited, it was a different time, a different place. She was always Marjorie T_, but a younger version of herself. Completely lucid in whatever time and place her mind brought her.
Sometimes she was a five-year-old girl. We'd talk about candy and how mean little sisters can be. Other times she was a teenager. She was very keen to talk about boys.
Grandma T: Sometimes I don't know which boyfriend I like best.
Me: You have more than one?
Grandma T: Don't tell!
Once, she confessed the nicest boy she ever met was a fellow named Gerry T_. My grandpa.
Me: You're just saying that because it's me, Grandma.
Grandma: Maybe. He was nice, though.
Grandma lived just long enough for me to get to know her -- to realize this tiny person I had grown up apathetic to was a complex, intelligent, feeling person.
The day before her funeral, I found a photo of her and and my grandpa on their honeymoon. They took a cruise of the Great Lakes. In the photo, they're lazily leaning back against a guardrail. Grandpa's arm goes far enough around her shoulders that Grandma can hold the tips of his fingers with her hand. They look look young, attractive, and cocky. Their faces wear an unmistakable expression. It says: "Awwww, yeah."
I didn't cry at her funeral -- something a creepy church fellow pointed out to me.
Creepy: It's OK, you know.
Me: What's OK?
Creepy: To cry.
Me: Oh, I know. I'm not sad.
Creepy: Riiiiight. Look, we both know you can't lie to me. Go ahead. Cry.
Me: I'm not sad.
He grasped my arms, and spoke in a whispered growl.
Me: (matching his tone, leaning forward) No.
I probably should have explained how happy I felt that day. That I had a picture in my head all day of a smiling young woman and her new husband with their whole lives ahead of them. That I was lucky enough to get to know her before it was too late.