I'm in Vancouver, visiting my grandmother, who's in the hospital. It's been making for strange, tiring days that I'm going to have to sit on for a bit before I try to write for public consumption. This is a piece about my grandma that I wrote for her birthday last year. I found it tonight whilst rooting around in my grandmother's mementos looking for things to bring in to the hospital with me tomorrow.
“Grandmama Erika weighs less than nothing,” my sister told me once when we were little. “Literally.” And while that’s not entirely accurate, one could be forgiven for thinking it’s true. Granddaddy Alan once told me she that the only way that Grandmama could top one hundred pounds would be for her to put on all her winter clothes at once and dunk herself in the lake. I’ve been taller than she is forever now -- a giantess enfolding her small shoulders in my large and unwieldy arms every time we meet. My grandmother seems made of smallness.
You’d be wrong, however, to assume a corresponding fragility. Soon after Brian and I first moved to San Francisco, we headed up to Vancouver for an American Thanksgiving in Canada. Grandmama Erika had just entered her eighties, older than she’d ever been before (which is the way that these things work, I suppose), and on the flight up I was afraid that she’d be ancient. I was afraid I’d find her reduced somehow.
I needn’t have worried. Grandmama was the same as ever, guiding us on walks through the neighborhood and rooting out family photos and other artifacts for me to examine. By the time Brian and I tottered down to breakfast in the mornings, she would have already attended an exercise class, or met with some social group or other. Coffee would be percolating on the stove, and bowls with whole grain cereal and a banana on the side would be set out on the table.
Many of my memories of Grandmama’s house involve food: sitting in the morning sun at breakfast; lunches of walnut bread and soup and tofu; the three of us – Grandmama, Brian and I -- watching a coyote poke through the backyard as we clear up our dishes.
Grandmama’s kitchen is a warm room, built to suit its cook perfectly, with workspaces and cabinets and sinks exactly where you’d want them. There’s an appreciation for food here, both for the way it tastes and the nutrients it contains. Meals with Grandmama incorporate every food group, and ingredients in their most natural state, unprocessed feasts imparting energy rather than lassitude.
And so we were perpetually up for adventure, for walks in the park and all around Vancouver. At the Museum of Anthropology at UBC, she entertained Brian and me with anecdotes about the construction of the museum and the artists that she and granddaddy had known. Outside, she blazed trails through overgrowth and up hillsides as we investigated the Haida House complex. Standing by an eroded memorial pole, I turned to watch Brian and Grandmama as they walked around a large structure. Eagles were circling overhead in the large overcast sky, and Grandmama’s red coat stood out sharply against the gray clouds, small but bright.