I still remember the day. December 6, 1995. I had been working at my part-time job at a computer store just off-campus, suffering through a wicked head cold. I’d begged my manager to let me leave early, but he’d needed me to stay. (I remember feeling not only put out, but tortured — I hadn’t done much all day.) I had trudged the two-odd kilometres back home just itching to crawl into bed and not emerge for a day or so. But when I placed my foot on the driveway of the house I was living in, I had a feeling that something wasn’t right.
I rushed inside, quickly descending to the room in the basement I’d rented (I was one of seven students in the house; four up, three down), and immediately went over to my phone, not removing my jacket. There was the familiar pulsing tone that said I had voicemail. It was my father. Dad never called me. Mom would always call, then hand over to Dad. He was quiet, saying only to call home when I got in. The news was short.
Grandma had died.
My grandmother — my Dad’s mom — had not been well. She was in her late 80s (I think she was 87 at the time of her death), and like many people her age, some of the senses had waned over the years. Her vision had been a problem for a few years previous, such that she no longer drove and required a large magnifying glass to read. Unknownst to us, until my Aunt Ruth happened to find out by accident, Grandma’s sense of smell had also gone. Sour milk and a too-far-gone chicken breast were the last straw, and with much cajoling, Grandma finally had to give up her home of 60 years. It was hard on everyone.
Grandma moved into a retirement condominium in Oakville, about a 10 minute drive from our home. It was a nice place, and we tried to visit as often as we could. It was there I saw my Grandma on a warm September day, on my way up to Waterloo for my fall semester. It was my second semester in a row, having decided to do a full year at school to make up time for my discipline change, and subsequent delay in graduation.
I stayed about long enough to have a quick lunch with her, chat a bit, before I had to hit the road. I can’t remember what haste I was in to get back to Waterloo, and I’m sure now that I wasn’t as important as it was to have stayed longer. In hindsight, as is often the case with things or people that go away or are lost, you wish you’d spent more time. As I left, she handed me a can of pop, for the road, so I wouldn’t get thirsty. Little did I know that when I left, it would be the last time I would ever see her.
For some reason, I never got around to drinking the pop, a can of Our Compliments ginger ale. In fact, it inexplicably ended up sitting in my room, unopened, for months. Then word came that Grandma had an accident. She’d fallen, and broken her hip. She was moved to the hospital in Oakville, where she would remain under watch for weeks. Her condition never really improved, and she slowly slipped away. Among the regrets of my life is not having gone to see her. I’m sure I had excellent excuses, all of which now amount to nothing.
I don’t remember if I cried. If I did, there’s no way to know if it was at all influenced by my own illness. (I don’t even remember the continuation of the illness after my phone call with Dad.) But I was saddened by her passing. She had been a part of my life for as long as I could remember. She had baked amazing Christmas cookies. We’d always gone to Grandma’s house for New Year’s dinner. She drank sherry, and ate those sugary fruit gels from Laura Secord. We’d play with my Dad’s old Dinky cars on her ornate rug, looking at a painting of two sailing ships over her fireplace. The painting, incidentally, now resides in my basement.
I didn’t go to my Grandma’s funeral. It was a hard decision for me to make. I had a project due the day after the funeral, and two classmates, Kim and Amber-Lynn, depending on me to help deliver it. I wore a black band on my arm (made of two black socks I tied together — it was all I had) all day.
But I didn’t open the can.
The can stayed unopened for over 14 years. It moved from Waterloo, to Oakville, to Vancouver, to Calgary. I displayed it prominently on shelves in my apartments. People would look at it, and wonder why it was on a shelf. But no-one ever tried to open it. Very few people even asked. (I suspect most of them thought I was just a slob.) But it was there, my memory in clear view. It stayed in storage for the year and a half we were in Costa Rica, and probably even longer prior to us moving (I’m not exactly sure when it went into storage, to be honest).
While unpacking our stuff over the last month and a half, I pulled it out and dusted it off. It felt only about half-full. But there were no holes, no leaks that I could see. So far as I could tell, the liquid inside had evaporated out. (I presume that’s possible?) Beside the can were piles of things to be donated, recycled, or outright thrown away. Things that had long pre-dated the can, and things that had carried a lot of sentimentality. I thought about the can’s prominence, what the can meant, and even the potential dangers it now presented to my family. I came to one conclusion:
It was time for the can to go.
One last picture. A pause, then I cracked it open (no fizz left), and emptied the contents. (Sorry, Grandma, but after over 14 years, I’m sure the contents would border on being unsafe for human consumption.) Then I took a last look, and recycled the can.
In the end, it’s not the can that mattered. It was who it represented. The physical manifestation of a memory doesn’t make the memory any stronger, or any more pertinent in my life. If nothing else, this entry helps me appreciate what she did for me, for my family. Her values, her sense of adventure, her stubbornness have all played significantly in my foundation, either directly from her or handed down through the family line.
So if you’re reading, Grandma, thank you. Thank you for the things you’ve done, and the things you’re yet to do. You’ve got some great-grandchildren who’ve yet to hear your tales, and will smile widely at the stories I have to tell.