Yesterday, as I was sitting in the Halifax airport waiting to get home, my mother contacted me to let me know that they were all at the hospital with my grandmother and it didn’t look good. I hoped that I would be able to get home and to the hospital in time, but only about a half an hour later my father contacted me to let me know that she was gone. My last grandparent, Katherine Gillis, had passed away.
I’m full of memories of my Nanny Gillis, who took care of my cousins and I for years whenever our parents were working or busy. In my childhood I spent as much time at her house as I did at my own. Even when I was in school I would go to her house every day for lunch, and during the summers I would ride my bike there on a daily basis. Now that she’s gone, I find myself remembering all kinds of little things about our time together.
I remember she would read to me all the time from books of nursery rhymes and short stories. We would snuggle up in her armchair and read about the Three Little Kittens and Winken, Blinken, and Nod. She’d read the same books over and over to me no matter how many times I asked.
I remember sitting at the kitchen table with her while we ate crackers slathered with liverwurst and mustard. She may have been the only person in the world who could get me to try something with the word “liver” in the name.
I remember laying on her living room floor and writing my stories – some of the first things I ever really wrote – and having her ask to read them. She’d go through the notebook pages with a smile on her face and tell me how talented I was. She always insisted that I should be a journalist when I grew up.
I remember I used to have this slinky, gold-colored belt that had a little bit of heft to it. Once, when she was sleeping on the couch at our cabin, I got it in my head to toss the belt onto her. She woke up immediately, thinking the belt was a snake, and shrieked like a banshee while I laughed maniacally. She wasn’t impressed, but she laughed about it later.
I remember the look on her face whenever she caught my cousin Tommy and I eating sugar right out of the bowl. She’d act like she was disappointed in us, but I noticed that she never ever moved the sugar bowl.
I remember she was always trying to teach me how to swim, even though I was terribly difficult and scared. She’d put her hands under my belly and hold me up so that I could kick and move my arms without sinking. I never did learn how to swim properly because I was too terrified, but no one put as much energy into trying to teach me as my Nanny did.
I remember she would get so worried about things my cousins and I did as kids, like climbing trees and practicing “Power Rangers” moves on each other, but she’d laugh all the same when one of us did something foolish.
I remember her getting my cousins and I to collect rhubarb from a nearby yard so that she could bake treats with it.
I remember her taking the time to painstakingly weave my long hair into an absolutely perfect french braid. She’d make it so evenly, and pull it so tight, that I could have worn it that way for days without ever having to touch it up.
I remember she would always give my cousins and I her spare change so that we could run down to the nearby store and stock ourselves full of candy.
Most of all, I remember that when my cousins and I were around it was all about us. Feeding us, playing with us, doting on us, taking us to the cabin, taking us swimming… She was the quintessential grandmother whose life was all about her grandchildren, and as time went on she came to love her great-grandchildren just as much.
She will be deeply missed, but I will always have my memories of her, and I will hang on to them for the reset of my life.
Goodbye, Nanny. I’ll love you forever.