Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Verlaine Carter - Grandmother Extraordinaire

The day before Verlaine died, I spent the afternoon and evening in London with our shared grandson, Duncan.

As he and I were running through the tube, trying to catch the next train to an evening of musical theatre, we came upon three sets of escalators:  one going up two stories, one coming down two stories and then between them a set of stairs that commuters can use going either way.

Duncan and I jostled each other, taunting one another about who should take the stairs.

He said, “No, we are taking the escalator, for you will not be able to do all of those stairs ... like my other grandmother can."  Then part way up the ascending escalator he got my attention, pointed downward and said to me, "Grandmother Verlaine would be keeping up with us, even if she were going up the stairs.  But you?  You would be down there only ¼ of the way up and puffing, not able to go any further. You are weak.  She is strong."

She died the next day, in Duncan's mind, still a star in hospital bed.

I am used to that kind of banter.  I have been second to Verlaine for as long as Alex and Duncan have been born.
To begin with, the “other” grandmother was always younger than me. I am 18 years her junior.  Still, incontrovertible truth to them, she was younger, and this could be proved by hair colour. Her hair is red. Mine is white.

"You are older," they would say.

I would reply, “But think about years; I think she is still a little older than me.  Look closely at my face.  Please tell me she has just a few more winkles than I do.” The reply was always, she is the red-headed grandma and younger.

The second point that I was to learn right from the get-go is that Verlaine was incredibly generous.  Hers were the best gifts at birthdays and Christmas.  Someone has to be second.  But in our cases, it was never Verlaine. She was always first.    “This was from my other grandma,” they would show me with pride. I looked carefully.  Her gifts were carefully chosen and came in big packages.   Her only fault,  Duncan told me, is that she couldn’t hide gifts very well.  I asked Duncan how he could find what she had hidden for Christmas Day.  He said, “Easy.  Just look behind the shower curtain.”

Verlaine was a better cook than I.  I didn’t even contest this point.  I had been invited to her house over the Christmas holidays, and eaten the home made squares on the plates from her kitchen, and I knew they were the result of hours of work.

Verlaine was a good model for me, in ways that the boys will never know.  She raised her first family – Bob.  Then she started on her second family – Steve. 

Then the grandchildren came.  Kelly and Brian, had a joy few kids in the world can boast of – they had their own bedroom in their grandmother’s house. 

Verlaine was devoted to her loved ones in ways that cannot be measured by the size of gifts at Christmas or by the differences in our ages of the colours of our hair.   When she was alive, I did not know how to articulate to her my admiration, as I watched her model how to get older with grace and dignity.

This post has been about saying that thank-you publicly.

Good-bye, Verlaine.

I am glad I knew you.


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