April is Cancer Awareness Month in Canada.
I guess I first became aware of Cancer when I was about ten years old.
My parents were taking my grandmother to a doctor’s appointment in a city a couple hours away. Which to me, at the time, meant that they’d be able to pick me up the latest issue of my favourite comic, “Captain Carrot and the Amazing Zoo Crew.”
That evening they arrived home. Everyone looked rather solemn, but I quickly forgot that when I saw what looked like it could be a bag carrying a comic get unloaded from the car. And that’s exactly what it was. I couldn’t have been more excited.
My Mom passed me the comic and then told me that they had to talk to me. I barely heard that, but followed her to the bathroom — all the while never taking my eyes off the comic book. She and my Dad proceeded to tell me that my grandmother had Cancer and that it was very bad.
My parents had never really sat me down to tell me anything serious before. And I had never seen that look on their faces. I had never even been in real trouble before — mostly because my grandmother would go to bat for me when I was being a little bastard. (Which, let’s be honest, was fairly often.) I came down from my comic book high pretty quickly, and knew that things had changed.
Everyone loves their grandmother. Grandparents are great. All the spoilings, none of the discipline. But, my grandmother was special. For a while I thought it was just seeing things through the eyes of a child, but to this day people are still telling me how amazing she was.
My grandfather was the local jailor. The jail was in the back section of the courthouse, which was also where my grandparents lived. And that was where my grandmother cooked. Prisoners have never had it so good.
In small towns, the same people typically are getting arrested. So, my grandparents knew most prisoners very well. And my grandmother treated them like they were family. My mother – who grew up living in the courthouse – still talks about prisoners from her childhood that seemed more like uncles. Prisoners would get Xmas gifts from my grandmother, if they were in the clink over the holidays. And many were, because it was cold and they had nowhere better to go. Plus, they knew my grandmother.
There was one group who might not has been as enamored with my grandmother’s prisoner coddling ways… the police. The day that town drunks were released, she’d not only drive them home. Some lived 45 minutes away. But, she’d also give them money. So, more often than not, the men were already drunk and back in jail before she got back home.
I’m not sure that calling my grandmother a nurturer would give her nearly enough credit.
As a child, I was a very picky eater. (The scoffing sound you hear right now is everyone I know saying “Uhm, yes, as a child.“) My grandmother worried a lot about that. Because, I wouldn’t eat vegetables, she’d save the water they were cooked in, and use it to make my pancakes. I had no idea until years after she died. And I didn’t find out from someone in the family. Bunch of sneaky pantses.
My grandmother influenced everyone in my family. She still does.
There are three female great grandchildren in the family. Each of them have her name as their middle name.
My mother will also take in strays. And I don’t mean animals. In my mother’s world, NOBODY is allowed to be alone for Christmas. Everyone gets presents. You try to feed everyone. Years back, we had a house that we were renting out. The tenants hadn’t paid in months. My mother went over to evict them. An hour later she came home, grabbed a cardboard box and started filling it with food from our cupboards and fridge. My father asked what she was doing, and all she could say was that their little boy looked hungry.
The tenants eventually moved out – still without paying a dime. But, my mother didn’t stress. A couple years later a check arrived in the mail for everything they owed. I am still in shock. But, my mother knew. And she knew because of my grandmother.
Probably the greatest effect of my grandmother’s goodness could be seen on my grandfather, who passed away a decade ago. And who I also adored. When she died, a part of him died. It may sound dramatic, but it’s true. She died on Xmas day, so he never put up another Xmas tree.
Another older man — who had also lost his wife — once told my grandfather that he should find another woman to marry to do his cooking and cleaning. My grandfather tore him a new one. Then he spun him around and tore him another new one. My grandfather had a wife. She died. And that was it.
After my grandmother died, my grandfather developed a drinking problem. A very serious drinking problem. He eventually ended up in AA. Although he didn’t give a shit about the second A. He would proudly tell anyone and everyone about how many days sober he was.
Over the years, many alcoholics would visit my grandfather. For advice. For someone to talk to. To bum smokes. And if any of them fell off the wagon, their families would call my grandfather and he’d be there to try to help get them back on track. He’d help get them cleaned up. He’d get them into detox or to a meeting.
He learned that from my grandmother.
A few years after my grandmother died, my mother got involved with the Canadian Cancer Society. She became the head honcho for the area. I spent a lot of time in my youth, cutting daffodil stems – at an angle – and selling the flowers in the spring.
After a while, like all volunteers, my Mom burned out and let someone else take over her post. Life went on. She worked full-time. She raised two pain in the ass kids into slightly less of a pain in the ass adults.
But, a couple of years ago, her close friend was diagnosed with breast cancer. Thankfully, with treatment, she is now healthy again and doing fine. But, my mother has remembered how she was raised. She is now one of the organizers of the local “Relay for Life.”
Maybe some of my grandmother rubbed off on me, because I also find myself writing letters, writing press releases, and lugging buttloads of boxes for the Relay as well.
I don’t know if my grandmother realized how big of an influence she was, and continues to be, on this family. But, I can’t help but believe that she’s looking down now and feeling pride about what my mother’s doing.
Though she’s probably wishing that someone would slip more veggie water into my pancakes.