Over these past summer weeks, and reassured by double-dose vaccinations, many grandparents have welcomed grandchildren back into our home bubbles. As vulnerable older people, and despite Delta, we are gradually and still-cautiously emerging from the self-protective social isolation into which the pandemic had chased us.
As grandparents, we are finally able to replace some Zoom and Face Time connectedness with precious in-person hugs. And just in time to celebrate “Grandparents Day,” September 12th.
I regret that I never gave my own maternal grandfather the gift of a hug.
He would never hear me call him “Grandpa.” Grandpa George died at age 55 when I was only eight months old. As the anniversary date of his death approaches—August 25,1939—I have been thinking about this man I never knew. Of course, I have learned much about him over subsequent years. A 21-year-old Scottish immigrant from Dumfries, he came to Canada in 1906. (By a remarkable co-incidence, he unknowingly booked passage on the very same ship that another Scottish immigrant–my future paternal grandmother —was sailing on.)
My grandfather arrived as a skilled bricklayer. At this moment, I am looking at a glowing letter of recommendation from E.G.M. Cape, Engineers and Contractors, written on March 31. 1931. The company praised George’s work as foreman during the 1929 construction of the “Pathology Building” (Banting Institute) on the University of Toronto campus. Rather sadly, the note concluded that they had no further brickwork for him. The Great Depression had begun.
As that terrible decade wore on, economic conditions had worsened for George and my Grandmother Mamie, whom he had married in 1908. Following their daughter’s marriage—my mother to my father in 1937– the newly wedded couple invited them to share their duplex in Toronto. A year later, I came along, born into a three-generational family.
Although I never knew my grandfather, he certainly knew me. I later learned from my mother’s stories how much this gentle man with rough, work-calloused hands loved me as his only grandchild.
A favourite tale was that Grandpa George would rock me on his knee in early evenings as he listened to favourite radio programmes like Fibber McGee and Molly. My mother would eventually have to retrieve me for bath and bed. On other occasions, he patiently waited for me to arouse myself from afternoon naps. When I failed to do so, he would “accidentally” jostle my crib. Then, fully awake and quickly bundled into my carriage, off we went to meet his buddies at the barber shop on Oakwood Avenue. Grandpa George always liked to “show me off” to all his friends.
In retrospect, I realize that I was the recipient of his unconditional love. I never had to earn that love through good grades, best behaviour, athletic prowess or by fetching his slippers and newspaper. I was only a helpless baby with not much to offer, except my little ordinary self.
Do you remember the unconditional love of your grandparent?