An Angel Lived Here

Rewind the old film reel to time-travel back at least forty years…

My brother and I bounced around, untethered, on the back seat of the family station wagon as we pulled into the driveway of my grandparents’ gravel driveway in a small town in central Newfoundland. The main door was open in expectation and, with the crunch of the tires, her face appeared behind the glass of the storm door.

I swear she had springs in her wool slippers as she waved excitedly to her guests, bouncing with joy to see us. She took her apron off and laid it on the washer in the porch just before we got pulled in, one by one, for a kiss and a bear hug.

Then she was off, bustling about – bustling was her only mode of movement – getting a snack or a drink or finishing dinner prep. She talked nonstop; laughing, only letting Pop get a word in when she got him to affirm one of her stories.

My brother Jon and I wandered into the rest of the 3-bedroom bungalow to explore. A Bible lay open on the dining room table, like someone had been interrupted while reading it and planned to go back soon to continue. Behind the table was a cabinet of board games; evidence of the ten children who grew up in this tiny house. One of those uncles grunted hello from the couch before turning back to the only TV; the black and white images much more interesting than a couple of kids. We busied ourselves with a game or pen and paper until we heard her go to the door to call the others in for supper.

“Da-VID! Dex-TER!” with the second syllable of each name going up to an unearthly pitch. Then she seated us all in the eat-in kitchen and bowed her head to “ask the blessing.”

She chatted through the meal, telling us stories we’d heard a hundred times like it was the first time she’d told them; her wide eyes flashing with humour and life. It always amazed me how she could eat and still keep up the steady flow of words. But there were fresh berries for dessert – bakeapples (or cloudberries, as some may know them). This was my nan’s marijuana – the drug that slowed her down and opened her senses to an extreme awareness.

She closed her eyes after a mouthful, a big smile of appreciation and delight spreading across her face as she let the berries sit on her tongue. “Plain delicious!” she praised. “If there are berries in Heaven, they are bakeapples!”

Even with the sprinkle of sugar over the top, I didn’t share her enjoyment. While I liked the sweet-but-tart flavour, the little seeds got caught in my teeth and bothered me for the rest of the day, with my tongue tiring from trying to root them out. (I’ve never eaten a bowl of bakeapples or a piece of bakeapple cheesecake since without thinking of her and her enjoyment of that treat.)

And then it was back to bustling, as the table was cleared away and the dishes hand-washed with a cup-towel tossed my way to help with drying.

When the last dish was put away, my mom placed one of the kitchen chairs in the middle of the room and the lady of the house took her seat. It was time to tame that wild hair; time to “put a TONI in.” She talked her way through it as Mom twisted her grey hair around the tiny plastic tubes, using the tail of the comb to part her thin hair into neat rows of pink curlers. Everyone disappeared from the kitchen when the chemicals went on. That stuff smelled almost as bad as boiling the feathers off turrs. Almost. (Frankly, there’s no smell that can compete with that).

She glanced quickly at the finished product of tight curls in the bathroom mirror, thanking Mom profusely for the service. Then she bustled into the dining room to sit at the big pump organ. I ran to stand by her side. Making music out of that monstrosity was nothing short of a miracle. The first notes droned over the sound of the air hissing from the foot pedals with a sound just slightly better than the music (?) of bagpipes.

“Faith of our fathers!” she belted out with passion. Then on to, “We are heirs of the Father, joint heirs with the Son…” She wouldn’t make it through the auditions of The Voice, but she won the most points for fervour. Never was her faith more pronounced than when she sat on that wooden bench.

Then it was back to the kitchen setting us up with a stalk of rhubarb from her garden and a small bowl of sugar for dipping. As we dug in, she plopped her round bottom in her rocking chair next to the wood stove and picked up her knitting. Someone would have a new thick pair of wool socks this winter.

What I felt in that moment, as I watched her knit and talk and laugh, was a warmth separate from the wood stove’s heat. It was a feeling of home where love and generosity prevailed. And I knew that everyone who walked through her front door (well, side door – no one ever used the front door) sensed this feeling; were treated with this hospitality and kindness.

The film stops suddenly as the tape’s end flaps away from the reel. That feeling. That smile. That big, big heart. That is what I remember. That is what I will always remember about my grandmother.

I stand on Val’s Stage today as a granddaughter who just lost someone very dear. We didn’t see each other often because we never lived close by. But she holds a place in my heart and always will.

In her 95th year of living, COVID-19 didn’t take her, but COVID-19 will prevent me from saying goodbye in person or reminiscing with family. I will watch her funeral on a screen.

You could say that everyone says kind words about the dead, but sometimes an individual is extraordinary, as my nan was. She was an angel here.

Now, she’s an angel there.

I will see you again, Nan. Until then, I will hold those memories close and feel the warmth of your love when I replay the film in my mind.

When they arrive at the gates of death, God welcomes those who love him.

Psalm 116:15 MSG

But we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we are eagerly waiting for him to return as our Savior. He will take our weak mortal bodies and change them into glorious bodies like his own, using the same power with which he will bring everything under his control.

Philippians 3:20-21 NLT

For we know that when this earthly tent we live in is taken down (that is, when we die and leave this earthly body), we will have a house in heaven, an eternal body made for us by God himself and not by human hands.

Corinthians 5:1

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