Grandma stayed in touch with old school friends, students, fellow teachers, and even her first landlady. They met again at a reunion in 1966.


For more than eight years, I wrote regular editorial-page columns for
The Tri-City News, serving Coquitlam, Port Coquitlam, and Port Moody. This one's about a difficulty Grandma had with her first teaching job, starting in September of 1926. Skip six paragraphs down to get to her story.

Mothers, grandmothers, and aunts are the primary keepers of household stuff. They give away plenty over their lives, but still, when they die, major heaps of old stuff must be dispersed. It can be a daunting, distressing task.

Things that were precious to their owner look, alas, like junk to others. Unless heirs know the significance of each item, chances are that most will go to the Sally Ann or the dump.

What makes even the ugliest old thing significant? Stories. Warm a future heir's heart with a story, and chances are much better that a bit of clutter will stay in the family.

I tried to tell my grandma this in the last decade of her life, when she was too worn-out and tired to do much. Please, please, I asked, write down even a paragraph a week about the things that matter to you - anything would be better than nothing.

A couple of years before she died [in January 1997], I was visiting her and discussing her things. I held up a clunky old plate, its faint gilt edge encircling some scratchy gobs of purple-brown plums. I asked her why anyone would keep something this ugly. When she was gone, not even a thrift store would want. She burst into tears. We must keep that forever! Thus, the story tumbled out.

After Grandma graduated from Normal School in Camrose in 1926, she took her first teaching job at a one-room rural school. She was put up in a very nice widow's house, to help the poor woman and her mentally slow adult son make ends meet.

Grandma's bedroom was upstairs, with a private stairway. The son took to sexually harassing her, in days when shocked young ladies said nothing and fended off such troubles themselves. By December, Grandma announced to her employer that she was leaving, for a bunch of fudged reasons. She told her landlady in private about the son. The old dear was stunned, contrite, and begged for a chance to solve the problem. Grandma hesitantly agreed.

For Christmas, the widow wrapped up her very best plate, from her own wedding - the old plum thing - and gave it to Grandma as a promise, and as a thank you for being discreet. The son behaved himself after that.

Do I still own Grandma's old plate? You bet, while many other, nicer, but less personal things of hers have wandered off.

Moms, grandmas, aunts, please listen: Mother's Day is to celebrate you, and it can also be a day to share a few stories about your treasured things. When all is said and done, they'll last long after you've gone. Tell your kids. Write them down. They're precious - as are you.