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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.