An Unexpected Gift

The hourglass has been flipped. All four of my parents' parents are already on the other side of this existence. Losing them thrust me into reflection. Since my Uncle Abe and my grandmother have both recently passed away, I wanted to share this little vignette I jotted down a couple years ago. It is one way I choose to honor them and their imprints on my life.

Perched on the mountain brow in Hamilton, Ontario, my grandmother’s home was a special place to me when I was a kid. Video games, computers, cell phones, and the like hadn't yet crossed the threshold. Being in my grandma's home was a respite from the pressures of the world. This was a woman who used to bake the bread for her family in an outdoor brick oven as a girl. Her strength was forged by a simple Mennonite upbringing and raising a large family. 

I knew this might be the only time my own children could peek into their great-grandmother’s sewing room and be delighted by the upheaval of colors and textures piled on the worn wooden table. They might never again have the chance to see links of sausage hanging next to the old washtub, or collections of Mennonite history books stacked next to the record player. These were the intimate details that made my grandma so different from all the other grandmothers.

An 18-hour drive did not dampen my excitement to see the little brown house again. I raced ahead of my own kids and beat them to the front door. After hugs and customary greetings, my grandma turned her hearing aids down. This means, "I'm tired," so I sent the kids to poke around in the basement and turned to my uncle. He said, "I'm going to get some supper started, eh." He walked to the kitchen and gave me some time to absorb long-forgotten details in my grandma's house. 

I quietly slipped into my grandma's sewing room. I could hear my kids' whispery breath as they peeked through the cracked door to watch me run my hands over pin cushions, thimbles, and fabrics. Better than books, theses items told stories, showed their history in patina, long past trends, and stockpiled scraps from an entire lifetime.

Since my grandma was 95 at the time, I knew that soon this house would be emptied. All her remaining children would carry away the tiny bed opposite the sewing machine and the watchful portrait of a doe-eyed girl in a colorful dress that hung above it. The family would be forever changed. Instead of sadness, though, I felt grateful to have been a part of it.

Giggles brought me back to the present day. I was the mother now and my kids were growing restless. We walked to the park, played tag in the yard, and looked at old pictures. Finally the kids craved something familiar and watched a movie so we could finish getting supper on the table.

In my grandma's kitchen, the small juice glasses were standing on the counter waiting to be dunked, scrubbed, and rinsed. Warm water and clean-smelling suds always calmed my heart. 

I placed the last glass in its spot and carefully sidled up to my Uncle Abe under the glow of the stove light. I stretched my arm around his shoulders and squeezed. My head fell into his shoulder and we stared into the old cast iron skillet together. He couldn't get away because he was pushing potatoes and onions around in the oily pan with a fork. He wouldn't risk burning my grandma's Dikakeilkya just to escape my hug.

"You still do that, eh?" 

Random hugs to replace words I can't speak, I thought, Yes, I still do that.

I could have said, "Love me now, while I'm here. Let's have long conversations punctuated with explosive laughter or stifled tears. Tell me stories that only you know." I might have suggested that there are greater and more powerful things than failing organs and heavy regret.

Instead I hugged him tighter. Eyes shining, I left him with an imprint of innocent hope.

I'm glad I didn't speak and savored the stillness instead. Words would have only detracted from the beingness of that moment.

When  my first child was born, my Uncle Abe wrote her a letter. He asked that it not be opened until he was gone. When I read it I felt so loved. 

Dear little one,

If this letter has been opened before you receive it, I hereby grant you permission to yell at your mom, this one time – for 15 seconds.

I am your Great Uncle Abe on your mother’s side and as I write this you are only a few days old. A few months before you were born, your parents decided to move for reasons they described as a warmer climate. I suppose that’s my tough luck for I’ll miss visiting during the growing and learning years – watching you become an adult.

When your mom was a little girl, her mother regularly took the time and made the effort to visit. At that time I was unable to travel so I greatly appreciated the joy your mom always gave to me. As a three-year-old who told stories, as a pre-teen who had the ability to converse as an adult, as a twenty-something busy being courted, as a wife and as a mother-to-be, she always greeted me with a smile and a hug.

Everyone inherits traits from their parents, physical traits as well as personality traits. I remember that up to age 5 my parents were God to me. By age 10 I had discovered to my extreme disappointment, anger and dismay that they had feet of clay. In a few years I had resolved never to be like my parents in any way. But shortly it was confirmed as I had suspected earlier, my feet were no better.

So if there is a trait passed on to you from your parents, apart from your mom’s intellect and beauty and your dad’s brains, may it be your mom’s ability to give a hug. You must consider that your mom was cute as a child, pretty as a teenager and absolutely beautiful as an adult. When your mom gave a hug on greeting, it said, “Hey, I’m glad to see you.” It was one of her qualities that endeared her to me. If it was in my power to bestow a blessing on you it would be the ability to give a hug like your mom does. Master that and the world will be yours.

It is my belief that when people have children their primary purpose as parents from day one, is to prepare the child to leave home and negotiate their way through life. This, of course, means that the child has the obligation to prove that they are worthy.

By now your personality, character traits, and social behavior are well established, just not yet polished.

          When you cannot be a shining inspiration, 
          be a fearful example!




  1. Wow! That was truly touching! Beautiful writing from a beautiful soul!

    1. That's how I felt too. :) How many times after a loved one dies do we find some previously unknown bit of information that we treasure just because it adds to their story when we thought we wouldn't have anything more to add? This was truly a gift for my family.

  2. Wow! That was truly touching! Beautiful writing from a beautiful soul!

  3. What an amazing letter your uncle wrote to your daughter. And what a treasure for both of you!

    1. Thanks for your kind words. This was healing to write.

  4. So sweet! How blessed to have that kind of family love.

    1. I loved being able to share this with other people. I'm glad you saw the love in it. :)


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