A Legacy of Kindness


J_Stef_750“There she is!”

Grandma’s words would reach my ears before the door to her ground-floor apartment had swung fully open. She’d throw her arms in the air as she greeted me, and then I’d be gathered in for a hug, her cheek soft and cool against mine. I can’t quite name what the scent was–rose soap, powder, bread dough–but Grandma Agnes smelled like home.

Set aside at her desk would be a small stack of letters and cards she’d received in the mail since our last visit. While Grandma finished up in the kitchen, I’d sit at her dining table and catch up on what family members had been up to. I loved seeing the familiar cursive of my second-cousins and great-aunts.

Letters from Grandma’s sister Olga were always fun to read. Starting in the 1990s, she’d send updates on their old friend Peg’s grandson, who had a promising acting career. Word that I appreciated this actor’s work got back to Peg, and I eventually received in the mail an eight-by-ten photograph autographed with “much love” from Matt Damon. (So Jason Bourne is pretty much my cousin, people.) I always appreciated that my Grandma stayed in touch, whether her pen pals lived across town or across the country.

When the last letter had been read, it would be time for lunch. We’d sit down to simple place settings and a scrumptious spread–perhaps a deviled egg, a bit of salad, a serving of casserole or a bowl of soup. She’d always have my favourite, sliced salted cucumber in vinegar (I still smile remembering her account of the time she got home from Safeway to discover that the cuke she’d bought for me had slid out a hole in the bag on her walk home).

I was in heaven when Grandma served lefse, a Norwegian flatbread made from potatoes and flour. I’d spread each crepe-like piece with butter and creamed honey and then roll it up and savour every bite.

Over lunch, Grandma would ask what I’d been up to, and how school or work was going. I’d ask how her friends Violet and Myra were doing, and if she’d won at Bridge that week. As I got older, I started to ask her to tell me stories from her past–what it was like growing up on a farm, or how she met my Grandpa Wally. I would listen, knowing how special it was to be hearing these accounts. God, let me absorb every word. Let me remember.

Lunch was always followed by homemade sweets and a cup of tea. I loved that Grandma remembered that the china teacup with the strawberry on it was my favourite; the tea she served in it somehow tasted better than tea from anywhere, or anyone, else. Dessert might be accompanied by a game of cards or Scrabble. I think each of us nine grandchildren learned early on that Grandma had a competitive streak; she wasn’t one of those adults who’d let you win just because you were a kid.

Sometimes after lunch we’d go for a walk. Into her late 80s, Grandma would lead me on long meandering strolls through New Westminster. We’d stop to feed ducks or admire gardens, greeting silver-haired strangers along the way.

Our visit would come to an end, as Grandma packed up a few pinwheel cookies or homemade buns for me to take home. Once in a while she’d give me a little trinket she’d treasured, or a chocolate bar she’d won at Bingo. Out on the sidewalk, I’d turn and wait to see Grandma appear in the window. We’d wave goodbye and I’d walk to my car feeling grateful for yet another lovely visit with my sweet Grandma.

Two weeks ago, I gathered with family and friends to celebrate the life of my dear Grandma Agnes Josephine, who passed away in April at age 96. It was a beautiful service, and as people spoke of their experiences of my Grandma, I kept hearing the same sentiments:

“She always made me feel welcomed.”
“She always made time for me.”
“She always kept in touch, checking in and letting me know that she cared.”
“She always loved me, even when I was going through a hard time.”
“She always accepted me, just as I am.”

Loved ones shared how my Grandma’s hospitality and compassion had touched their lives. She never fussed or judged but opened her heart and her home, making time and space for every one.

As I adjust to life without my dear Grandma Agnes, I am grateful to still feel the touch of her spirit on my days. And as I give thanks for her, my prayer is that I can honour my Grandma’s life by following her lived example of caring and acceptance. May I remember that there can be great love in the simple gestures–in mailing a note, or offering a kind word or a cup of tea.

Rest in peace, Grandma. Love you forever.

grandma note