The odd birthday

February 29, 2024   ·   0 Comments

By Constance Scrafield

Happy Birthday to all of you “29ers” as we might say on your one actual birthday every four years. All those jokes, as the kids in your life boast about being older than you are in theory once the numbers give them a reason to tease.

It is my grandmother’s birthday and I remember we did make a bit of a fuss about it when it lumbered around every four years. I was the only grandchild of my maternal grandparents, the Grosvenors. Obviously, that made me an only child, which can be lonely at times but to be an only grandchild, that rocks.

It was not because they had lots of money and spoiled me with stuff. They had middle-range jobs, I guess. My grandfather worked at the post office, walking to the train stop at Clarkson, which took him to Toronto; walking back in the evening, regardless of the weather.

The magnificent Siamese cat knew my grandfather’s time and was waiting for him every evening at the kitchen door when he came in. She would dash into his bedroom, leaping onto his bed so that he could brush her as the very first thing he did, even before taking off his topcoat sometimes.

Grandmy Grosvenor was a nurse and she drove the family car to the hospital.

Look – I tried to look it up: what was that perfect little black car, a Dodge I thought but could it have been a Ford? Only those boat-sized vehicles, a mix of winged creatures and tanks. Lots of brilliant colours though, not like the dull heaps we see these days, like developers who are building identical ugly houses in limited colours of dark grey, brown and medium grey. They keep people in a dull depression; distracting them with boredom.

Parents love to age into having grandchildren around and there may have been in my youthful psyche, a notion that it was up to me to be enough of a grandchild to compensate for there only being one of me. They did not own a television but on the radio, we listened to the “News from London on the BBC.” We enjoyed radio dramas and documentaries. It takes a little more attentiveness, does radio, to really absorb what comes over the wires.

They spoiled me with love and attention, teaching me to play euchre and cribbage. Start teaching your kids cribbage by the age of seven and they will always have a good grip on basic arithmetic, the shopping math.

We travelled in that little black car of theirs. I sat and sometimes dozed on a stool tucked into the back space behind the two seats at the front. We went to Goderich, where the McBride family lived. They had adopted my grandmother when she arrived in Canada on her own at 12 years old from the U.K. Nearby the town of Clinton, my grandmother’s sister, Louise lived on a dairy farm with Bert Sly. She had come years before, after a correspondence to be his wife, bear and raise their children and take care of the household, including the very fine kitchen garden.

The annual two weeks there, doing some of the chores, helping with the cows and riding the more or less retired plough horse; even taking part with the maple syrup one spring visit – it was bliss for me. I suspect it was there that my passion for the environment was born, staying in a place where the land was revered and it only made sense to grow and preserve as much food as possible against the guaranteed winter to come.

Lessons for these days, allow me to observe.

One year, my grandmother and I flew to Florida to visit a friend of hers and bring her car back to Canada, as she wanted to take the flight back herself. 

A young Floridian informed me (with my Canadian accent), “M’am you shore talk funny..” Going into the wrong public bathroom, a Black lady told me for certain where the whites went, kindly enough, I suppose when I spluttered where I was from. I had never heard of such a thing as racially separate “rest rooms” but racial separation in more than this was the law in Florida until late in the 1960s.

They were great times for honing one’s love for interesting conversations; we debated the Bible and common opinions. We questioned government policies and my grandfather read old poetry to me. My mother used to read the Greek philosophers to me when I was six or seven years old, to see how much of it I could understand.

One year, as grade eight was next for me, my parents separated for a year and my mother and I moved into my grandparent’s cottage in Clarkson with them. I was so happy living in their home with several cats and our dog, Mandy. Their love for us and their relief that we were safe and wholly welcomed to be with them was tremendous.

A lifetime; that love has lasted me a lifetime, kept me on my feet and she saw to it that I know myself – a great gift. 

Happy Birthday Grandmy Grosvenor and thank you.

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