Friday, 27 September 2013

The Word-a-day Writing Challenge

Day Five: Patience

Gracie. Tra-la-la la-la la-la la la. Sitting on the chair-swing my father had built, nothing between us but an autumn afternoon, French nursery rhymes and a stack of Oreo's. Gracie. Teaching me to play poker with a tobacco tin of buttons for chips. Tucked away at the little bridge table in the corner of the dining room, between the bay windows and the buffet. A buffet, rather—one of three in her house. All that silverware and china—enough to feed an army—used mostly for polishing, as far as I could tell, a practice I believe she enjoyed. The ceremony of it. The satisfaction of a job well done, no matter how long it took. To say nothing of the dusting. Royal Dalton figurines and a new plate on the wall every Christmas. Commemorative. Each one boasting of some delicate historical importance so unforgettable it demanded gold leaf and a serial number.

Patience is a virtue. She used to say this to me often. It must have been apparent even then that I was lacking in this regard. Perhaps she hoped to teach it to me. And indeed if anyone could have, it would have been Grace. She lived to be one hundred and one, old enough to get a card from the queen. Old enough to understand what it means to wait. Old enough to watch history fold over on itself, again and again, with little care for consequence. Old enough to know that the only things we ever learn, we learn slowly. Old enough to really understand what it really means to wait, and then understand it a little more.

At her ninetieth birthday party, somewhere behind the backdrop of finger sandwiches and fruit salad, dodging priests and neighbours, I found her resting in her favourite spot on the couch; port in one hand, rosary in the other. Well Gram, how does it feel—90? I was fourteen and knew everything there was to know about anything that mattered. Unintentionally, unapologetically, and undeniably smug. I wanted wise words in a tidy answer. She laughed at me. All my friends are dead, she said, sloshing her port around in its vessel. So, you know, a little dull these days. She raised her glass and winked. No hard feelings, kid. Tra-la-la la la.

I remember the smell of her skin (Oil of Olay) and that it was tissue paper thin and just as soft. Perched on the couch, propped up by pillows, or poised at the edge of a pew--by all appearances she was as delicate as her plates. Grace who, well into her eighties, walked the mile and a half to Sobey's every Thursday for groceries and carried them the mile and a half home. Grace who scrubbed the kitchen floor on her hands and knees at six in the morning, before anyone was up, because a mop just couldn't get those corners like she could. Grace who, during the depression while my grandfather was at work on the railroad, killed the rats in the basement that stood between her and her potatoes by throwing pots of boiling water at them. Christ, Grace. Not even rats deserve to die like that, my grandfather told her.

I don't remember her ever saying, No, or, I can't. It wasn't in her. Never a complaint. Sometimes she would shake her head slowly after hearing of some tragedy from the neighbourhood or the news, and suck in her lips, saying under her breath, what a shame, but that was the extent of her disapproval for this life. The death of her son, the death of her husband, the war after war after war—it was not for her to question or to judge, only to go on trusting in God's great plan.

There was one moment, near the end of her life. They'd moved her to the hospital by then—some sort of heart condition or other. I suppose even at a hundred and one they have to call it something. My mother worked downstairs in the x-ray department and went up to see her everyday at the end of her shift. It was perhaps a day or two before she died and my mother asked how she was feeling. Tears welled up in her eyes and she said, I think the Lord has forgotten about me, Coralie. Her head fell forward and her hands tried to steady themselves against the smooth, white beads of her rosary. I think it was her doubt, not the sense of being left behind, that saddened her. The shame of it. But only briefly. Placing the rosary in her right hand, she pulled a Kleenex from her sleeve and dabbed at her nose before returning to my mother's gaze. Oh, I wouldn't worry too much about that, Grace. I imagine my mother smiling as she said this, a trick she uses to hide her heart break. No one could ever forget about you. Not even the Lord.

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