By: Amanda White
I wanted to be the first one my grandma saw. I wanted to see her face light up. I wanted to run into her arms and hold on to her soft squishy body for as long as possible because she never pushed me away. I wanted to be the first one to take my seatbelt off, bolt out of the car and run into the house. As soon as we turned on to their street, my heart would start to beat faster.
Every Saturday afternoon, my mother, younger sister and I would drive from Scarborough to Dufferin and Dupont to spend the day with my grandparents. They still lived in the small two storey house my mother was raised in. Every good memory of my childhood includes my grandmother.
My grandmother was an African Canadian woman who was born and raised in Africville, a Black community in Halifax, Nova Scotia. She and my grandfather moved to Toronto where they raised my mother and her three siblings. From birth until I entered kindergarten, my grandmother was my primary caregiver. She encouraged me to read as much as I wanted, never refusing to buy me books when I asked for them. She encouraged my writing. She listened to me, and made me feel like I was important. Her house was my safe place, my second home. It was where my sister and I spent our summers; it was where we went on PA days; it was where my mother took us when we were sick and had to leave school early; and it was where we had our birthdays. In that house, the outside world didn’t exist.
I was a sad kid who grew up in a single parent home with an emotionally distant mother. My mother had to be reminded to hug me and when she did, she would push me away after a few seconds. She visibly got uncomfortable when I cried or showed emotion. Her focus was making sure my sister and I got to and from school everyday and did our homework. It was spending weekends with my grandma that I was able to feel unconditional love. It was a love that I soaked up enthusiastically with the hope that it would last until I could see her again.
Days at her house were spent sitting with her on the veranda while she read the thick Saturday paper, carefully placing each finished section in order on the floor while I told her stories about my week. She would listen closely and laugh at every silly joke I made. If it was nice outside, we would go to the front of the house to tend to her small garden. She’d fill an old-fashioned green watering can and water the few small pink and purple flowers that happened to bloom. I didn’t care about gardening but would nonetheless follow her wherever she went around the house. I’d sit with her in the kitchen while she made spaghetti – her usual Saturday dinner that I never got sick of.
Sometimes we would watch movies, my grandma was more interested in her daytime soap operas than movies rented from Blockbuster, and she would sit in front of the TV knitting multi-coloured, sweaters and scarves that my sister and I still have today. She tried to teach me to knit countless times but I never got the hang of it. There were more snacks, candy, and pop than I could eat at a time. Even when my mother told her to stop buying the candy I liked because she felt like I was getting too fat, my grandma didn’t listen. In her house, I could eat whatever I wanted. When I got older, I would bring a notebook and write stories curled up on the couch. It was as if she knew that I needed a space to be myself without being told no, or being judged. She created that space for me without me even realizing it until it was too late to thank her.
My grandmother passed away when I was 15. So much of her life remains a mystery to me. I don’t know who she was as a woman. I don’t know about her struggles or why she was such a loving grandmother and not the most loving mother. I don’t know what brought her joy in her life. I do know that every joyful moment from my childhood was because of her. I try to hold on to that joy everyday.