I knew, and loved every one of my grandparents. What an honor that was for me. Not everyone is that lucky. From the time I was a newborn child each of my grandparents have held a special place in my heart. I have had the good fortune to be able to spend time and create many wonderful memories with each of them. Now that they have all passed away, I look back on these memories with fondness and draw on them to ease my grief.
My father’s mother, Nanny, was the first of my grandparents to die. It was October of 1979 and I had just turned nine years old. “Mim”, as she was known to so many, raised eight children and for many years worked as a homemaker for Dr. Greenlaw. She loved to play Bridge and was always knitting or crocheting something.
Big Pond Center became a very important place for Nanny. She and my grandfather had a bungalow built on top of a large hill just before Middle Cape. This was known as “Hanratty’s Hill”. Every year, as soon as the snow would melt, Nanny and Poppy would head for the bungalow. The grounds were always kept so beautiful. She loved plants and flowers of any kind and could always be found transplanting or watering her multitude of bushes.
I can recall spending time at the bungalow with her. Early in the morning I would get up and look for her. It was almost like a game, because I would find her in the same place every time. She would have her sun hat and sunglasses on and would be sitting out in the front yard in her wooden lawn chair, just staring across the road and looking out over the water. It would be the most peaceful time of the day. Just Nanny and me watching the waves before anyone else even got out of bed. Sometimes, we wouldn’t even talk; we would just sit there. As I think back now, more was said by not saying anything than if we would have spoken actual words. It was our time together, and no matter how many grandchildren were around, she made sure she had time for each and every one of us.
Although the bungalow was a special place with a lot of special memories, other memories are just as important. The Hanratty family homestead was 73 Falmouth Street, now home to the George Street Plaza. It was an older home, nothing fancy, but the minute you walked in, you knew it was home. The coal furnace was always burning and I can remember being so excited as a child because when we visited I was allowed to leave my shoes on in the house. Little did I know at the time it was because of the coal dust on the floors. Oh well, I didn’t care what the reason was; I was just excited because I got to leave my shoes on.
Every year at Christmas time we would have our Christmas supper at 73 Falmouth Street with Nanny and Poppy and whoever else happened to be home that year. Nanny would let me spray the windows with the fake snow and one year she even let me spray it all over the mirrors. As long as we were happy, she didn’t care.
There were so many memories… Friday night swimming at the Kiwanis Pool, and then sleeping over at her place only to have her get up some Saturday mornings and take me to my Irish dancing lessons. This thrilled her because, of course, Hanratty is a very Irish name. I can also remember when she would come to our place to visit. I used to hate having to sit there while she would unwind her yarn because I would have to sit with my hands out and she would wrap the yarn around my arms. I would give anything to be able to do that just one more time.
The first time Mom and Dad went away, Nanny and Poppy baby-sat my sister and me. I was five and my sister was not quite a year old. It was during Easter and I was very confused that year. I got a lot of different things from the Easter Bunny that I wouldn’t normally receive, and I couldn’t figure out why. Things like chips and pop were not normally what I would get for Easter. I later clued in to what had happened. Nanny and Poppy helped the Easter Bunny out that year. It wasn’t really funny at the time, but now I look back at it and laugh.
I can also remember waking up one morning during this time and walking into Mom and Dad’s room, where my grandmother was supposed to be. All I could see was the back of a head with all kinds of gray hair. I couldn’t understand why my grandfather was there and not Nanny. I went into my sister’s room, took her out of her crib and we went into my bedroom. I cried and cried. I had no idea where my Nanny was and couldn’t figure out why she had left me. After a few minutes of crying, I heard her voice. She was telling Allana she didn’t have to cry that she was coming to get her. Imagine her surprise when she realized it was I crying and not my sister. After I told her why I was crying, we both had a good laugh. It was she in the bed all the time. It just looked to me like it was my grandfather.
The year Nanny spent her final summer at the bungalow was hard on everyone. But that was where she wanted to be. For a period of time, after she couldn’t stay at the bungalow anymore, she stayed with us, in my bedroom. The last time I can remember seeing Nanny was lying in my bed. I know I saw her in the hospital before she died, but I can’t remember it.
For a long time after she died I was scared of my bedroom. I would keep having dreams that she was in my closet and would want to come out and get into bed with me. I know it was just my imagination, but I think it was just because the last memories I had of her were in my bedroom.
That’s most of what I remember of Nanny. Even though I was young, I’m glad I had those special moments.
The next grandparent to pass away was my Mom’s father, Papa. I was in grade nine so it would have been February of 1985. I didn’t have quite the same relationship with him as I did with Nanny, but that didn’t make it any less special to me. Papa had a very complicated life. He and my grandmother raised ten children. He was an alcoholic and could be violent. He would at times disappear for days. Fortunately, I never saw any of this. Some days, as a child, I would go into his home and he wouldn’t even say hello, but that was Papa and we learned to live with it.
Most times, however, he would brighten up when my sister and I would walk into the room. He and I would talk about a lot of different things. He was a very smart man, and although at times he tried to be mean and grouchy, I usually ended up making him laugh. We would talk about lots of things; usually school. He would always quiz me on my math or science. He taught me about the weather and how to read a barometer and a thermometer. I always hated math, but he had a way of making it fun for me. I enjoyed visiting with him because once I could get him talking he was great. He used to tell Mom that since the day I started talking I hadn’t shut my mouth since. Did he know me or what?!
I was always fascinated with his hands. They were so strong, but fragile. I would sit in his chair and play with the wrinkled skin on his hands for hours. During the summer, he was always outside and it would amaze me how the top of his hands would get so dark and the palms would stay so light. He would often look at my hands when I was little and tell me that I was going to get married someday because I had a big “M” on both my palms. Again, he was right.
I don’t remember Papa being sick because he was in the hospital, but I do know he loved me a lot. He always had a special spot in my heart and I loved him very much.
Then, on May 12, 1989, Papa’s wife, my Nana, passed away. This would be my Mom’s mother. She, of all people I know, had the greatest impact on my life. She was perfect. We were always very close and I could talk to her about anything. Every day after school I would run through our yard to her yard to go visit. We spent a lot of time together. I would go shopping with her and I think it was with her that I had my first ride in a taxi. Nana was alone quite a bit because of the way Papa was. Mom and I wouldn’t let a day go by without visiting.
She was so proud of me. There was nothing I could do wrong, in her eyes. She would always have something good to say about me, no matter how small. While I was in high school I would look so forward to our Awards Night, because right after it was finished we would go and show my certificates or trophies to Nan. She used to get so excited. It was almost more fun going there than to the Ceremony.
The day I graduated from high school was special. I have a picture of her and I where I am in my cap and gown, and although she couldn’t get to the Grad Ceremony, I knew she was as proud of me that day as my Mom and Dad were.
She started going into the hospital a lot because she had some heart attacks, but she would always get better. After the last attack, she had been home about two weeks. She was doing great; so good that I had asked her to go to lunch with me one day. The day we planned to go to lunch never happened because she took a massive heart attack that morning. I can remember wondering what I would have done if we had had the chance to go out and she had gotten sick on me then. Part of me is so glad that it happened the way it did… even though she was alone, I know she wouldn’t have wanted me to see her that way. She was a beautiful woman; a woman who could never be replaced and I miss her dearly to this day. Sometimes I walk into my Aunt’s where she was living and I just expect to hear her voice and her laugh. Her soft-spoken, gentle words will always stay in my heart and my mind, and she knows I love her just as much today as I always have.
This brings me to my last grandparent, Dad’s father, Poppy. He died April 7, 1995. What can I say about Poppy? My memories of him come in three different stages. The first would be when I was very young and would “help” him fill the coal furnace on Falmouth Street. He was great, just the kind of grandfather every kid wanted. He loved ice cream, so we automatically thought he was awesome. He was a hard worker and worked at the Steel Plant in the Open Hearth for years. Once my grandmother died and the house on Falmouth Street was sold, I saw a side of Poppy that scared me. He was also an alcoholic, but I had never seen it before. When he moved into the high rise on the Esplanade he was by himself. My sister and I would go down and clean his apartment but we didn’t like doing it, in fact, we didn’t even like going to visit, and as I got older, I stopped going to visit him. He was so sick all the time. He would drink and get sick and drink and get sick. It wasn’t the best thing in the world to be around, but even though he did drink he was still my grandfather and I loved being there when he would start telling stories about when Dad was a young boy.
Things changed dramatically when Poppy moved into the MacGillvray Guest Home. He lost weight, got himself all cleaned up and was much more mobile. I didn’t visit him as often as I should have because I guess there were just some memories of the way he used to be that I just couldn’t get out of my head. Although, there were many times when Mom and Dad would go up to see him and I started going with them. I couldn’t go by myself because I was scared but as the years went by, it got easier for me and I began to see the grandfather that I had remembered as a young child. He still loved ice cream, and his rum, but he was totally different, a better different. He was very content at the Home and everyone loved him. The staff would always go into his room if they ever needed the score on a baseball game. He loved the Blue Jays and was thrilled when they won two World Series in a row.
Poppy always loved Mom’s cooking and would be tickled pink when Dad would bring him out for a barbecue with Mom’s potato salad.
I had been looking forward to seeing Poppy at my wedding, but he was not feeling well. He was so happy when, after the supper, Michael and I went to the Home to see him. I was his first grandchild to get married and he was so pleased.
Things started to change the most Boxing Day of 1994 when Poppy fell and broke his hip. He just wasn’t the same after that because his independence was taken away. I don’t think he ever fully recovered from that.
It wasn’t his hip that landed him in the hospital the last time, though. He had congestive heart failure and was very very sick. Sometimes he would know whom you were when you went in and sometimes he wouldn’t. Mom and Dad had to go away while he was in the hospital and they knew I wouldn’t go up by myself, so I found out when my Aunt was going to be there so I could go see him. One night I went up and there was no one there. I couldn’t turn around and leave because Poppy had already seen me. I went in; by myself. I was scared. What if he didn’t know me? I didn’t know what I was going to do. I talked with him for about twenty minutes before my Aunt came. Although he didn’t know me, I still talked with him and made him feel safe and secure.
The next night was the same thing, but this time I felt a little better about going in, and this time he knew whom I was. We talked for a long while about everything before other members of the family came. It felt so good. It was such a big thing for me to be with him by myself, because, as everyone in my family knows, I can’t handle being around sick people by myself, but I did it. I think even Poppy knew it was tough on me, but I’m glad I went that night because that was the last time I saw him. At least I had the chance to be with him one on one and tell him I loved him. I will never regret the time I spent with him. The only thing I regret is not having done it sooner.
As I said in the beginning, I consider myself very lucky because I have had the honor of knowing every one of my grandparents. I loved them all and they loved me, and even though they are not with me in person anymore, their memory is as strong as if they were.
I think sometimes they are watching over me because they gave me another person who was very special to me, my husband’s grandmother. Her and I had a bond since day one. Michael was practically raised by her while his mother worked and in ways is closer to her than he is to his mother. I was able to share in their closeness. She was a wonderful person and was the best-adopted grandmother I could ever have. I feel like sometimes I had a second chance to make memories, and I have lots of them. Although for a couple of years she has been sick, we knew her time is also coming. With the memories we made with her, I have no doubt that one-day my memories of her will be as strong as the ones I hold of my own grandparents. Michael’s Nanny left us one month before her great grandson, Matthew was born in late August of 1996.
And now I watch my 2 boys. I see them with the invaluable opportunity to see their grandparents anytime they want. We live within 5 minutes of all three grandparents and it’s wonderful! Matthew has been having regular sleepovers with them now for as long as I can remember and even though Marcus is only 11 months old, he knows and can differentiate between them.
As fortunate as I was to have had time with all my grandparents I am thrilled beyond words that my boys are going to have the same chance to make memories.
You don’t realize how precious these memories are until they are not able to be made anymore.
I am glad I had the chance to experience love like this, and I hope that when I am a grandparent I will be able to give back half of what my grandparents gave to me.