In late May, we went to Edmonton to see our family there. My granddaughter told me she was “between 2 1/2 and 3″— a pretty good way of thinking about age. Today is her birthday and we just called her. She’s adamantly 3. This is what 3 looks like:
Her father called us just before midnight on July 16th, 2014 to tell us she was on her way. Then he called an hour or two later to announce her birth. He was dazzled. So were we. We couldn’t sleep so John went downstairs and brought back two glasses of Laphroiag and we toasted the baby—she hadn’t yet been named—and the new chapter we were entering. That morning we were dizzy with lack of sleep (and maybe the Laphroaig) but managed to pack the car so that we could leave first thing the next morning to drive across the mountains to meet Kelly. Holding her for the first time is something I will never forget.
We spent a few days with the new family and then drove home again to a house and a life that seemed both empty and rich at the same time. The thing about grandchildren is that you want to see them more than is possible with the lives our children live. Edmonton, Ottawa: it’s not possible to have dinners together every weekend or to read bedtime stories as often as we’d like. Skype is ok but not the same as the weight of a child on your lap, the smell of damp hair at the nape of a neck. Still, I feel very lucky to see my children and grandchildren as often as I do, knowing that my own grandparents left Europe and never saw their families there again. My great-grandparents never saw their grandchildren in Canada. When I was a child, we saw our grandparents maybe once a year. There were phone calls at Christmas.
In May, we had a week of meals with two of our children, their partners, and our 3 grandchildren. I’d wake in the morning filled with joy. At one point, in Brendan and Cristen’s backyard, I looked over to see this little group, and I wished I could paint:
That’s my shadow in the lower left corner. A few weeks ago, I was walking with the grandson in the middle of the photograph, on his street in Ottawa, and I looked behind us to see our shadows joined, following us. Depending on the light, shadows precede us, follow us, hover as we pause to notice ants on the stone, a bird in a tree, a cat washing itself on a porch. Always present, even if it’s too cloudy to see them. Too dark.
When we left Edmonton after Kelly’s birth, we drove as far as Kamloops and stayed overnight in our favourite old hotel. I woke many times that night, full of the memory of her wayward eye, her cry. I wrote this then:
This morning we’ll drive home over the Coquihalla highway and through the Fraser Valley, all haunted by memories of earlier trips with our children. It’s all part of us — the tang of sage in the air as we drive up out of the city, the soft sky fringed with pines, the sultry air near Hope. At least twenty five years ago we pointed out the shale on the Coquihalla Summit to Kelly’s father, a little boy of four or five, and he exclaimed, “Shale! I wish I was the land!”