Gentle visits across the street

Visiting my paternal grandmother or visiting my Aunty Molly was like going to a different world; a quieter, safer world. And it was basically just across the street from my world.

Before we came to Vancouver, I had never met my Dad’s mother, nor her sister, my Aunty Molly. In fact, before 1975, I knew very little about my Dad’s family at all. Dad rarely talked about his past back then, except maybe to tell a funny story. Many of Dad’s family stories involved the childhood embarrassment of one of his brothers at my father’s hands. So by this time, I knew my Dad had brothers, a sister, and a Mum and Dad of his own, but I could not remember meeting any of them and really didn’t know much else.

I think I met my Great Aunty Molly first. Marion “Molly” Delorme (nee Owens) was the younger sister of Dad’s mother, Margaret Swanson (previously Margaret Love). I think the two sisters were very different people. Molly had been part of my Dad’s life almost as long as his own mother, and really was in many ways the Matriarch of the Love family. From what little I remember of her, my Grandmother Margaret was the quieter one of the two. Both of the sisters were selfless, hardworking and had been born in the UK. Years later, Molly told me she was born in “Newscastle-Upon-Tyne”, which I assume is present-day Newcastle.

I remember my first visit with my Grandma, whom Dad called Grandma Swanson because, he explained, she was now married to a man named Simon Swanson. Dad told me that his own father had passed away before I was born, so I have no memory of Grandpa Love, but I remember my Dad describing him as “a good guy”.

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Grandma with her husband, Simon Swanson

On our first visit to see Grandma Swanson, I remember a small apartment with two recliners side by side in front of the patio door. Grandma was in one recliner and Grandpa Swanson was in the other one. My lasting impression of Grandpa Swanson was that he didn’t say much, and that he didn’t seem to like children very much. I have no idea if these impressions are accurate or not. I remember feeling very awkward during our visit with them. Nobody seeming to know what to say. Maybe Dad felt as uncomfortable seeing his mother as I did.

After Grandpa Swanson passed away, Grandma moved into a suite in the same building as Aunty Molly.

Kim and I visited our Grandma a few times. Grandma was a very quiet, gentle and non-opinionated person. It seemed to me that she never had strong opinions about anything – perhaps she just wanted life to go smoothly. More than anything, my impression of her at this late stage in her life, was that she was also a bit sad. She must have been about 77, and had recently lost her second husband in a row. Perhaps her health was suffering too, I don’t know for sure, but all these things must have taken some toll.

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Grandma Swanson, my Dad’s mother

One day, Kim and I went over to visit Grandma. Her suite was on the sunny side of the Odd Fellows Manor, facing Kingsway. She had a tiny yellow canary in a cage in her window, named Tweety. Grandma seemed happiest when she was talking to Tweety, and he seemed to respond to her equally, tweeting his little heart out. Dad told me years later that during the Second World War, when his parents had their house on 14th Avenue in Vancouver, Grandma used to have another canary named Tweety in a cage in her kitchen. Grandma would always tell the bird “I love you Tweety” and it would sing some kind of reply to her. Dad said that he could sometimes get a response from the bird in the same way too, but Dad’s father, Grandpa Love, would light-heartedly snipe “That bird never says a damn thing to me.”

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Marion Delorme – my “Aunty Molly”

Aunty Molly lived practically across the street from us in an apartment building called “The Odd Fellows Manor”. I didn’t know who the “Odd Fellows” were at the time, but learned later that it is a benevolent organization, rather like the Masons or the Elks. The Odd Fellows owned and ran a number of Seniors-only buildings in Vancouver, and still do today. I think Molly had lived there for quite a few years. Perhaps she was a main reason why we landed in that particular section of Kingsway.

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Me and Dad with Aunty Molly

Back in her younger years, Aunty Molly had lived with Dad’s parents up in their large house in Prince Rupert. She had watched my Dad and his brothers and sister grow up from babies. She used to tell me with love in her voice how she used to bathe my Uncle Charles in the kitchen sink when he was a baby. She always commented on his head of curly red hair. This struck me as funny even then, since Dad was the only one of the brothers who still had all his hair.

In the same way that Molly had been a presence in my Dad’s life years earlier, she became a presence in my life too. We really liked each other, and I could tell that she really cared about me and my sister.

Back then, I think I would have been called “a sensitive boy”. Being around quiet, older people had always seemed very comforting to me. So, I began to visit Aunt Molly periodically, sometimes staying for an hour or two, and sometimes staying for most of the day.

Visiting Aunt Molly was a chance to get away from the rest of my life. She was older, quieter, and wiser than anyone else I knew when I was eleven. I would include my father in this comparison, since at that time, his own wisdom had yet to become fully evident to me. I still didn’t really understand my Dad or my Mother very well, and so, like lots of people, especially young kids, I muddled along through my life relationships day by day without thinking about them.

Hanging out with Aunty Molly gave me time to contemplate things, read, ask questions, or learn something new. I really did think that Aunty Molly was the wisest person I had ever met. I think she enjoyed my attention. She called me “son” and answered every question I could think of. When she didn’t know the answer, she might ascribe it to God and quote some small thing from the bible. She treated me with a lot of care and love.

She had a pocketful of her own common-sense wisdom and philosophy, which seemed very practical to me. She had many sayings, almost like proverbs, but the one that comes to my mind right now is “The man who thinks he knows it all usually knows less than anyone.” In her little flat, I would draw, or ask a multitude of questions about her life or her history. Sometimes, we would just sit and watch TV.

Aunty Molly had two recliners, hers, and an empty one she called “Uncle Joe’s chair”. I learned that Uncle Joe had been with her a long time ago, for many years. He sounded like a nice man whom I would have liked. So, in that way, I felt a bit honoured to sit in Uncle Joe’s chair whenever I visited Aunt Molly, and I think she was happy to have someone in that chair to keep her company.

Above her couch was a black and white aerial photo of a harbour side town. The caption under the picture read “Prince Rupert, British Columbia”. It looked slightly industrial, and much smaller and less exciting than Vancouver. I asked her about it and she reminded me that this is where my Dad and his brothers and sister were born, and that his father and brothers had been there for years before that too. That little framed photo took on new significance. It stood for an important, albeit distant land that belonged to my Dad’s past life.

Aunt Molly was a somewhat religious person – a bit more so than the rest of Dad’s family. She told me about God and the Bible, and I must have read some, because I remember the funny olden-time words, thee, thou and thine, and I asked her what they meant, and she tried to explain it to me. She also told me how she sang in her church choir. I asked her why she believed in God, and she replied that it was because she had faith. So, I asked her why she had faith, and what was faith all about anyway. She did her best to explain this to me, but it ended up sounding a little vague and mysterious. I knew even at this time that I needed to know where things came from in real-world, non-mystical terms. I probably knew more about science than religion by this age, and felt that practical examples and scientific explanations suited me best. From books that I’d been given from my parents or from Poppy, I’d learned about nature and the physical world in exclusively scientific terms. I had learned about Dinosaurs and the idea that the Earth was millions of years old. I began to want to consolidate this knowledge with the idea of an almighty God and an afterlife. Aunty Molly didn’t have many specific answers for me in these particular areas, but she was patient and good-natured with all my questions, and that seemed to be enough for me.

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One day, Aunt Molly hauled out an ancient manual typewriter and a very old hardcover book about as thick as a phone directory. It was an old training manual for becoming a secretary, and covered topics like shorthand, letter writing and typing. Her old typewriter fascinated me with it’s little levers, and slightly oily odour. I decided that I wanted to learn to type. Over the next week or so, I strained my young fingers banging away at some basic keyboarding practice (home row, and many sample sentences).

Later on, Aunty Molly figured that learning to play Cribbage would be fun and a good way to brush up on my mental math skills. We spent a few weeks playing cribbage. I began to hear the words “fifteen-two, fifteen-four, fifteen-six” in my sleep, but it really was fun and challenging, and probably did help my confidence in math a little.

In those little visits,we bonded. She truly treated me with a mother’s care, the way my own Mother never did and probably never could.

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