Goodbye to Grandma

My grandma Anderson became a schoolteacher in rural Nova Scotia when she was just 17 years old. She especially enjoyed getting through to the classroom troublemakers, a skill at which she excelled. I was born in Nova Scotia, but moved to Vancouver before I could form any memories. I have only the vaguest of memories of Grandma visiting us in Vancouver one time, probably in the late eighties, and for some reason a particular hotel in the city sticks out in mind as the place where she stayed, though I’m not sure that I remember that correctly.

The first time I really got to see Grandma was my first visit to Nova Scotia when I was ten years old. My dad and my sisters and I spent a happy three weeks that summer in the Nova Scotia countryside visiting family, learning new card games in the living room, how to throw horseshoes at Uncle Roy’s and Aunt Gwen’s place nearby, and how to play darts and 8-ball in Grandma’s basement with Uncle John. Grandma cooked and cooked and cooked, feeding us huge meals and serving up all sorts of fancy desserts and baked goods like cookies and her famous Nanaimo bars. She was always ready for a hug, constantly telling us how much she loved us, just as she had been doing for years over the phone and in letters and cards from so many thousands of kilometres away.

Grandma Anderson and Josephine

I was lucky to have the chance to visit her and the rest of my extended family in Nova Scotia six more times over the next two decades. During those trips “back home”, Grandma regaled us with stories of her youth, walking for miles across the ice in wintertime, jumping out the schoolroom window, helping take care of her siblings, and having to put the lights out during the Second World War because her family lived on the Eastern Shore, their waterfront home overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, and there were submarines lurking about. Grandma taught me how to judge when peas are ripe for picking and let me help out in her vegetable garden, weeding around the yellow beans, scarlet runners, carrots, and onions.

In 2013, my sister Josephine shared one of the stories from Grandma Anderson’s youth, about the time Grandma was lost at sea:

Lost at Sea from Josephine Anderson on Vimeo.

Grandma's backyard

Each time I said goodbye to Grandma on her little back porch in East Ship Harbour, with the hill rolling down to the Atlantic ocean in the background, she’d tell me how much she loved me and how much she’d miss me. Each time we spoke on the phone she’d do the same. As the years went on and I began spending more and more time living and working overseas – oftentimes in countries making headlines for all the wrong reasons – Grandma would tell me how much she worried about me, how special all of us grandchildren were to her, how she could hardly wait to to hear that I’d arrived home again, safe and sound.

Like my other grandmother, Grandma loved her five grandchildren unconditionally. I don’t think we could have asked for anything better, and I hope that a younger generation will one day say the same about us.

My Grandma, Margaret Irene Anderson (née Monk), died at the admirable old age of ninety-two and a quarter on October 19th, 2014.

Grandma Anderson sitting in her living room

After the funeral mass at the Church of St Denis in East Ship Harbour, my brothers and I and three of my dad’s cousins lifted my grandmother’s coffin down onto the lowering device at the nearby cemetery, next to the resting places of her parents, three brothers, and husband, surrounded by over two dozen headstones bearing our family name Monk. The gentleman from the funeral home handed flowers to some of the women standing around, encouraging them to toss the flowers into the grave once the coffin was lowered down.

As our family and friends’ cars, parked along the gravel shoulder of Highway 7, gradually left to make their way eastward to the St Denis Parish Centre for the reception, I recalled as a very young boy learning over the phone that my brother Dan had broken his arm playing soccer with some older kids at school back in Nova Scotia, while the rest of us kids were already living in Vancouver. Out of the five of us, Dan had spent the most time with Grandma while he was growing up. She kept a photo of the two of them proudly displayed on the fridge, where she could see it every day.

Dan and I stayed behind at the grave after everyone had left. We asked and were allowed to help the guy from the funeral home to remove the lowering device and the artificial turf placed around the grave for the burial ceremony. The two of us bent down, dug our hands into the wet autumn earth just as Grandma had done so many times in her vegetable garden, tossed handfuls of soil gently down into the grave until the coffin was half obscured, wiped our hands clean on wet blades of grass growing over the graves of our long-dead Eastern Shore ancestors, thanked the funeral home gentleman, waved to the small backhoe as he arrived to finish the job we’d started, and walked softly out of the sloping cemetery to re-join the highway.

Road trip to Québec!

On July 19th my sister Josephine, her boyfriend Matt, and I packed our stuff into Matt’s car and left my grandmother’s home in East Ship Harbour, Nova Scotia to make our way to Gatineau, Québec (across the river from Ottawa, Ontario). It was a tight squeeze with all our stuff and my bicycle packed in the trunk, but it all worked out quite well.

The drive was quite tiring, especially for Matt as the driver, so we stopped at a rest stop somewhere in New Brunswick for a nap in the car and then some morning coffee. This massive sign (for the huuuge trucks that park at the rest stop) was quite neat:

After eating breakfast at a Macdonald’s (yes, it’s true) in the francophone part of New Brunswick, where they call a drink “un breuvage” instead of “une boisson,” we entered the Province of Québec. It’s amazing what photos can be taken from a moving car with a cheapish point-and-shoot camera and a little bit of luck:

The flag of Québec:

Entering St. Louis of the Ha! Ha!

A field of canola in bloom:

On our route, we passed through Québec City, the provincial capital and quite an old city, by Canadian standards. Matt had been there before, so he was able to drive us to the area by the old fort ruins where all the tourists go to look at the St. Lawrence River:

We soon hit the road again, and on the way we passed a crazy school bus lot of some sort. We were driving full-speed but luckily I managed a couple shots, and I must say this is one of my favourite photos ever taken from a car. I’ll probably edit it in Lightroom later to make the yellow in the buses a bit more vivid, but I’m really happy with the luck of this one:

We reached our destination in the afternoon on the 20th, about 20 hours after we started. Our destination was Matt’s brother’s apartment in Gatineau, where we helped him and his assistant assemble a TV stand and mount his new flatscreen in the living room (which doubled as my bedroom for a couple nights). It really did take 5 university-educated people over half an hour to put together a simple TV stand:

The perfect picture of relaxation after a long night/day of driving, complete with a refreshing and well-deserved beer:

On the 21st I got an important phone call from London, England. It was a phone interview with Medical Emergency Relief International (Merlin), for a humanitarian logistics internship. I felt it went well, and not long after I was accepted to join the internship programme beginning September 1st!

The rest of the day we all just chilled out, did laundry, and I met up with my friend Dennis (with whom I studied in England way back in 2002-03) and his fiancée for dinner in Ottawa and a long conversation. On the 22nd, Matt and Jos and I took a drive into Ottawa to run a few errands and walk around a bit. Ottawa isn’t the most exciting city in Canada, so there tends to be a gravitational pull toward Parliament Hill every time I visit. As seen from the bridge coming from Gatineau:

The Peace Tower below a cloudy sky:

This bell has a neat history. I already posted a nearly identical photo on my blog three and a half years ago when I still had lots of hair on my head. So, if you want to read that tiny little plaque and find out why this bell is actually interesting (because, seriously, most bells are not very interesting) check out the old blog post here:

The RCMP have been wearing Stetson brand hats since the 1800s, but did you know how this came to be? It all started with this guy, George Brown, who fought ardently for Confederation for Canada. This close-up distinctly shows bird crap all over his head and dribbling down his face:

This second photo shows Mortimer Stetson, nephew of John Stetson (found of the famed Stetson hat company) offering a hat to protect George Brown from the birds.

Royal Canadian Mounted Police witnessed the offer, saw the practical application of this style of hat, and from this came the tradition for all mounties to wear a wide-brimmed Stetson hat while outdoors:

Josephine the Giant decided to scare the little tourist children by showing them how easily she could crush the Library of Parliament:

The next day, Matt drove us to Prescott, we took my bicycle out of the trunk, and I started off down the road to Toronto, only about 400km away. More on that in the next post, though.

Photos from Nova Scotia – Part IV

Way back in mid-July, I was in Nova Scotia visiting family in the countryside, and I spent some time in Halifax as well. I explored town a bit on my own, because in past years I’ve always been too young or too busy to really look around. When I wasn’t walking, I was usually sitting in a cafe on Spring Garden Road, a main street in central Halifax.

The Tall Ships were in this year, so I went down to the harbour and had a look at them.

Georges Island, seen from the shore, once housed Acadiens being processed for deportation.

I was quite curious to find out what this little boat was up to, and why two people were sleeping on it. It was 7:23am so I can understand why they were asleep, but wasn’t sure why they were sleeping on their boat instead of somewhere a bit more comfortable or warm. What I didn’t know was that they had only arrived from Boston at 1am and were about to cross the Atlantic, successfully, setting several Guinness World Records.

Many people forget that basketball was invented by a Canadian. This ship has a basketball player on the front. No, that is not a globe he’s holding, it’s a basketball.

The HMCS Sackville, an old WWII corvette from the Canadian Navy, including artwork illustrating its supposed prowess at hunting German U-boats:

The Bluenose II, a replica of the once-fastest schooner in the world, the Bluenose, which is featured on the Canadian 10-cent coin:

More boats:

My dad’s cousin’s husband built Theodore Tugboat’s hat:

Not a boat:

My sister’s boyfriend Matt picked me up in the afternoon to drive back to the countryside, and on our way we stopped for a coffee. While I may not be the number one car parking expert in the world, I’m relatively certain that this driver is worse than me. Partly occupying 4 spots with one car and it’s not even a Hummer:

Grandma is a terrific baker, and she never seems to stop cooking. These bread rolls were amazing!

On the 19th, before leaving Nova Scotia with Jos and Matt:

Next up: Roadtrip to Québec!

Photos from Nova Scotia – Part III

Every time I visit my relatives in Nova Scotia, I know there will be a number of sing-alongs and music jam sessions during my stay. This two week visit was no exception. Tom Cohoun, a really nice guy who lives nearby and sure knows how to carry a tune, came over on July 11th for a few hours and I greatly enjoyed listening to him sing.

Tom and John playing together:

Lisa seemed to have fun filming parts of the session:

On July 13th, we went to visit a friend a few miles down the road and had a long sing-along there with her visiting daughter and family:

During my stay, I also started picking up the ukulele, as Jos’s boyfriend Matt brought his along and very kindly let me play around with it:

Aside from music, most of our time at home was somehow related to food. Grandma loves to cook and she loves to feed people. And uncle John likes to make his tasty Orange Julius-style hot dogs for us at night.

Strawberry shortcake, sooooo tasty!

We even played a game of horseshoes, which we did a lot when I was a kid:

On July 14th, we drove to Taylor Head beach, where there were plenty of jellyfish in the sea and lots of space on the beach to toss around a pigskin:

Part of Jos’s reason for visiting was to do some documentary filmmaking about local life and our family history there, so after returning from the beach she and Matt set up a projector and then filmed a slideshow to potentially use in a project later on:

The next night we had a big bonfire down at the beach, including a few marshmallows and a bunch of mosquito bites :-)