Wednesday, February 13, 2008


My grandmother, Jessie MacKinnon or "Grammie" to me, died Monday night. This doesn't quite seem entirely like the place to write about it, but it doesn't seem right to not mention it, so I'll write something, maybe more for myself than for anyone else.

All the while I've been away, I've written about what I've been up to on this site, but I've also written letters to Grammie. She wasn't online obviously, so I kept her updated with letters every week or so, and postcards from all the places I travelled to. I liked the fact that I couldn't communicate with her online - it may be quick and easy, but it was nice having something that forced me to write the old-fashioned way. All my family said that she really appreciated the letters (she'd saved them all), so that was good encouragement to keep writing.

So when my aunt Marlene called me Monday night, at what was 1am here, one of the first thoughts that entered my half-asleep mind was that I wouldn't be writing a letter to Grammie while work was quiet Tuesday morning as I'd planned. I've never travelled without sending Grammie a postcard every day or two. The first postcard I ever received, when I was about 8 years old, was from her when she made a trip to Edmonton to visit her cousins.

Grammie was 94 years old and the last of my grandparents living. It was only in the last few years that she slowed down and had to go into a nursing home, just down the road from the house where she and my grandfather raised 6 kids in Eldon. She was still sharp as a tack when I saw her last in December, although having trouble hearing me speak and having to use a hearing aid.

I won't presume to sum up her entire life, but here's a few tidbits. Grammie grew up on a family farm as Jessie Nicholson, the eldest of the six kids. She told me that her grandparents spoke Gaelic when they didn't want her overhearing what they were saying, and because of that connection to Scotland she had a life-long interest in the country and her roots. She married quite late for a woman of her time, in her late 20's, having occupied herself in the typical way of the time by caring for elderly women. I'm not sure how she met my grandfather; I always meant to ask but never did. She was the last telephone operator for the Belfast area (switched to automatic in the 70's) and my cousins and I used to play with the switchboard when we were kids. She moved into town when my grandfather went into a nursing home, and he died in 1985.

Like any grandmother, she knitted and I still have the afghan she made for me when I was young. She travelled in her old age more than the rest of her life: she was on one of the first passenger flights out of Charlottetown airport (they served champagne) and she did a European coach tour when in her 80's, finally getting to Scotland after so many years. She was active well into her 80's; I remember staying overnight with her and going shopping around town. She did the crossword and the cryptoquote in The Guardian newspaper everyday and was very pleased whenever a visiting family member could fill in a tricky word she was stuck on. She wouldn't let me leave her presence without giving me food, money, a book, or some other thing.

Most of all, Grammie loved her family - having visits and arranging get-togethers. From her six children, there are 15 grandchildren, 9 great-granchildren so far, and what with spouses and boy/girl-friends, there's about 40 people if everyone's together at once. Here's everyone that made it down to visit Grammie just after Christmas, and that's not the entire family.

I discovered when I went to The Guardian website today to check the death announcement that funeral homes now have online death notices (here's Grammie's) and guest books, so that you can send condolences online and make the traditional donations to charity. Grammie said that she'd never heard of what a radio was until she was about five years old. That's a lot of change in a lifetime.

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