Elegy for a Prairie Wildflower

Grandma June

My Grandma June died Sunday morning.

I know most people talk about their grandmas baking tons of delicious cookies or spoiling them while mom’s back is turned. The word “sweet” is often thrown around.

But that wasn’t my Grandma June.

Sure, she made her famous mince tarts at Christmas, but being in the kitchen wasn’t really her thing. You’d most likely find her out in the garden, planting vegetables or flowers. When she was pregnant with my dad, she told me she used to go out into the garden at night and dig up potatoes, then lick the dirt clean off them. It was an uncontrollable impulse. As for spoiling me–nah. I wasn’t her favorite grandkid. Not by a long shot. I may have been 4th or 5th down the list. But I loved her, and she loved me and that’s enough.

Sometimes people forget that our grandparents were young once, and they raised a little hell. But not me. Not my Grandma June. She was a good time girl and you never forgot it. She was born and raised on the prairie in Alberta, Canada. She wore red cowboy boots and loved dancing to country music. She’d dab musk perfume behind her ears and head out to the honky tonks of Calgary or Medicine Hat. She told me that in the years before home hairdryers were popular, she’d wash her hair before a big night, set it in curlers and then hop on the back of my Uncle Ricky’s motorcycle and speed around town, letting the wind dry it.

But there was a soft side to her too. She taught mentally handicapped children for years, and truly loved each of them. She had hundreds of stories about their triumphs, and even the minor triumphs were appreciated. I loved when she told these stories. It was so soothing to listen to her calm voice and lovely Canadian accent. Her blue eyes would shine as she told these simple stories about kids learning to count change or finish one of the yarn-covered hangers that she taught them to make.img_3220-2-1

So I would always ask her to tell these stories, even the ones I’d heard before, because this was a Grandma June that I never knew; endlessly patient, appreciative of small success stories. But maybe that was the point. Maybe she cherished those success stories the most. After all, my dad never forgave her for not showing up to his graduation from the University of Alberta medical school.

The Grandma June I knew was a little distant; a strong, can-do person and practical above all else. She was not nostalgic. She came to live with us for a while and my mom dreaded when she offered to clean the house, because Grandma June threw everything out, not noticing if it was a childhood drawing or a newspaper clipping of a cherished event. Nostalgia wasn’t her style.

I guess that’s why I chose the photo at the top, instead of a traditional grandmotherly one. It captures her spirit more. She’s the woman on the horse. In her pretty handwriting, she wrote on the back, “This was taken during Western week. I painted the picture behind me. Looks like I have horns!”

Keep on riding into the sunset, Grandma June.

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