My Grandma Flo died this morning. She had a very long battle with bowel cancer that spread to her liver and then lungs. She spent most of the last year fighting it tooth and nail.
I haven't seen her in almost 25 years.
For reasons still unknown to me, I did not even know that she existed until I was about 8 years old. I had been led to believe that my grandpa's 2nd wife was my grandma (by blood. She was still one of my grandmas). Something happened when my father and aunt were small children and they all became estranged.
That year, when I was 8, my father decided to send me to Grandma Flo's for the summer (it did not at all seem strange to me at the time to spend 6 weeks with a woman I had just met. My father said she was grandma, so that was good enough for me). I had the most wonderful time. She was not your typical grandma. She taught me how to roll her cigarettes for her with her tub of tobacco and rolling machine and introduced me to her "pet" raccoons (she lived in downtown Vancouver and there was a rodent problem that she made the best of).
She brought my to the Indian Reserve that we had family on. I didn't know I was Native. I imagine, because I was 8, I was told very little. Grandma Flo said we were Mountain Cree. I never knew the name of the reserve we visited but it was amazing.
The Aunt that we stayed with lived about a 5 minute walk from the Fraser River and every morning we would walk down there to pull in the nets. HUGE, real salmon! I was totally a city girl. I didn't know fish this big existed! Pacific Salmon were the most often caught, but occasionally there was a Pink Salmon in there. My grandma and Aunt and sometimes others would clean the fish on the kitchen counter or table. Sometimes there were eggs. I had heard of caviar, but never ate it. It was salty but I remember liking it. One of the men would grab some of the cleaned fish to hang in the smoke house next door. (REAL smoke house smoked salmon. Most amazing thing ever. I have never found anything like it in any store). I remember watching in disgusted amazement as my grandmother would eat the fish head.
I remember lots of adult talk of the "white man" accusing them (the natives) of over fishing. I remember siting on the banks of the river when they pulled in the morning fish and across the river on a higher cliff was that "white man" pulling up big nets too. I remember my 8 year old "hatred" of the "white man", forgetting that I, too, was mostly white. But at that moment, all I thought of was my new-found Native Pride.
I saw her only once after that summer. I don't even really remember much from that 2nd visit as it was just one day as my father and I drove through.
My grandma was a bit of a gypsy. She was always packing up and moving here and there. Almost always in the lower mainland of BC, but not always. For a while, I kept up with her as best as I could, sometimes speaking to her on the phone or writing letters, but sometimes not hearing from her for years.
My aunt (my father's sister) contacted me a year ago looking for information to contact my father about his mother. While I haven't talked to my father in 12 years, I did just receive the requested information from my grandpa (who isn't aware that I don't speak to my father, or why) and passed it on. I hadn't seen my aunt since I was 5. Thankfully, she filled me in with as much information as she could.
I'm sad that I hadn't seen my grandma in 25 years, but I am glad that my memories of her are all amazing and full of adventure.