Dark toasted bread slices in the morning smell exactly like those quiet afternoons between '89 and, well . . . now I can't remember. It feels so very long ago, but in itself was a very long time. Without fail, the dark toast smell or rasp of a knife spreading butter on any kind of toast reminds me of that simpler time.
As I stand in my bleak miniature replica of a kitchen, waiting for the toast to pop up for the third time I think back on these days. Sun dresses, the peals of laughter, the smell of crayons and the thin paper of colouring books, the way Barbie hair smells fresh from the box. The gentle beams of light that crossed the room and the way my mother's voice carried in from the kitchen.
It would of been around '95 that I first was aware anything was wrong. Looking back, there is a sadness deep in my heart but still the humour of the time passes through me. The tuxedo jacket, in its bag waiting to go to the cleaners, the way that plastic seemed to wrap around you, protecting anything that entered it from the outside while allowing both sides to see each other. The crinkling of the plastic and the laughter forced from everyone's mouths. My sister and I stood behind the dining room table, watching as we so often did. The sighs of worry we had not yet learned to detect. The remote had been found, at long last. My grandfather had somehow managed to put it in his tux pocket and bring it to a party my mother had thrown a few nights before. My sister and I laughed.
Suddenly the hushed voices floating from the kitchen were no longer about myself, or Deirdre. The laughter that used to wash over us in waves every few moments from the kitchen where they had their tea seemed to halt. The knowing looks passing between my mother and my nana were more and more frequent. The words I had overheard were starting to form a conscious thought in my head but it was one which I pushed away.
My grandfather served for the British army in World War Two. He was an engineer that helped develop many secret operations . . . no, that is not the word. Regardless, things that would eventually become global military standard. In the sixties he and my nana had a little girl. A little girl who I was told tried to swim the English channel. One who had long red hair, and I often imagined as a real life Madeline. Only, British of course. The stories of the steamer that brought them to Canada and their landing at Montreal with only the car. They drove down to Toronto on the freeway with all their possessions in the boot and backseat. My mother, just a child, on my Nana's lap in the front seat of this right hand drive car, flying down the Queen Elizabeth Highway to the astonishment of many. How they camped until my Grandpa secured his job with Ontario Hydro. My Grandpa was an engineer, he came to Canada to design and oversee the project of the Pickering nuclear power plant. They got their first house in a nearby city. The stories of the snow storm of '77, the way he courted my Nana on his motorbike, the war stories, the problems the power plant faced, and all the many stories of my mother and her childhood.
I listened. I listened not as well as I should have. I notice now that my grandpa never repeated stories. Each visit there was a new story. It was only in the end, that the stories were repeated. By the time I had realized my mistake, it was far too late.
I remember in history class in high school, I did a presentation on a tank my grandpa had helped design. It was not in our textbooks, it had never been mentioned to anyone before. A kid in my class, who was my main rival in the marks department stood up and said it wasn't true there was no such thing. He said terrible things about my grandpa and the class lit up with laughter. I got angry. My teacher said that this was all true, and backed me up. I was fifteen at this point.
Fifteen. How long then had it been since I knew? They didn't tell me much. I pieced together over heard phone calls late at night where my Nana was calling to say she can't handle it, she doesn't know what more to do now. My mother would go visiting without us. The words and tones dropped to even more serious and still I pretended nothing was wrong. I would guess I was thirteen when the news finally broke. But my grandpa was on medication. So instead of accepting the truth I hopelessly hoped for a cure. This was the cure. This is what everyone was saying was the cure.
It would not return any lost memory, but it would halt further progression. Back and forth from the country to the city they drove. Then my grandpa forgot what country this was, and entered the freeway the wrong way. My nana nearly had a heart attack. After that, my mother drove them.
As I began to finish high school they moved away from the small neighbouring town they had resided in since my sister's birth and headed back to the city. A city with a clinic for day programmes. A city with a bakery and a grocery store less than a block away. A city, with hope.
My nana gutted that house. New windows, new paint, new doors, new carpet. A new garden and all new appliances. I saw them less and less. By this point, I am sure my grandpa had no clue who I was. He smiled and said hello and occasionally called me Christine. I no longer knew how to talk to him. I think, sometimes, that is what makes me cry the hardest. I avoided him, ignoring him, pretending that this wasn't happening to us. I wonder sometimes, how it must of felt to be ignored. He may not have known us by name, but he knew who we were still. This was the crucial time to convey any last messages of worth and love. Instead, I was angry and hurt, and I turned my back.
After the fiasco that seemed to be the day programmes and the medication, my Nana resigned to moving to my hometown to be with my mother. They put my grandpa in a home, and decided the best thing for the last part of the run was to all be together. My grandpa tried to pack the oddest things. He was so confused. I think, he knew. Deep down in a way he could no longer express, he knew.
I will admit, I only visited him in the home twice. The first time was a group visit and I didn't even recognize him. The weight he had lost! He was a stick of a man, and his eyes had lost that devious look. He didn't smile, instead he ran to my Nana, and she led us to a private room. We sat and had tea and cakes, we had brought him a mars bar which seemed to light up his day. He struggled over the words he wished to use and I looked out the window. He had to go to some group activity and so we parted. The orderlies told us of how he escaped. Escaped, as though this were some form of prison. They told of of how he refused to get up, of how he refused to eat. I just wanted to go home. This was not the way visiting my grandpa had even been or even should have been.
The second and last time I visited, I went alone. My family took my nana up north for a weekend and I was to go visit my grandpa on the Friday and tell him and the nurses that Nana would be back on Monday. He called me Winifred. He told me of how we were going to meet his mother and how she would love me. He called me Christine and asked me if I had taken the train from London. He asked me about the trains, about his brothers, about the war. He told me as we passed another man, that the man was a Nazi and we were in a POW camp. He was waiting for the war to end. From one end of the single floor hall to the other was many stories to him, and yet he couldn't recall where the stairs were. The struggle he had to use basic words, forgetting their meaning, it was so painful. I bought him a mars bar and we sat in the sunroom and watched the birds. I no longer knew what to say. In the end, I was there an hour before I practically ran out the doors.
For weeks I cried. We all prayed secretly that he would pass soon. Not too painful, just anything to save him from the end of this disease. He got sick. Many times. He got very ill and ended up in hospital a lot. We all quietly met at my nana's house, and though nobody said outright, it was said. Each time he recovered. He got better than doctors ever thought he would. My Nana said, stop telling me he's going to die, until he is actually going to die, my heart can't take it. We all laughed, but it really wasn't all that funny for once.
I graduated and moved away. I had been gone two years. Last May my mother messaged me on MSN. She said, your grandfather is very ill. This might be his last night. I said oh. I then said, you know, if he doesn't die quietly this time I may just have to kill him myself. We laughed. And then my mother had to go because they were taking nana out for something nice to eat then going to the hospital to be with him.
A few hours later, I am beginning some form of party. I can't recall the occasion, but I know my house was full of people and I had been about to call out some form of toast . . . perhaps the end of the school year, or a friend's graduation . . . then my phone rang. I answered it in some dumb fashion and I got "this is your father speaking" and I was like oh no. He told me my grandpa has just died and I started to cry and said he was a mean jerk and how could anyone think this was a funny joke. I was screaming "Stop it!" over and over again into the phone until someone took it away from me. When I calmed down I took it back, and my dad told me that this was serious. I asked if I was to come home. They said not yet.
The funeral was a year ago, on Mother's Day.
I couldn't cry. During the service, I started bawling uncontrollably after a good bout of laughter. The canon or maybe the eulogist had made a remark which I could not stifle myself. Here I am, front pew of the church, laughing uncontrollably. People whispered. I heard them. And then I let forth the biggest tearfest I had had in a long time.
Every morning when I make my toast, which I used to prefer lightly done, I think of him. Every time I work with elderly people, I think of him. The smell of pipe tobacco, doublemint gum, licorice alsorts, the sound of pencils on crossword books. Jig saw puzzles. Grandpas buying children ice cream or just watching approvingly over their family makes me think of him. I loved him, and I never said. My actions were selfish and rude. I was scared of him, and then when that had started to pass I turned my back because I could not understand or deal with the situation.
My family says it's normal. I have never said outright my reasonings, or anything of the sort. They prefer that I remember my grandpa as the man he was when I was young. My dad always says, the truth of it is that he was sick all through my childhood, we just didn't know it yet at some points. But even still. My grandpa was amazing, it was only in my teenage years that I was so cruel.
I wish I had of had more time.