My grandparents had lived at 70 Thursfield Crescent for most of my father’s life (he was born in 1933) and virtually all of my own. Their immaculate little semi-detached was nestled in the heart of Leaside, a suburb in East York, Toronto. I spent a lot of my summer time there. You could get to Serena Gundy Park by walking around the block until you found it (good for us little ones, as yet without permission to cross the street alone). It was peaceful and calm, full of warm days and a complete lack of concern or responsibility.
An integral part of summer vacation was my attendance at East York Day Camp. Each morning I’d get up and sit my grandparents’ sunny kitchen eating my peanut butter and honey on toast, dressed in my uniform of shorts and t-shirt, socks and Adidas runners. Just before I left with my bag lunch, Gran would have me stand in the kitchen near the side door. My job was to completely cover my face as I turned slowly in a circle, and she would proceed to spray me generously stem to stern with Off! to protect against the mosquitoes at the park. DEET? Don’t talk to me about DEET. This was 1977. After my spray down, and just before we walked out the door to go to the community centre where I’d catch the camp bus, she did one thing that will forever be burned into my memory. Without fail, she’d take my face in both her hands and give me about ten kisses in a row on the cheek, smack-smack-smack-smack-smacks of true love and affection. My Grandpa used to call me Precious. It was my Gran who made me believe it.
Summer weekends were spent running along sidewalks, climbing the tree in the backyard, going for bike rides, taking trips to Ontario Place or Edwards Gardens to feed the chipmunks, and once, digging up the entire front corner sod searching for pill bugs. My grandparents were patient and kind people, however I have to posit that seeing their hitherto unspoiled sea of emerald green in raggedy shreds very much challenged their forgiving natures. I don’t recall ever doing it again. Anyway, I had about 40 pill bugs in a jar. Who needed more?
In most things, such as keeping an exceptional lawn, my grandparents were of the same mind. They always had a kind word for each other, called each other (as did many of their generation) Mother and Father. Granny made the meals, and Grandpa, unconventional for his time, did the dishes. He’d always whistle as he washed. He was a beautiful whistler, everyone agreed. They admired each other and supported each other, it appeared, in every way except one, or so I initially thought.
My Granny was an avid fan of the soap opera Search For Tomorrow. Every afternoon after lunch, she’d sit in her chair and watch. My grandfather (in as mean-spirited a way as his gentle self could muster), would tease her, calling such shows absurd and frivolous. Granny ignored him. Then, one week, Granny was called away for a couple of days. Grandpa and I had recently finished washing up from lunch. I’d been playing in the back yard and had come in for a drink. Wandering into the living room, I stopped short. There, comfortably installed in my Grandmother’s chair, his long legs out in front of him, was my Grandfather, watching Search For Tomorrow! He was completely engrossed. After my initial shock wore off, mischief crept in. Sauntering up beside him, I pointed at him and exclaimed triumphantly, “YOU watch Granny’s program!” Without so much as a pause, or a glance away from the floor-model television, he replied, “When she gets back, I have to tell her what happened!”
Years went by. My grandfather developed Alzheimer’s, and sadly forgot people and things piece by piece, until his beloved Mildred was all that was left. After he died, Granny went on, terribly saddened yet indomitable, until a nasty fall convinced her that living alone was no longer the safest option. She began to pack up fifty years of memories.
One day she called to ask if I’d come over and go through the basement inventory with her. I readily agreed, not because I was eager to pick through their things, but because as a child, treasures were kept down there. (Plus, about a month before, she’d insisted I take the second set of silverware, twenty-five pounds clanging and bashing against my leg all the way from the subway. It couldn’t get worse than that, I figured). We set about the task of going through every steamer trunk, every box, examining every shelf. On one, there was a smallish tin; opening it, I was surprised to find about a hundred pencils. It turned out that my pragmatic grandfather would just add any superfluous pencils that entered the house to the tin. He’d never kept more than one upstairs, used for his daily crossword and word-find puzzles, however he wasn’t about to throw out something useful. Admiring that trait, and being a (somewhat-but-not-really) pragmatic 20-something, I took it.
Years later, I am a (somewhat-but-not-really) pragmatic 40-something. But I have realized that what I hold in my hands goes far beyond the practical. I have my grandfather’s pencils, most of them imprinted. Vote for Don MacGregor, Beaches (I can’t find the year as yet). York Salted Nuts. A 2B from the Toronto Board of Education. Milnes Fuel Oil Limited, 1815 Yonge Street. Elias Rogers Company Limited, 2221 Yonge Street, phone HU 1-2221. National Trust Company Limited. Ossie Maughan, Painting Contractors, 47 Princess, Kingston Ontario, phone 4755. Lake Simcoe Fuel Oil, dial RU 2-1128 days, WA 2-2178 evenings. Dominion Building Supplies, 2296 Gerrard Street East and 1453 Dupont. A Venus Velvet with V-5 lead, medium soft HB.
He held these in his hands sometime between 1940-1989. The hands that held Mildred’s during their courtship. The hands that played with my dad, my uncle and aunt as children. Hands that slipped around Gran’s waist, that did the dishes every night, that worked the garden, that touched my head when he called me Precious. I have my grandfather’s pencils.
Eva Mildred (Dale) Lee and Arthur Leslie Lee