/ Language: English / Genre:antique

I Remember December

Lawrence Thomas

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I Remember December

by Lawrence Thomas

Smashwords Edition

Copyright 2009 Lawrence Thomas

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I Remember December

Based on true events from my childhood, as I remember them.

I don’t remember night time. I must have been asleep when we arrived at their home.

Morning. I remember morning. It was a beautiful sunlit day. The Foster’s lived on the outskirts of the steel city, on a quiet country road. Space enough for another home between them on either side. The daylight beamed in through the windows that covered much of the south wall of their living room. It was cold outside, mid December, but the brightness in the room seemed to give that moment a summer’s warmth.

The room turned cold the moment I saw my mother’s tired face, her eyes swollen and red from crying. She took my hand, and led me over to the couch on the north wall, opposite the window that now seemed dark.

“Your grandma is gone,” my mother sobbed uncontrollably. She pulled me close, and wrapped her arms around me. We cried there for an hour. I was nine.

The year was 1982 - our first Christmas without my grandparents in our lives.

We had hardly laid my grandmother to rest, when the clock above the old East Hamilton Radio on Barton Street struck morning on Christmas Day.

It was the one night of the year that children the world over, willingly jumped under the covers (their curious little eyes peaking out from the comforter tucked up under their noses), and fought hard through all the excitement to fade off into dreamland. Santa would surely arrive sooner if the sugar rush from all the baked holiday goodies would just wear off.

While visions of Tyco electric race tracks, and Star Wars figurines danced through other little boys’ heads, I dreamt of the commotion of the entire family, aunts, uncles and cousins, stuffed into the basement of our Queen Victoria town-home for Christmas dinner, the smell of my great-grandfather’s pipe, playing walky-talkies with my grandfather, or the comforting sound of my grandmother’s voice.

I don’t recall much of that Christmas, but I remember the night my grandmother died as if it happened only yesterday.

My father was working the night shift – it was just my mother, my little sister, and me. My grandmother had called our house earlier that evening, to say that she wasn’t feeling very well. I guess being nine, I didn’t think much of her call at the time.

My mom however, knew better. My grandmother didn’t complain. She didn’t go to the doctor. Something was wrong.

I usually jumped at the chance to go to my grandmother’s, but the one place I loved visiting equally as much, was my Aunt’s house. I asked if I could go and hang out with my cousins instead of going with my mother that evening, and I was granted my wish. It is a choice I regretted for many years.

We played Activision, Ants in Pants and Planet of the Apes. I cherished hanging out with my cousins, so time spent in their Berko Avenue play space, are moments I still remember fondly.

At some point during that night, my best friend’s dad picked me up on his way home from work, and took me to their house. I only vaguely recall those preceding hours, but the images of playing in my friend’s basement the following morning when my friend’s mom called down for me, are still clear in my mind.

“Larry. Can you come upstairs please?”

The past thirteen hours had seemed like a mini play vacation. Hanging out with my cousins, my best friend, and a sleepover. It didn’t get much better than that. If only I knew how my life was changing as the hands of that old Barton Street clock passed the night hours.

“Larry,” a voice called a second time.

I ran up the stairs, through the kitchen and into the living room. As soon as I looked into my mothers eyes, I knew something was very wrong. I went over to the couch, sat down nervously beside her, and awaited her news. It couldn’t be as bad as when she called me in from play just two months prior (right in the middle of dinky car road construction atop the mound of dirt that was my childhood playground), and told me my grandfather had passed away.

“Your grandma died last night, Honey,” my mother whispered softly. I had never known her to look so despondent. I glanced around the room at the commiserative expressions of my family and friends lined up against the east wall of the living room. I was searching for a smile. I was looking for some indication that this news wasn’t true, but in every eye that met mine, tears had started to gather. I looked back at my mother - at the heartbreak in her eyes, and suddenly I began to cry from the bottom of my little heart.

In unison, my mother and I cried for what seemed hours. How could this be happening? First, cancer took my grandfather that October past, and just a week prior to my grandmothers untimely death, her father passed away. Now, with Christmas a little over a week away, my grandmother was gone too. She wasn’t sick. She wasn’t yellow like my grandfather had been when he was dying. We hadn’t gone to visit my grandmother in the hospital like she had taken me to see grandpa. It wasn’t fair; it just wasn’t fair.

I would never again lie on my grandparent’s floor in their little cottage on Bayfield Avenue, and laugh at the games her dog, Yo-Yo, and her budgie, Joey, would play. I wouldn’t wake up in Grandma’s bed, the room dark but for the soothing glow of the kitchen light through the gap at the bottom of her bedroom shutter doors. Yo-Yo curled at my feet. The sounds of Grandma and Joey having their morning chat over coffee, while the white transistor radio that sat atop the fridge would play ever so softly in the background.

I would reach down and pet Yo-Yo, and tell him how much I loved him. I would just lay there for awhile, and soak those moments in, before joining them for Cheerios and chocolate milk.

The trains passing by or the big roll trucks down the road at the steel mill, were all part of the sounds that made up my memories of the nights I spent at my grandparents’. Even today the smells of manufactured steel in the morning air, take me back to those precious moments.

I remember sitting on the bed in the spare bedroom, as my grandfather sang “How Much is that Doggie in the Window” to me, or watching him at the kitchen table rolling his own cigarettes. I can picture myself sitting at the same kitchen table, making little crafts out of my grandma’s empty Craven Menthol cigarette packages.

During many visits, my grandmother would give me a dollar and I would walk all by myself to the variety store on McNaulty and Kenilworth, to buy a few packs of ET trading cards, or some caps for my cap-rocket. I can remember checking off which trading cards I had on the index that came with each pack, and spending hours on the sidewalk outside my grandparent’s place throwing that cap-rocket up in the air, and watching excitedly as it ‘snapped’ to the ground. I still have all those ET Trading cards packed away, along with a pink 1957 Chevy dinky car my grandmother had bought me.

Grandma, Yo-Yo, Joey, and I, spent many a day on my grandparents front porch. They would continue their conversation from the morning, and I would play with my dinky cars, or hang out with the kids across the street when they were visiting their own grandmother.

I remember one afternoon we lost Yo-Yo. We chased after him for probably a half an hour before we finally found him begging from a Dickie Dee ice cream vender in the park a few blocks away. “Bad Yo” grandma pointed at him in a firm, yet still gentle tone – fighting back a smile at the image of her dog wrapped around the vendors leg, pleading for a treat.

Looking back, it’s plain to see where our families love for animals emerged. My grandmother spent hours with those little creatures, and they really did sit there and listen to her. Joey’s inquisitive head tilted as he tried to learn a new word or phrase. “Joey’s a pretty boy” was his favorite – and he certainly was.

I remember how Joey would perch himself on grandma’s glasses; I remember her whispering in my ear that there were candies in the dish on the coffee table, after my mom had just told me I couldn’t have any more sweets; and I remember the squirrels coming in the back door and eating peanuts right out of our hands.

In my mind, I can still walk through and around that old Bayfield Avenue.

I remember my grandfather’s old Chev taking up two spots on the street, my grandmother’s blue Peugeot 5-speed parked in the driveway, the cracked sidewalks, the big maple that kept the front of their tiny house and part of the neighbor’s house in shade. I remember the soft yellow of the exterior siding, the brown trimmings, the green turf carpet that covered their front porch, and the way the moon cast its shadows on the living room floor through the three little windows at the top of the front door.

You were welcomed into my grandparent’s house with wide-open arms, and a kiss and a hug that expressed a true happiness to see you. Their house was always alive with chatter and play as you stepped in through the front doors into the living room. Their place seemed so big to me as a child, but standing in front of it now, at thirty-five, I find it hard to fathom that everything I envision going on within those walls all those years ago, could actually all happen at once in that blue-collared castle.

It’s been 26 years since my grandparents left us, and yet these images, right down to the vintage Flintstone magnets that covered the fridge door, are almost as vivid today, as the days when I lived these memories.

Having been so young when they passed on, this is, for the most part, really all I remember. I can’t recollect details of conversations, the sound of their voices, or many memories outside what I have just expressed.

For me, other than a handful of photos in our fading family albums, a few material things, and the stories other’s share with me, this is all that is left of them.

There was a time I could lie quietly in my bed at night, and hear their voices as they once were, but slowly, those sounds became harder and harder to reproduce in my mind until one day, they were gone.

It took me many years to get over losing my grandparents, and in such a short period of time. Knowing that I would never see the ones I loved so deeply again, and that the memories I had of them, were all I would ever have, was at times unbearable. Death, as a child, was painful and lonely beyond understanding. All I knew was that the world was so empty without my grandparents in my life.

For so many years I missed them. Many nights, I prayed I might wake up and realize that it had all been just a horrible dream. I spent so much time re-living those childhood moments – desperate to keep their memory alive.

I remember the day I obtained my license, 7 years later. The first thing I did was drive down to my grandparent’s old house, to see how much the neighborhood had changed. I was pleasantly surprised, when I found it almost untouched from the way I remembered it.

I dreamt of what it might be like, to be able to enjoy my grandmother’s company at 16. She would have a new dickie-bird, a new mongrel for the bird to tease. We would sit on her front porch over coffee. Granpa’s old Chevy would no longer stretch the width of their property, and grandma would probably have a new, used little 5-speed, but I would do the driving. We would venture about town running errands, or go for lunch at the Sears diner at the mall and look out into the parking lot as people rushed through their day. Most of all, I would tell her the things I never had the chance to say, before she was suddenly taken from me all those years ago.

The night she passed, I would have gone to visit her instead of my cousins. I would have told her I loved her and that I needed her. She wouldn’t have died from a broken heart. She would have lived knowing how much we all needed her here with us.

I still miss my grandparents to this day. Even time cannot erase the way someone holds our heart.

The hands on that old Barton Street clock continue to separate those moments of my childhood, but where those memories live in my heart, the hands of time have stood still.

Today, the old maple is gone; the sidewalks have been repaired several times; the walkway leading up to their front porch is no longer raised in the middle from the roots of that towering maple that once snaked above much of the grass-covered front yard.

The house seems so much smaller, the old variety store has changed names and served many different purposes since then. No more trading cards with bubble gum, one cent candies, or cap rockets. Even the mall we used to frequent is just a bunch of rubble as they make room for big box stores. The steel factories that put food on the table for many generations of our family are now under foreign ownership, and many mills are being closed and torn down. So many local jobs lost.

Slowly the things that are left of my childhood are being erased.

I don’t know when it was, or how old I was but one day, I suddenly let go. In those moments of comprehension, the moment I realized how much time I had wasted missing them and wishing my grandparents were still with us, I realized that they would always live in my heart.

I don’t know that we ever completely get over the loss of a loved one. The fact that I have held onto these memories of my grandparent’s so tightly for all these years, makes me feel comfort in knowing that love has the ability to stand the test of time. That one day my love might live on forever in another’s heart.

I have always found it hard losing someone I love, whether through death, or just knowing that a soul I cared very dearly for, would no longer be in my life.

My grandparents live in me. I will never forget them. Friend and family bonds are very powerful, and the souls of those we have or will love, will always be with us. I truly believe there is a reason why we feel so connected to certain people and creatures in our lives. It could be that these souls have been with us during many lifetimes and even in passing, they always find a way back to us.

I have always been someone who loved deeply. Who quickly attaches to certain souls. There are many people from my past that I still think of from time to time. Friends, past loves, family, and even casual acquaintances that only passed through my life for brief periods of time.

My paternal grandparents; my grandmother, my grandfather, and even my great-grandfather (even though the only memories I have of him are the smell of his pipe, or the Chilliwack record he bought me one year), are just a few of the many souls who have touched my heart.

This is their story.

In memory of my grandparents, Edgar and Marion Pattison (nee Croft).You live in my heart forever.

Many thanks first to my writers group, for their help with this story. This story would not be what it is today, without your guidance.

A very special thanks as well to my family, for giving me the gift of time for my birthday, so I could complete this project.

Last but certainly not least, to all my Facebook and Sellaband friends. Your continued support means the world to me. I am so grateful to be a part of your network.

Front and back cover design by Lawrence Thomas

Cover photo taken in Hamilton, ON Canada by Donald V Monk

For copies of this story, email me at lawrencethomas@shakingthetree.ca,

or visit me on the web at www.shakingthetree.ca.

First published February 21st, 2009

© Copyright 2009 Lawrence Thomas

All rights reserved.