I have always asked a lot of questions of everyone, not out of nosiness but genuine curiosity.
To people who knew me well as a child, it’s not surprising that I now ask questions for a living.
But the very first sit-down interview I can remember conducting was with my grandma, Pat Love. This was years before I had chosen my career path. It was a grade school assignment. Find an interesting, older person in my family to peg with questions and then write about, the teacher said.
This would have been the late 1980s, in Richmond where I lived as a youngster.
We sat down in a dark, wood-panelled room in the basement of the split level home she shared with her husband, Stan Love.
I had been in this room before plenty of times. I knew that the cupboards behind me were filled with what seemed like acres of fabrics for sewing projects. I was familiar with the beautiful roll-top desk filled with things that delighted me – a stapler, a tape roll, pens and pencils, note pads, envelopes.
I knew the smell of the house, and I knew the view out the window of the tall cedar trees that filled the front yard.
But I didn’t really know my grandma. Sure, I knew she loved me, and that I could ride my bike over there whenever I wanted. I knew what times I was allowed to play her piano (usually before my grandpa got back from work). I knew that I was welcome there anytime.
I knew she had a fridge magnet that said “My ship came in, but I was at the airport,” and that she was where we went when we needed stitches after bike accidents.
But I really knew very little about the woman in front of me. Honestly, I was a bit nervous in that all-so-familiar room.
This was so new.
She sat in a chair across from me and waited with a patient smile.
I asked her all the basics. I asked her where she was born (a very small town in Saskatchewan). I asked her why my family then ended up in Victoria, and then Richmond. I asked about what it was like to be a young woman those days, and why she chose nursing.
I went back home and wrote my biography and felt like I knew absolutely everything. I was so proud of myself.
And I was so wrong. She had left out so much of the good stuff, likely for the sake of my young ears.
Over the years, I picked up bits of my grandma’s real personality in a more natural way. I learned by picking up the items in her home and asking where they came from, and from being generally nosy. And of course, from sitting in her kitchen and asking her questions.
And when I went to her work at GF Strong Rehab in Vancouver a few times, I learned that being a nurse isn’t what I thought it was. Not at all. I saw her patients for the first time, and suddenly I understood “why be a nurse” in a way you can’t explain.
I learned even more by sitting and listening to her stories. A few years ago she let it slip that she had earned her pilot’s licence, and took just one flight from Vanderhoof to Prince George and back. This told me about her determination and sense of adventure.
A few years before she let me know that her maiden name is of Welsh origins, and that I have artistic ancestors. That day, sitting on her couch, I understood a little more about her and in turn, myself.
I learned that she still takes issue with our current Prime Minister’s mother’s singing outburst at a state dinner, and from that I gathered insight into her politics.
I learned that she worries. A lot. I have learned of her heartaches over the years, as she reveals more and more to me as we both age. Like anyone her age, she has dealt with losses and hard times that don’t need repeating here.
And I’ve learned that she doesn’t just worry, but she laughs. I spoke with her briefly the other day, over the phone. It was her 90th birthday and she was enjoying her Chinese take out in her Vernon home, with my mom and uncle.
When I hung up the phone, smiling, it occurred to me that every time I’ve visited my grandma, I’ve discovered a little bit more of her long life. This has been a long year without those visits, and as I wished her happy greetings for the day she reminded me that we can just visit on her next birthday.
And then she laughed, and I learned a little more about her optimism.
Jessica Peters is a reporter at the Chilliwack Progress.
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