Margaret Brown Feb. 23, 1913 – Apr. 1, 2002
Meg Brown never drank water. Well, I suppose she must have at some time, maybe when she was a little girl her mother forced her to, but for as long as I was around, and I knew her my whole life, she never did. She’d tell me that she didn’t like the taste. And, yes, when I told her that it had no taste, she said that it did to her.
“It does to me. I don’t like it,” she’d say. Even when she was in her eighties and I was in my thirties, that’s how she answered me, as though she was still a little girl.
We’d go to restaurants together, just the two of us, and complain about the food or laugh at the people sitting at the other tables. Sometimes, I’d have the waitress bring her some fizzy water, or some water flavoured with a slice of lime or lemon. It never worked though. She’d just push it aside, and in her thick Scots accent, she’d say “Martin, you know I don’t drink water. I don’t like the taste.” Then she’d pick up her cup of tea, and sip at it, regally watching over all the other diners.
The last years of her life were spent overcoming one illness after another. There were hospital visits, and doctor appointments, and there was always something on the horizon, just out of sight. Fortunately it stayed on the horizon for a while. When it did come, she was eighty-nine, or in her ninetieth year, as she would argumentatively point out to us, and it was too soon for me.
I remember at her funeral, a family friend said that we were lucky to have had her for so long. I wanted to pick them up, shove a couple of the little triangular shaped sandwiches into their pockets and push them and their well-intentioned comment right out the door. I didn’t want to hear that, I wanted her back. I needed her to be alive; I needed her to be alive for a long time.
Meg Brown was my Grandmother, or my Gran, as we called her. She moved to Canada from Scotland in 1978, shortly after we made the trek, and although she took a liking to some things Canadian, she was always my Scottish Gran, with her “just off the boat” accent, and sensible demeanour. Shortly after she arrived in Canada, she took to visiting with another older lady who lived down the street. She’d walk the half-block, and they’d settle into the lady’s backyard for an afternoon of drinking tea, not water, and analysing the comings and goings of the neighbourhood.
One afternoon she came home looking quite dishevelled and upset, but no matter how many times we asked she wouldn’t tell us what had happened. All she would say is that the old woman down the road was a “dirty-minded, dirty-mouthed old woman.”
They were probably only a couple of years apart, but she always referred to the woman as being “the old woman, who lived down the street.” The “dirty-minded, dirty-mouthed” part was completely new.
My mother, the family protector, waited until Gran went inside to calm down before paying a visit to the woman, and when she came back she could barely stifle her laughter.
Now, my mother was new to Canada at that point too, but she knew the old woman and knew there must be some kind of an explanation. When she arrived in her backyard, she saw that the woman was quite upset herself, and really didn’t know what she’d done to offend my gran. She said that all she’d done was invite my gran to “take a load off, and sit down on her fanny.”
“Fanny”, in Canada, she explained, refers to your bum, or your bottom. My mother very delicately explained to our neighbour that in Scotland it refers to a different part of your anatomy that is common only to females. In fact, it’s located, well, never mind, I’m sure you can figure it out.
It didn’t matter to Gran, the mistake was never forgotten. She determined that the woman’s parents had come from Glasgow, right in the heart of the country where “fanny” was spoken, and she must have known what it meant. Eventually they became friends again, and their afternoon visits resumed, but Gran always kept a wary eye on her, just in case she really was a dirty-mouthed, dirty-minded old woman.
When I entered my troubled teenage and beyond years, and I’d wake up wondering what had happened the night before, she was always in my corner, always. It didn’t matter how many cars I rolled out of at three o’clock in the morning, stinking of Crown Royale, or how many girls decided they’d had enough; it was always somebody else’s fault. It was never her Martin’s fault. It was “that girl, who had problems,” or I was “out sowing my oats”.
In recovery houses today, they call it enabling. I didn’t care, and I still don’t care. My gran loved me and that was how she showed it.
She died ten years ago now, on April first, but I don’t like to think of her on that day, I think of her on her birthday, February twenty-third. For a long time, after she passed, I thought about her every day, and then a day would go by and I’d be surprised that I hadn’t thought of her. Now, it seems like whole weeks go by and I rarely think about my Gran. Every February I do though, February is my month to remember her.
When we cleaned out her home, after she passed, there wasn’t much that I wanted. I took two things though, and I still have them today. I took a small scrawny potted plant that sat in a little container and was barely a few inches tall, and I took a gold-plated pen-holder and pen that has an ornamental bird on one corner of it.
For the longest time that plant wouldn’t grow. I tried it in different positions, sometimes I would water it, and sometimes I wouldn’t. It didn’t matter; it always stayed just a few scrawny inches tall. Then, one February, eight years ago, I made some changes in my life. I decided to start living and stop hiding. I gave up the stuff that was holding me down, got some help, and decided to live a healthier cleaner life. The plant started to grow.
I was afraid to move it. I didn’t want to disturb it. It was like Jack and the Beanstalk, it just kept growing, and growing. And, I started talking to it; I started talking to my Gran.
The plant has now been re-potted several times, and is almost three feet high. It sits in a special corner of our living-room, right beside the window. We call it “the tree” or “Gran’s tree,” and yes, I still talk to it. I talk to my Gran through it.
She’d be happy today. She’d be happy that I’m writing again. She wouldn’t quite be able to figure out how people read books after buying them with their computers, but she’d be happy that they’re buying my book, her Martin’s book. So, as February comes along, and I think of my Gran a little more than I usually do, I’ll talk to her. I’ll work on my new novel, upstairs on my computer, and I’ll promote “My Temporary Life” and fiddle with her pen and pen holder that still sits on my desk. And, once in a while, I’ll wander down and sit in the big easy chair in the living-room and talk to my Gran, and tell her that things turned out okay. I’ll tell her that things are way more complicated than when she left us, but I’m handling them better than I ever have. I’m handling it, and things are okay, and I’ll tell her that I love her. I always do that. I’ll look at that tree that used to be a scrawny plant, and tell my Gran that I love her. Then, I’ll go pick up the big jug of water from the kitchen, and give some of it to the plant, gently pouring it in, and telling her that it’s tea, it’s not really water, because I know she never did like water. She never did like the taste of it.