Friday, March 17, 2006

There and Then Gone

My Grandpa was a hard man, and together my grandparents Dumas had a hard life. They drank and smoked heavily, worked their asses off their entire lives and never tooke a day off.

Every Saturday, starting when I was 6, I went to my Grandma's coffeeshop to work. I cleaned shelves and wrapped forks and knives in napkins with ketchup and salt. I made $10 a day, a fortune for a kid who couldn't even see over the counters. Over the years, I learned how to make my Grandma's famous cinnamon buns, pies, butter tarts and dinner rolls. I learned the usual orders for all of her regulars. I grew tall enough to use the grill and the deep fryer, brave enough to call orders into the adjoining bar, and good enough to make pretty amazing tips.

When I got to Grade 7, my Grandpa started picking me up every day after school to go to the coffeeshop to help Grandma close up. Each day, I walked out the front doors and Grandpa would be standing there beside the old Chevy Blazer that smelled like farm chickens. His army green GWG's would be unbuttoned to mid belly, with red Husquavrna suspenders straining to hold up his pants. Often he would be playing with his false teeth, making awful faces that mortified me in front of my friends. That was one of his favorite things to do, embarrass me, because it was so easy.

He would drive 35km/hr to the coffeeshop, with Gaye Delorme "The Rodeo Song" playing on the tape deck...

"Well it's forty below and I don't give a f**k
Got a heater in my truck and I'm off to the rodeo

It's an alamana left - an alamana right
Come on you f**king dummy get your right step right
Get off stage - you God-damned goof you know
You piss me off - you f**king jerk
You get on my nerves

Well here comes Johnny with his pecker in his hand
He's a one ball man and he's off to the rodeo"

...I think he liked to play it for the shock value, the same reason he made derogatory comments about my Filipino boyfriend to my face, the same reason he hollered "Hello in 'dis place" everytime he opened the door to our house and the same reason he turned into a violent, angry man everytime he got drunk.

I loved my Grandpa, but I never really liked him. He was mean to my mom and to my Grandma - I was witness to his abuse more times than I care to remember. He infuriated and embarassed me with his racism and judgement - he was half M├ętis and yet had no problem letting his unfavorable opinions of any other race be known, and often in their company. He was an overweight alcoholic, chain-smoking across the dining room table when I came to visit.

Over the course of a few years, I saw the big hulking man I knew as Grandpa Dumas wither away into someone quite different. As he sat across the table in the hospital the last time I saw him, looking at his only great-grandchild (my niece Ashley), I couldn't help but think that he was no longer the same person. He made jokes about my growing pregnant belly and I hoped fervently that he would make it to see his second great grandchild.

And when he died this January, age 78, I cried.

Visiting my Grandma after the memorial was reassuring. She was still full of piss n' vinegar, notifying us in her French accent that one of the other widowers in town was already "sniffing around". How Leo, her "s'Homme", would be the only man for her - ever! Talking about how she had a new trailer that she would park out at my parent's campsite for the summer and stay.

And then two weeks later she broke her hip. She spent her 75th birthday in the hospital, battling viral infections that left her a shadow of her former self. When my brother told me that he cried almost the entire time he visited her in the hospital, I didn't believe it.

I couldn't envision my Grandma anything other than what she was when I was little. Kneading mounds of bread dough with her arthritic hands, the hairnet over her French Roll hairstyle, the dangly earrings. Telling me not to chew my gum like a cow. Telling me to pull up my slouch socks. Praying over any body part that sustained an injury. Reading tea leaves - but never mine because I was too young. Yelling at my Grandpa in French when they were fighting, so we wouldn't understand. In fact, that is why my brother went into French Immersion, so he could understand what all the yelling was about!

But then this past weekend, Jason and I went over to the Island to visit. And it was that bad. I cried when I saw the skin and bones that used to be my Grandma on the bed. We had to wear gowns and gloves to visit her, although through my gown she pointed to my belly and said "fat", making me laugh through my tears. My mom and I joked about her nightie slipping off her shoulder and how there must be some male nurses around. I think she smiled. Hard to tell for sure.

And so the weekend passed, us visiting each day, each day getting a bit easier although we knew she wasn't getting better. My mom prepared to take my Grandma home to die. We went to the Walmart and shopped for a Diaper Genie and Huggies wipes for my Grandma, then face cloths and socks for my baby. It was funny and sad at the same time. The special bed was delivered, the oxygen set up, the nurse arrived. Sunday night my Grandma got to sleep in her own nightie, with my mom at her side.

Yesterday morning my mom was sleeping beside her bed and woke up to hear my Grandma's erratic breathing. She said it was over in 15 minutes, very peaceful.

And all of a sudden, I only have one set of grandparents.

My Grandma's death has hit me much harder than my Grandpa's. Or maybe it's the snowball effect of the two, or the pregnancy hormones mounting, or me just reaching the end of my rope.


  1. That is really sad Callie. We'll be praying for you and hopefully the joy of a new life with bring some smiles to your family

  2. I'm so sorry to hear about your grandmother, Callie. I can totally empathize with the sadness of seeing a loved one get so sick and becoming a shell of their former self. It's really hard. But what a beautiful blog you have written. You have wonderful memories and obviously your grandparents contributed a great deal to your amazing character and work ethic. My best to your family.

  3. so sorry for your loss, Callie. she was very lucky to have you as a granddaughter. and you've reminded me that I'm very lucky to my grandma still around (she's the only one left). I'm going down to visit her next week!

  4. Thank you for writing such a nice article about your grandparents.