“More funerals than birthdays.” This is how my grandpa ended one of many jokes he used to tell me. He started to say this joke about a decade ago when he was approaching 8o-years-young. He would read the weekly Drumheller, Alberta Mail newspaper, and when he would arrive at the end in the “obituary” section, he would almost always point out someone who had just passed and tell me a story of how he knew that individual. After my grandpa retired and moved back to where he grew up as a kid, he spent over 25 years as a councillor and mayor for the City of Drumheller. Meaning, he knew many people over the years of serving his community and had many families from the valley. He was born in Wayne, Alberts, on November 15, 1933.
As young as I can remember, a typical day was met with the same routine, that is, if we weren’t camping, fishing, going places like the Calgary Stampede or visiting other family members, etc. In the valley of Drumheller, the hot air gets trapped down in a blanket kind of way, and it says hotter longer and begins earlier in a day than the rest of Alberta. We would usually get about around 7:30 am. My grandparents would usually start the day singing the Teddy Bear Picnic song even before they had coffee.
They enjoyed their coffee sitting around the patio sit and watch the birds coming and going from their mini houses hung up in trees, sheds, and other places high enough to keep safe from the many small predators in the neighbourhood. We would hear water flowing like we were near a small creek. It was a running fountain with a big birdbath in the centre. The birds would often take baths and drink from it as they took a break from flying amongst the many flowers that covered a lot of ground in the back yard and hanging flowerpots from the front and the house’s side above the main entrance in the backyard. The birds would do their part by eating bugs in the massive vegetable garden, the many flower beds, the row of trees running along the tall red fence line, and the small grass space.
My grandma would usually cook bacon, eggs, toast with fruit like bananas and oranges. After my grandpa washed the dishes, brushed his teeth and white-grey flowing hair, he had more hair on his head his last day than I ever had. We would then leave the list in hand to pick up a few things from the grocery store. First, we would go to the campground we looked after in the summer to clean up sites and other areas for more campers to come in and or check on other campers. From there we may go to the local community centre to either clean it up too after a social gathering or maybe to set it up for a wedding or perhaps funeral. By that time, it was around noon, and we would go back home for lunch.
My grandpa and I would walk through the gate in the front, following the cement steps that lead us alongside the house past the kitchen window where when I was tall enough, I would see the fan blowing on the counter as my grandma was busy cooking something other. She would usually make us all a sandwich of freshly baked bread either from the grocery store or bread she made that morning or the day before. The bread would be met with meat, cheese, lettuce from the garden, cucumber from the greenhouse, green onion on the side that was also freshly picked from the garden. I took up my grandpa’s habit of picking a green onion from the garden and eating the nectar, fresh right from mother earth’s taint. After my grandpa washed the dishes, we would go a couple of blocks to retrieve the dog owned by my grandpa’s nephew.
Princess was a golden retriever who lived a long life first owned by my grandpa’s niece, who had a cat that grew from the runt to the 25-pound giant that was Taz. Taz became my cat and my favourite one I’ve owned. Taz was put down at 19 in people years. My grandpa and I would take Princess to walk the hills, sometimes to walk up Crystal Hill to dig up quartz Crystals. Once a week or so, we would walk down this coulee located close to where my grandpa grew up to get spring water. My grandpa would bring these two big blue five-gallon water jugs to fill, then deliver them to Rose, who was my grandpa’s friend and neighbour growing up. It was amazing to see as a child someone who was in her 90’s has no running water and how grateful she was for my grandpa and me bringing her a basic human need and right—clean water.
After we would drop Princess off, we would go back to my grandma’s clean, freshly dusted house, smelling of whatever that evenings’ supper consists of. This time allowed my grandpa to nap and me a chance to watch my favourite show, The Simpsons. After the show, it was time to wash the dirt off our hands from the adventures thus far, and my grandma would have her usual multi coarse five stars cooking ready. Finally, after the comedy routines and my grandpa winning the game, by where he eats everything on his plate first before everyone else, he would throw his hands in the air, saying, “Time!”
My grandpa would wash the dishes, and we would usually digest by watering the flower and vegetable gardens. Afterwards, my grandpa and I would usually take our bikes for a ride down to the campground to check on it to see if the new and or returning visitors needed anything. Or we might walk down with my grandparents’ dog to the river to go fishing or down the river a mile or so to the star mine suspension bridge.
By nighttime, we would usually unwind somehow, and we awoke being outside listening to the birds’ last whispers and hearing the howls of the owls. We would sometimes watch the news right before I went to bed, or in rare events, we would watch a movie. Finally, I’d brush my crooked teeth and go into bed as my grandparents would tuck me in.
First, my grandpa would kiss me on the forehead, and then my grandma would do the same thing as she was tucking in the blanket that held me throughout the night. After that, they both said, “I love you.” Which met a lot at the time as my parents and other family weren’t brought up to show much affection, so throwing around the “I love you’s” with others was often met with much awkwardness—as it still is. With my grandparents, it was normal. They would always tell me growing up, too, that I was their favourite grandchild partly because I was lucky enough to have spent every summer with them from 3 to 17 years old as they had both just retired when I was 3.
My grandpa taught me how to live a long life through healthy habits like keeping busy from morning until night, going outside, walk, exercise, paying back the community for over 25 years as a councillor and mayor after retiring and moving back to his home, to laugh and have fun, he taught me how to fish which I like to credit as my earliest form of meditation, how to keep the sense of adventure and how never to lose my imagination, he taught me how not to take life too seriously and would make fun of me of the fact I was taking whatever joke he was saying too seriously. When he was getting older, one of his favourite jokes was, “You know you are getting older when you are invited to more funerals than weddings.”
He is the hardest working, funniest, and silliest person I’ve ever met. He is my fucking hero.
“There are two great beings that lead me to write: my grandparents and LSD.”—Dean Mathers.