I still remember that hazy, summer Prairie smell that you don’t know unless you’ve lived it; a mix of gravel-road dust, ripening barley and canola, lush poplar leaves and the sun baking everything together.
Our farm was a kid’s paradise. My mom and dad planted each little stick of a tree before I was born. By the time I was a little girl there were row upon row of willows and spruce joined by vast expanses of soft grass.
The summer I was six we built a deck on the back of our house. The builder left a space open to crawl underneath, the best hiding spot ever for a couple of kids on summer break. The lush grass was our carpet and we shimmied ourselves under the fresh boards to play, our dog Rosie following us in to see what all the fuss was about. We’d look for dropped nails in the grass, triumphantly holding up the ones that could be saved for fixing our tree forts. Usually a cat would wander under the deck too, sliding up and cuddling in, grateful for the company down at her own level.
My Barbie pyjamas and my brother’s Star Wars ones had permanent grass stains melded into the knees that summer.
As the shadows got longer and bedtime approached we’d blend into the yard and not create too much of a fuss so my mom would “forget” we were still awake. Sneaking into the garden to crack open fresh pea pods and graze through the raspberry bushes was the perfect bedtime snack. That summer and the ones around it are the ones I remember as cementing my relationship with my brother. We fought like the wild kittens that hid in the wood pile but we were usually buddies when no one was watching.
My daughter is barely two but I can already see an us-against-the-world attitude forming between my children. “Come on, little baby sister! Let’s run in the sprinkler!” or “Where’d my big bruver go?” The sibling rivalry is here too…the fights, the screaming and yelling over the same toy. The pulling and pushing and hurting that are all a part of it; practice sessions for the school playground when I’m not there to jump in and rescue.
It’s a whole new perspective, being the parent and not the kid; the one enforcing the rules instead of the one pushing against them. The haziness of summer blurs the line a little between parent and child. The sprinklers are on and faces are sticky with ice cream as the warm sun drifts down and the clock ticks past bedtime.
I don’t know which summer moments will stick in my children’s memories. I’m blessed to watch their own stories unfold, as mine did years ago under the deck in the soft grass.
My grandpa Harry was the kind of guy who would say hi to the kids before the adults and then drop right down on the floor to give us bear rides. He had a drum set in the basement we could bang on. He could instantly become “Igor” and scare us silly until we collapsed with giggles. Once I caught him red-handed sneaking around and stealing my Easter chocolate out of a drawer in my room. He sent us mixed tapes at Christmas time with his voice recorded over the carols, wishing us Merry Christmas from Eastern Canada.
Every since I can remember, his name for me was Beautiful One. He had six children of his own and lots of grandchildren so it was special to have a nickname. When I’d walk in his front door he’d embrace me with his Marks and Spencer sweater-clad arms in a big bear hug and announce “It’s the beautiful one!” When I called on the phone he always asked “Is that my beautiful one?”
One March break I flew out alone to visit my grandparents. I was in that awkward phase of life…about 13 years old, with a too-tight spiral perm (it was 1990) and not very comfortable in my skin. As I came through the doors at the airport, my grandpa and grandma rushed towards me and I heard it again, “It’s the beautiful one!” Sweet healing balm to the ears of a girl who hadn’t yet been noticed by the cute boys.
I was delighted when my son came along five years ago and my grandpa was here to know him. At 80+ years, my grandpa was down on the floor playing cars and outside giving my son rides in the golf cart.
When my little guy was three I became pregnant and we moved closer to my grandparents. It thrilled me that my second child would likely get to know his or her great-grandfather too. I secretly thought that if he was a boy we would name him Harry. My grandpa was the kind of guy that deserves a namesake.
He never met my daughter. He died when I was 36 weeks pregnant. We hauled my 3-year-old son to the graveside and the memorial service to say goodbye. As we sang Jesus Loves Me and ate goldfish crackers my daughter kicked and danced along in utero, not knowing the importance of the day.
When she was born a month later she was a bright spot in our family. My grandpa would swoon over her if he were here to see her in all of her almost-two-year-old glory. I can just imagine the goofy look he’d have on his face as he chased her around wearing his worn, brown, polka-dotted house coat.
Last week, a few days before the second anniversary of my grandpa’s death and right around Mother’s day, I came out of the bathroom, fresh from the shower. I had a ratty old T-shirt on and a blue towel wrapped around my wet hair, turban style. My daughter was waiting for me in my bedroom. She giggled when she looked up and saw the towel on my head. She ran in for a hug and I picked her up and sat her down on my bed.
She reached up to touch the towel, got very quiet and then the words came out of her mouth quietly and reverently: “Beautiful one, Mommy. Beautiful one.” My grandpa’s familiar, love-drenched words echoing through my tiny daughter’s brand-new voice.
The people who really, really love us don’t just ignore our scars, wrinkles, bad hair or whatever it is about ourselves we scrutinize in the mirror.
They don’t even see them. They are too busy loving us.
Guess what my daughter’s new nickname is? Beautiful one.
I will say it to her over and over, when she’s little and when she’s grown, if she’s thin or if she’s chubby, when she’s cute and when she’s in that awkward phase.