The Family (Or most of them)

The Family (Or most of them)
The Family

October 5, 2006


The gorgeous woman above is my grandmother on my mom's side -- Nanny, we always called her -- and she died almost 20 years ago. She's here because as we Canadians head into our annual Thanksgiving Day weekend, I've been thinking about her a lot.

She moved in with us when I was about 10 years old. I'm the oldest of six kids in my family -- two brothers and three sisters -- and she had a profound impact on all of our lives.

She was a 5-foot-nothing whirling dervish with a French-Canadian accent, a wicked sense of humour, a temper you wouldn't believe and, primarily for the purposes of this post, an incomparable cook.

A diehard fan of hockey's Montreal Canadiens, she and I would sit and watch Hockey Night in Canada every Saturday night -- me cheering for the Toronto Maple Leafs, her for Canada's team based in French-speaking Quebec.

I teased her, incessantly. Pinched her bum. Turned her swivelling rocker chair around so she was facing the corner. Feigned karate and tae kwon do kicks at her, inches from her nose. Mocked her mispronunciation of English words.

She loved it all. Cherished it. Lived for it, truthfully. "Hass-hole!," she'd laugh in her semi-English. "Eh?" She could barely hear for the last 10 years of her life. "Hi'Im Heighty Two year ole! Go to Ell!"

She'd pretend to be mad, but couldn't stop us from making her laugh. "Hass-hole!" And then she'd break out in a grin and shake her head.

As the former head cook at one of Winnipeg's largest hospitals, she took it upon herself, naturally, to become the head cook and cleaning poobah in our nine-member household. And every birthday, every Christmas, every Easter, every Thanksgiving was her time to shine.

And that she did. She'd absolutely insist on buying the biggest Thanksgiving turkey at the Safeway store, and delighted in asking each of us kids what WE wanted. Cranberry sauce. Stuffing. Potatoes with cheese. Almost incalcuable varieties of veggies.

Ham, too. That gross sauerkraut (I love it now). Those inserts for our dining room table would have to come out, and she'd always get me to set the table, just the way she wanted it. By the time I was finished, the table was about 12 feet long. Not nearly big enough.

Because she and my mom would invite 10 or 20 people to come dine with us for Thanksgiving. It was a madhouse, but it was a lot of fun, and that's just the way it was in our three-storey, blue and white house at 196 Kitson Street.

My friends and my siblings' friends and some of my parents' friends and sometimes aunts and uncles would be there, all rubbing shoulders and telling jokes and laughing and eating all this unbelievable food, while Nanny would stand off to the side, contented, wanted, needed.

A smile on her face, waiting for the main course to disappear and for her to bring out the pumpkin pie with whipped cream and the spice cake that she knew was my favourite. I do miss her incredibly but I smile when I think about her.

It's a beautiful memory of beautiful times. And so while things have changed a whole lot since then -- I still drive by that old house whenever I can, it's now grey and white -- this is Thanksgiving 2006.

And for those outside Canada, there's a little Wikipedia thingy on North American Thanksgiving below. The U.S. celebrates its Thanksgiving in November. We celebrate ours on the second Monday of October. Go figure. I don't know about similar celebrations elsewhere.

Thanksgiving is about turkey and stuffing and bounty and just plain old down-home family values of togetherness and gratitude. And those are some of the things I'm going to be thinking about over these next few days. A bit of it is illustrated here:

I've never really figured out whether I thought turkeys were exceptionally ugly or truly breathtaking, really...

Here's my date for the weekend...

Here's what she's going to look like by Monday, however...

I'll be thinking of you all this weekend. Take care.

Thanksgiving in Canada
The first and original Thanksgiving comes from Canada. In Canada, Thanksgiving is celebrated on the second Monday in October. Unlike the American tradition of remembering Pilgrims and settling in the New World, Canadians give thanks for a successful harvest.
The history of Thanksgiving in Canada goes back to an English explorer, Martin Frobisher, who had been trying to find a northern passage to the Orient. He did not succeed but he did establish a settlement in Canada.

In the year 1578, he held a formal ceremony, in what is now the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, to give thanks for surviving the long journey. This is considered the first Canadian Thanksgiving, and the first Thanksgiving to have taken place in North America.

Other settlers arrived and continued these ceremonies. He was later knighted and had an inlet of the Atlantic Ocean in northern Canada named after him - Frobisher Bay.
At the same time, French settlers, having crossed the ocean and arrived in Canada with explorer Samuel de Champlain, also held huge feasts of thanks. They even formed 'The Order of Good Cheer' and gladly shared their food with their Native-Canadian neighbours.
After the Seven Year's War ended in 1763 handing over Canada to the British, the citizens of Halifax held a special day of Thanksgiving.
During the American Revolution, American refugees who remained loyal (United Empire Loyalists) to Great Britain were exiled from the United States and came to Canada. They brought the customs and practices of the American Thanksgiving to Canada.
Eventually in 1879, the Canadian Parliament declared Nov. 6 a day of Thanksgiving and a national holiday in Canada. Over the years many dates were used for Thanksgiving, the most popular was the 3rd Monday in October.

After World War I, both Armistice Day and Thanksgiving were celebrated on the Monday of the week in which Nov. 11 occurred. Ten years later, in 1931, the two days became separate holidays and Armistice Day was renamed Remembrance Day.
Finally, on Jan. 31, 1957, the Canadian Parliament proclaimed...
"A Day of General Thanksgiving to Almighty God for the bountiful harvest with which Canada has been blessed ... to be observed on the 2nd Monday in October."
The first Thanksgiving Day in Canada after Confederation was observed on April 5, 1872 to celebrate the recovery of the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) from a serious illness. Before then, thanksgiving days were observed beginning in 1799 but did not occur every year. Starting in 1879 Thanksgiving Day was observed every year but the date was proclaimed annually and changed year to year.

The theme of the Thanksgiving holiday also changed year to year to reflect an important event to be thankful for. In the early years it was for an abundant harvest and occasionally for a special anniversary.

After the First World War it was for Armistice Day and more recently and including today it has been a day of general thanksgiving.


  1. Lovely what you wrote about your Grandmother -thoroughly enjoyed it.

  2. Hey Lee...

    Thanks. I think if she was around today, she'd love your wit and humour...

  3. Hass-hole, you made me cry. This is a beautiful tribute to your Nanny.

  4. What lovely sentiments and memories. It is amazing how, as a child, we hastily overlook those things in which we later cherish and reflect upon with such fondness. Your grandmother was a spectacular woman.

    And thanks for the info on the Canandian Thanksgiving. I never even knew. See, you learn something everyday, and I am on a constant quest of ever-learning.

    *my son's birthday fell on Thanksgiving here one year. Too bad for him his birthday cake came in form of a sweet potatoe pie and turkey leg with candles in it!*

  5. That brought a tear. Seriously. (I knew I nominated you for a reason.) I especially like your rendition of Hockey Night in Canada. I want a grandson like you some day! My sons don't have a grandparent like her, but my husband does, and she's still kicking (her accent is German) at 96. We must visit her this weekend. As for 196 Kitson, thanks. And do you have a photo?

    PS The Peter Gabriel video is a perfect illustration of "Trouble" for this week's Illustrtaion Friday. If I can't find it for my blog I'll send people here to listen.

  6. happy thanksgiving!

    i was very close to my granny on my dad's side, she's been gone for 3 years now and i miss her lots- but i also smile when i think of her!

    oh, um, in honour of your thanksgiving day- go check out these! NB: NOT for the squeamish!
    that’s not turkey

  7. Beautiful sentiments.

    My grandmother on my mother's side is 89 years old. She is still active as ever and has a great sense of humour. I have learnt a lot from her.

  8. This was lovely to read. What time do you want us round for turkey?

  9. WW, you painted a great picture of her, I feel like I know her! Shoot, her memory is making ME smile!

    Nice post and enjoy the dinner.

  10. Lovely.
    Andrea sent me over, she knows how we value family, and good, solid beginnings.

  11. truly heart warming:)
    Very human. Brought a massive smile to my face at work, which i really should be doing now.

  12. I could almost hear her and her french-Canadian "haccent". That was beautifully written. I laughed so hard... and nearly cried too. Thank you for sharing those memories.

  13. MJ:

    Yeah, I'll always be an hass-hole, the monumental tease of females, but I had great practice with her and my three sisters.

    Thanks, Infomaniac, and smiles.


    Yes, she was, a real character, and you're right, we do tend to overlook the most important things.

    Don't feel bad about not knowing the history of Thanksgiving. I didn't either, so both of us learned something.

    Sweet potato pie and a drumstick for a birthday cake? Poor little guy. They're beautiful kids, you have.

    Andrea, my dear:

    You and MJ both shed a tear or two...must be a West Coast thing.

    As far as the Hockey Night in Canada thing, she'd don her Canadiens' jersey and I'd lay on the floor...she'd have her feet resting on my chest or my butt.

    I have to declare in all honesty that in those days, the Canadiens usually won and she'd go crazy.

    And that I am NOT a Leafs fan now.

    I'll check for photos of 196. And do you mean you want to get a video thingy on your blog?

    Let me know if you're having trouble.

    And thanks.


    Is there Thanksgiving or some similar celebration in South Africa? Anyway, Happy Thanksgiving to you too.

    Hope you're feeling better (you must be if they let you out for worldwide visits).

    Nice turkey pic!! I must get the recipe, maybe I'll serve it this weekend!


    Isn't considerable age a beautiful thing? The experience, the stillness, the teaching, the learning.

    Cherry Pie:

    Well, darlin', I'd say show up about 3 for h'ors doeuvres and a few drinks and hugs and stuff.

    Dinner will be promptly served at 6.

    I'll don my tuxedo and will be your escort for the evening in preparation for your ball around Christmas.

    (Sorry, haven't commented on that post yet; and, actually, I don't have a tux. Will jeans and t-shirt suffice?)


    Thanks, Miss Florida. You're invited too if you want to meet Cherry Pie in person (unless you two already have).


    Welcome, of course. Your avatar is unmatched and unforgettable, I've seen you far and wide.

    You're right about family and solid beginnings. That's the thing that prompted the post and will be at the forefront of my tiny brain this weekend.

    Please feel free to visit again.


    Great to hear about the smile. It's just kind of a universal thing, isn't it? Family.

    Have a good one.


    You MUST be a Habs fan, or hubby, I'm assuming. Her accent was among her most endearing qualities.

    Thank YOU for taking in the memories.

  14. Nanny was very cute and fiesty. That was a wonderful way to honor her memory. It was very sweet.

  15. you've written quite a loving piece here, within without. probably you already know this would be a fine published column, but i'm saying it officially to confirm two things:
    --you are a talented writer
    --you've captured the love

    thanks so much,


  16. HE:

    Feisty is a good word for her, full of piss and vinegar, for sure. Did she ever call you an hass-hole?

    I'm glad you got to meet her.


    Thanks for feeling the love.

  17. She never did call me a hasshole because I was always so polite and charming when I saw her at your house.
    I would give her and your Mom a hug and they would say Chris why couldn't you be such a refined gentleman. I would smile and say neener...and hope that we would make it to the car before I started hallucinating again.
    Yes those were the good old days.

  18. HE:

    Hallucinating is right. You wouldn't believe the bad things they said about you after you left.

    No, of course they were charmed by you. And if she didn't say it, I'm calling you an hass-hole now.

    Of course, I'm much more refined than you now, always have been. And yes, those were the good old days.


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  20. Your grandmother sounded wonderful ... I love people with character like that. And she's beautiful ... much cuter than your bikini date!! ;-) Happy Thankskgiving.

  21. Hi Bibi. Yeah, she was a true "character" and brought a lot of that into our home.

    Never saw her in a bikini, though...what's wrong with my date?

    Thanks for the wishes.

  22. hey WW ur such an 'hass-hole' cos Im crying here!


  23.'s a tissue from an hass-hole to prevent your mascara from running. Thanks for visiting.

  24. You have such warm memories of your Grandmother. They must comfort you as you think about her and miss her.

    Tomorrow I'm cookng a turkey and making stuffing and doing all that food stuff that you guys are doing tomorrow. I'll raise a glass to your Grandma.

    Take care!

  25. awww HUGGGGGGGGZ WW!


  26. Happy Thanxgiving sir! You know what, I think all granma's are great cooks...theyre like the living legends. I love some of the cooking granma makes whom no one else can recreate! Simply amazing hearing about nanny, the great feast and the fun of growing up!

    I will be in a similar situation in a couple weeks time, its the festival of lights! Just great, will come back with more and more stories.

    Have a great holiday and continue that spirit of sharing!

  27. Pam:

    What, you're having a practice Thanksgiving? It's a lot of work, isn't it?

    Well, have a great time. We'll raise a toast to you too.


    Hugzz? What fer? No matter, I can't get too many of 'em!


    Thanks, man. Geez, you shoulda seen Christmas. It was an absolute zoo at my place.

    Would love to read your story (and see some pix, if possible) of that Festival of Lights, which sounds amazing.

  28. Hugs for this:

    ****here's a tissue from an hass-hole to prevent your mascara from running.


  29. Keshi:

    No, I knew that, but I was joking about why such a gesture would be worth a hug...

    Then I figured, why am I wondering this? Duh! Just take the hug and feel that warmth!

  30. seems like I make u lose ur marbles lol!


  31. Kesh:

    I wouldn't think I'm the only male on the planet that you could have that kind of effect upon...

  32. Truly Thanksgiving is the time for family. It's the day filled with family activities and no one can ever for get one's family members. It's so nice you've written about your grandmother. I truly wish she was alive as she would have appriciated your post. And thanks for the insight on the history of Thanksgiving. You can also find many more interesting facts and info on Thanksgiving at this Thanksgiving Blog . Visit it to share the warmth of Thanksgiving.


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