I saw her everyday while we lived in the small cabin on their property at Ness Lake, just north of Prince George BC, and my parents built the new house a mile away.
On the first day of Kindergarten she called me over to the back steps, bringing out a tin of apple juice; the kind that came in a can with a piece of tinfoil sealing the hole on the top. She bent over, handing me the juice, explaining how to open it. It was a special treat "just for school." I can't remember exactly what she said or if it was the fact that she'd thought to buy something for me, or the importance of not telling my sister 'cause "we wouldn't want her to feel left out would we," but I felt grateful and special all at the same time.
She was always doing something and usually it was for someone else. Baking ice cream buckets full of cookies for Uncle Warren and Aunt Diane just before Jayme was born. So "Aunt Diane would have one less thing to worry about after the baby." Deciding to buy each of us grandaughters (there were three of us at that time) a china doll and clothing it, spending months making the wardrobes. Every time we visited she was fashioning a new piece of attire, designing and making all the patterns herself. Those dolls had everything: gloves, slippers, aprons, ball dresses, necklaces, house dresses, even flannel night gowns. You name it, they had it.
It drove her crazy to see holes in our socks; I was constantly sprouting out of mine at the toes, heels or balls of my feet. I remember sitting down in her big arm chair. I was so small the arm rests surrounded me like boat gunnels in a safe harbour. It was a cosy spot to sit, the kitchen board resting across the arms as a table, with paper and pencil to draw. She always darned my socks while my feet stuck out beneath. I love the way the yarn tickled. The quick nip of cold air as she pulled the edges away from my foot, threading the needle through the fabric. I'm probably the only person in my generation who learned how to darn by getting their socks fixed.
Her kitchen had two moods. I'm not sure which was my favourite; the cool peacefulness of the sleepy daylit afternoon or the bustling scene of culinary activity and tasty smells near meal times. Beans with cut up tomatoes and cottage cheese on the side, pineapple cake, shake and bake chicken with mashed potatoes and green beans, biscuits, scones, or egg shaped jello at Easter and of course, date squares. I remember watching her make them and learning they were really called matrimony squares. I've always wondered what they have to do with weddings.
Whenever any of us kids came over the first thing we asked for was a cookie. The familiar square blue tin bordered in red with flowers on the sides and top was always half-filled and waiting. We never knew what prizes would be in that box until she took off the lid, holding it low for us to grab. It was hard to decide; would it be the date filled one or the oatmeal raisin? Maybe the sticky molasses cookie. They were all so good.
I remember the day she let me water the lawn so she could talk to Mom without a constant stream of chatter from "the peanut gallery." The day was hot. Heat waves rose from the hard packed dirt path in front of me and the cool hose felt good against my palms. She spent a good 10 minutes showing me how to angle the hose, moving it back and forth to cover the grass evenly. I diligently concentrated on my job for 2 whole minutes. Then, my sister came by. I turned to tell her what I was doing and sprayed her with water. My grandmother, breaking off her conversation, told me to "watch where I was spraying," and also got sprayed as I turned to see what she wanted. When you're 4 it's really hard holding the hose in one direction and talking too! The watering didn't last long after that. She never got mad though. She explained my sister and I had to take turns and eventually told us to "run along." That was what she always said when she wanted to have some peace, "okay, you run along now." It wasn't a brush off, it was a cue that as much as she was interested in us we had to share her with the adults too.
She kept everything: cards, letters, wrapping paper, fabric, yarn, even bits of ribbon. One day she showed me the bits of fabric she'd gathered over the years. She had lace from my great grandmother's petticoat, napkins from when she grew up and pieces of family wedding dresses. She used them to make special things. I have a doll which used to be my Mom's and Grandma had made it's petticoat out material from my great grandmother's petticoat. I was inspired. At 7, I began, through trial and error, making patterns and sewing outfits for my "my little ponies." I remember taking material and creating a make shift pretend car out of boxes with doors and everything. I even used material scrapes to make a small cushioned area in my room resembling a sofa. I spent a whole afternoon crafting a pair of newspaper shoes for my 3 month old baby sister... and they fit! I even made paper dolls and doll houses. All due to the inspiration I got from watching my grandmother create things out of what I considered scrapes and bits.
Like her, I save letters and cards and other keepsakes from friends and family (a trait which drives my partner crazy). I have a leather photo album her brother, my Uncle Arnold, gave her which she in turn gave me. And the last time I was down to visit, in 2005, she gave me all the letters I'd written her since they'd left the Yukon. It's like having a diary of everything that happened in my family over those years.
Family gatherings were often at my grandparents house. I loved it when she opened up photo album and, after discussing what parts of people us grandchildren resembled, told stories about when she and her siblings were little. They're all locked in my memory and in some way help ground me and explain the fabric that makes up who I am.
I was always a fly by the seat of my pants and let all hell break loose behind me kind of kid. Often leaping before I really thought of what would happen and frequently oblivious to ensuing fallout. She taught me how to explore, redirecting my energy into something constructive and finding things to keep me amused. I remember spending hours playing with the buttons in her button tin, examining everything in the living room with a magnifying glass, sitting on her lap playing with her brown and amber beads while she talked, and pouring over her Ideals Magazines. I still recall what some of the pictures were and wish I could read the stories again as they now escape my memory.
She made me believe there was nothing I couldn't do or try my hand at. One day I asked what would happen if we used 2 eggs in the cake instead of 1. She suggested we try it and see what happened. Grandpa got to give his, non-bias, opinion on the results. His opinion... it was a too moist so, I suppose one egg is better than two in that case... At least where grandpa is concerned.
She recognized and nurtured the inherent abilities I was born with, allowing them to grow and develop, and her belief that I could try and succeed at anything has given me the tenacity to take my skills and work to push past conventional barriers and develop them into something more. To use and take joy in my writing, my creativity, my music, my storytelling, my drawing and art. Also, fostering, through example, the ability to teach and nurture those same things in others.
I don't know how to define a life, but Katherine Preston Jones, my grandmother, who died Easter Monday 2010, taught me how to fly.
Katherine Preston Jones with great grandsons, Brace, Denali and David.
Taken July 2005
Taken July 2005