My grandmother died this week. I feel badly about it since my husband and I are in Mexico, with my sister and her family, which means neither of us is home to comfort our mother. We’ll also miss the funeral, which will be held in Glendon, AB, this Saturday.
So I’ve been reflecting on my grandmother, Sennie Krawchuk, of Glendon, Alberta, her life and her character, and reminiscing on all the terrific stories I have to tell about her. Indulge me for a few minutes while I share her with you.
Sennie Krawchuk was the quintessential Albertan. She had “pluck”. I don’t even know if that word gets used any more or not – my kids would likely roll their eyes at it – but truly, pluck is THE word for my grandma. She had nine children, counting the one that was stillborn after a fall in the cellar. When my mom took us out to see the little house in the country – at a non-place called “Rife, Alberta” – where they all lived until she was about eight (it was being used as a grainery when I saw it), that may well have been my first real glimpse into the tenacity and hardiness of this woman.
My grandma did all the things you might expect of a Ukrainian woman from that era. She made quilts & curtains, perogies & cabbage rolls, washed clothes by hand & hung them to dry (while the washer & dryer sat unused because she didn’t trust them to do a decent job), and she ironed and ironed and ironed. She also acted as “secretary/receptionist” to my grandfather’s insurance & accounting business.
She also kept things. She had this great storage room down in the basement of the house they built when I was a teen, the walls lined with shelves filled with plastic flowers, vases, old toasters & coffee pots, roasters, old luggage, and more containers than one household could use in a lifetime. Don’t ask me why… I think she was just the sort who could always see potential, some kind of value, and couldn’t bring herself to throw those kinds of things away.
She had this tradition at meal time. I don’t know if it is an old Ukrainian tradition, or just her way, but when we would gather for a family meal, as soon as grace was “amened” she was up like a shot. No matter how much anyone protested, there was always something that needed to be gotten from the kitchen or cut up or added to or passed around. She would not sit down to eat until after we all finished. And the food! She would constantly force it on us. She’d hold the cinnamon buns in front of our noses and say, “Would you like another?” I’d say, “Oh, no thanks, I couldn’t possibly” to which she would say accusingly, “What?!? Don’t you like them??” I’d say, “Yeah, Grandma, I had three – I hate ’em.” If I had a friend along with me for the visit, she’d insist that my friend was hungry and was only not eating because of me. So we’d all gorge ourselves until our waistbands burst and then have to take a 3 hour nap after dinner. But I gotta tell ya, no one in the world has ever made a cinnamon bun like hers.
Her laugh was so unique, too: more of a chuckle, really. One time she babysat my kids overnight and when we returned she told of how she’d opened her eyes at 5:30 in the morning to see Steven, a toddler, standing next to the bed staring at her, just waiting for her to wake up. She told that story, with her wonderful chuckle, for years.
She was incredibly opinionated, but the culture and era meant she was only outspoken with women and in “safe” settings (I’ve inherited the former but somehow successfully dodged the latter). In public, she could sit in silence with a quiet smile on her face for hours and then, later in private, tell you in no uncertain terms what she’d thought of the entire situation.
But really, she was happiest when she was working. She loved to paint, and everything seemed to constantly need painting. Even after the family moved her into assisted living in Edmonton, she kept her sewing machine and jars of buttons. She would sit and sort the buttons sometimes, just to feel like she was working. I remember her telling us once about how, for some reason, she just got so tired. She was exhausted. So she went downstairs and hopped on the stationary bicycle. She said, “I pedaled and pedaled, so hard, so fast, for twenty minutes. After that I felt better.” Apparently a nap was not a consideration…
Auntie Roz tells a story of taking her to the doctor when she was nearing ninety, where she told him about some ailment or another. In an effort to encourage her, the doctor told her a story of a man who, at eighty, was still active and engaging in sports. She said to the doctor, “Eighty? Pshaw. When I was eighty I will still shoveling snow off the roof.” The doctor laughed and said, “Mrs. Krawchuk, I have no doubt you were.” I love that story. It is the essence of who she was.
Mom tells us that, in the final old folks home in which she lived, she would wheel herself around, since she’d lost the ability to walk. They had a beeper on her wrist that would go off when she managed to get the door to outside open, since she was a bit of an escape artist. In fact, they had a PICTURE of her by the door with a sign that said: “DO NOT LET THIS WOMAN OUT.” That’s so hilarious!
To tell you the truth, even though she was 96, I am a bit surprised that she actually died. She’d rallied so many times, and she was just so… tough. It’s hard to comprehend that she finally succumbed to rest.
Ultimately, I’m grateful to have known her and thankful for the genes we share. If I can find within myself even half of her tenacity, determination and strength of will, I’ll be positioned to accomplish amazing things.
Thank you, Sennie, for your strength, and your pluck, and may your mansion be filled with paintable surfaces.