“I wonder what she’ll think of me?”
This is the question my Nan, Hazel Ivany, asked me just a few short weeks before entering the Dr. G.B. Cross Memorial Hospital, on a night she was sure she was going to die in the Miraquinn Manor Senior’s Home in Hickman’s Harbour. She was thinking about her mother, Edith Gertrude Luther Ivany, a woman she barely remembered except for a few brief anecdotes told to her by her father, Elam, and siblings Anna, Eric and Myrtle, her mother having died when Nan was but two years old. The one Nan told most often was how her mother had dropped her one Sunday morning walking to church on an icy road in Ireland’s Eye, and her mother’s cries of “Elam! Elam! I killed the baby!” The only words I know for sure that my great-grandmother spoke.
I was younger than my daughter, Amber, is now when I became interested in learning about my family tree and first asked Nan to tell me about her mother. For seventeen years her reply was always, “See, my mother died when I was only a baby, so I don’t know anything about her.” And for seventeen years I replied, “Nan, you must know something about her.” Then, about four years ago as Nan and I were looking through her earliest photo album, she asked me why I kept asking about her mother. I told her that she was the only one left who knew anything about her, and that when she was gone there would be no one to keep her mother’s memory alive. She looked at me for a long moment, then pointed to a picture in the album and started telling me all about the people in the photo – who they were, who they were related to, what she knew about them. By the end of the day we had discovered over a dozen people that she knew who were related to her mother. And so, Nan was completely surprised a few weeks later to learn that the little bit of information she gave me that day helped me to find her mother’s parents and two of her grandparents, information that she had forgotten or never knew. And she was astounded when I told her that someone in England had traced one of those people back over 900 years, and that we were all descended from a man named Peganus Trenchard who was the feudal lord of the Isle of Wight off the coast of England around the year 1100, and that he orginally came from Normandy. “If I had known you could find out all that, I might have tried to remember more years ago,” she said wistfully.
You see, Nan was a very resolute and determined person. Some might even call her stubborn. She had clear ideas of what was right and wrong, of proper behaviour, of the way things should be.
So, everything in her home had a place. I remember being asked time and again as a young girl to get a can of Carnation condensed milk from the pantry in the old house in Petley. It was always in the same place, on the shelf above the canned fruit, and next to the Fussell’s Cream. The same brand of powdered lemonade was always in Nan’s fridge, probably mixed in the same bottle it had been mixed in ever since I can remember. After all, what was a visit to Nan’s without having lemonade?
A life-long Anglican, she went to church at All Saints in Petley whenever she could, and tried to heed the words of her father to “Never leave your seat empty.” (The only words I know for sure that my great-grandfather spoke.) Both times she went to Ontario to visit me she went to church with us, in the Walkerton Ontario Branch. She was grateful when my husband Steve and I had devotionals with her for all but two Sundays – the first and the last – that she was in the hospital. She loved hearing Steve pray, and not a visit went by that she did not ask for him to say a prayer with her. She was so pleased that he holds the priesthood in our church, and was grateful for every prayer he said with her. “That man there is a good man, Pamela. And it’s about time you found a good man,” she told me just days before her death.
Nan had clear ideas on what proper dress should be. She rarely left her house without looking proper, something else instilled in her by her father, a man who, it is said, never left his house without wearing a shirt and tie. She said to Amber and me once after someone had dropped by wearing a very revealing shirt, “One thing I like about you coming here is that you don’t let your bosoms all hang out.”
Nan set an example for many of us to follow with our children and grandchildren. She really tried to live up to the example that her step-mother, who we all called Aunt Elfie, set. She did her best to help raise one of her grandchildren to help out her daughter. My own mother had that as an example to follow, as did other of her children. She took each of her grandchildren and their spouses, her great-grandchildren and step-grandchildren and almost-grandchildren and treated them all the same, loving and accepting each one. She was deeply saddened when there was conflict in the family, and felt much grief over choices we made and any part she played in it. But perhaps the person she was most disappointed in was herself. She felt that my Uncle Derek’s death – he drowned at age sixteen – was her fault because she had not heeded the premonitions she had felt about him going swimming that fateful summer. She felt that Pop could never forgive her for the way his life ended, alone in a nursing home, far from home and friends and family, suffering from advanced Alzeimer’s. In the end, however, because of things she said to me in the mornings I spent with her in the hospital, I believe she made her peace with them and with herself.
But there was a lighter side to Nan, too. She loved a good game of cards. She played every chance she could get, looking forward to Saturday night games of 120s with my Mom and Dad, and just smiling at me when I made us lose the game – again – but still insisting that she and I be partners. For her it wasn’t about winning; it was about playing the game and having fun. I will never forget one Saturday evening one fall when my parents were gone on a cruise. Nan hadn’t been feeling well, and had already lived well past the two scant years the doctors had given her after her surgery to remove her bowels. I had gone to visit her and, as was her custom, we were playing cards. Suddenly, she threw her cards on the table, looked at me with disgust, and exclaimed, “Well, I guess I’m going to have buy Christmas gifts after all since I’m not dead yet!” She loved to read, and read a book my cousin Holly had given her five times before going on to other books. She loved to travel. She and Pop travelled all over Newfoundland with her half-brother Ralph and his friend, Netta, and since Pop had always said that someday they were going to go somewhere, she made the trip to Ontario twice. She loved music, and missed the sound of Pop’s old accordion and Pop singing hymns, especially his favourite, ‘There is a name most sweet on earth, a name most sweet in heaven’. She loved a good practical joke, even though she tried not to let on that she did. She loved it when Pop teased her. And in Nan’s earliest photo album is one special picture. She had a twinkle in her eye as she asked me if I knew who the person was. I looked at it for a moment before telling her that I wasn’t sure, but the person must be related because he looked like an Ivany. She took great delight in telling me that it was not a man, but her and the schoolteacher who lived with them, “dressed up for devilment in Eric’s clothes.”
And knitting. Could Nan ever knit! She made sweaters for each of her living children one year when they were very young. I think we all still have them, passed down from mothers or fathers to daughters and sons and then to grandchildren. Three generations wearing those same hand-knit sweaters, Nan’s loving touch carrying through the years. Quilts and blankets for all her children and grandchildren, hold the evidence of her care for us, many of them lovingly stitched with our names and the dates they were given. Nan, in her eighties, was still knitting, up until about six months ago, still showing her love by the work of her hands. She missed it dearly. Hats, mitts, vamps, scarfs. And in her later years, dishrags. Dishrags by the dozens. Some people ask for big gifts for Christmas, but not me. Whenever Nan asked me what I wanted, I told her I wanted the same thing I want every year – dishrags. “Haven’t you got some left?”, she would say. “Yes,” I would reply, “but you can never have enough dishrags.” Truth is, I was saving up. Living away from home for so long, sometimes it was the little things that reminded me of who I am and that I am loved. Doing dishes with Nan’s dishrags, knowing they were made with love just for me, is something I look forward to. I asked for them every Christmas, every birthday, because I had to save up. With those dishrags in my hands every day, how could I ever forget that I am loved?
And so, Nan, you now know the answer to your question. I imagine your mother thinks that you did your very best to live a good life, to love your family, to love God. And while we are sad that you aren’t here with us any more, I imagine that you are now in the midst of a joyous reunion with your husband, your sons, your parents, your brothers and sisters. We will miss you, but we will see you again. Until then, I, for one, will always ask myself, “I wonder what she’ll think of me.”
Rest in peace, Nan. 1927-2011