Our Family Scrapbook

My grandmother was one of my greatest role models

My grandmother Gricken was one of my greatest role models. Her name was Mary Walters (we called her Nanny), and she was born in upstate New York. Her mom died when she was 14, and she was left to care for her younger sister, Aggie, and younger brother, Bill.

Her father became ill with the Spanish Flu and was on bed rest for a whole year. That put a lot more weight on my grandmother’s shoulders.

Nanny was no stranger to hard work. She made all of the bread, cakes, and other baked goods. She made jellies from the berries they picked and canned preserves from their garden vegetables. She had to knit mittens and many pairs of socks for the family and sew a lot of clothes.

I remember her telling me that they weren’t allowed to wear their shoes until late in the fall and that their feet were very cold when they were harvesting potatoes and other fall vegetables.

At the age of 16, she decided it was time for her to leave home and start life on her own. She was just feisty enough to do it! Her father was furious, and her brother, Bill, had to hold him back while she made it out the door, suitcase in hand. She landed a job taking care of children in a fabulous home. Each week, they got a meat delivery from the local slaughterhouse, and that is how she met my grandfather–but more about him in another story. They got married and had seven children. They worked very hard to feed their seven children during the great depression. Also, my grandfather was uneducated, as was my grandmother. But, Nanny was sharp as a tack and knew how to take care of her children, cook, clean and sew. She sewed for people in her neighbourhood at night after putting in a full day’s work. There were always stacks of clothes waiting for repairs. She was a machine!

When her children were teenagers, she went to work at Central Mortgage and Housing as a salad chef and still did sewing at night.

When I was just a kid, and my parents took us to visit Nanny, when it was time to leave, I would often curl up on the couch and pretend I was asleep. I so wanted to stay with my grandmother. I remember her saying, “Oh, look, Gloria is sleeping; I guess you had better leave her here.” Of course, she knew that I was awake, but she was always happy to have me around. She would push two big overstuffed armchairs together to make a sort of crib where I would sleep. I loved waking up to the smell of her baking.

Nanny and Poppy never had a car, so she had to take the bus to the Byward Market, where she bought her meat and vegetables and then lug them all back home on the bus. She had severe arthritis in both hands and one leg, but that never stopped her from getting things done.

When she was in her sixties, she took some nurse training through the St. John’s Ambulance and got a job at St. Vincent Hospital in Ottawa, a long-term care facility. Mom and I went to her graduation, and she was so proud to receive her diploma in her uniform. Mom and I were super proud of her, too.

When I was 10, I started taking ballet and absolutely loved classical music. Nanny bought me my first classical album, Tchaickovsky’s Swan Lake. She was so thoughtful, and I was thrilled!

When I became a teenager, I often took the bus to visit my grandmother. I loved sitting in her kitchen, talking with her, or watching her bake. After I got married, we would pick her up and bring her to our house for the day, and I would cook for her!

In 1994, our family had five generations of first-born girls: my grandmother, my mother, my daughter, Angie, me, and my granddaughter, Lindsay. Sadly, Nanny died that year, and I miss her still. She was tough but resilient, hard-working beyond belief, but always had time for family. I loved her deeply.

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