by Elena Richmond
By the time I came on the scene, my grandmother was living in an apartment on Little Bridge Street in Almonte. Her apartment was either 20 or 22 steps up from the street –- I can’t remember anymore — and even after two total hip replacements done in the 1970’s, she still climbed those stairs better than any of her children or grandchildren.
With two huge main windows that overlooked the street and falls beyond, I would spend hours perched on the radiator watching the traffic go by. Every December, all the family would gather in Granny’s apartment to watch the Santa Claus parade come down the street. The adults would often stay inside to stay warm and dry; but the rest of us would go racing down those stairs to the street just in time to jump and dive for candy canes the participants would toss to the crowds from their floats. After it was done, we’d all go back to the apartment for hot chocolate and cookies.
It’s funny how so many of our memories can be rolled up with occasions that involved sharing food.
When I was very little –- maybe four or five –- I had the chance to have a sleep over at Granny’s apartment. I can’t remember much of how we passed our time together when I was that young. Granny’s apartment was small, but never lacked for anything.
I’m sure my mother must have packed some toys for me, since all I can ever remember Granny having in the way of playthings was one colouring book and some crayons, one or two picture books, a deck of cards, and an old tin Chinese Checkers board with a small sack of marbles. But what stands out most in my mind from that particular stay was that after lunch she took me across the street to Peterson’s Ice Cream and bought me a cone.
While this act in and of itself was no miracle, it stands out so clearly in my mind for several reasons. One, we were alone – no parents to overrule her decision, which seemed to happen often as an only child of older parents. Two, Granny’s apartment was always ready to have guests, in that her freezer always had a container or two of her home made cookies. No need to buy anything different with oatmeal coconut, date, or icebox cookies on hand. Not to say we didn’t have our fair share of Peterson’s ice cream over the years, with her living so close. But what makes this event so memorable to me is that she let me walk across the street in bare feet!
Me, who had to wear knee socks and good sturdy brown mary janes growing up, or leather sandals that seemed to cover more of my feet than they let air out, was actually allowed to go somewhere completely free of any sort of footwear. And, in the “big town” no less! Not like at home, running around on the grass or gingerly picking my way across the gravel. I fondly remember sitting on the edge of her bath tub, eagerly licking away at my cone while she carefully washed the dirt off my feet.
That apartment holds so many strong, happy memories for me. Memories of constructing floral arrangements every year on a Saturday afternoon in August to decorate the graves of Granny’s loved ones who now rested in the Auld Kirk cemetery. Memories of hot summer days spent enjoying her window-shaker air conditioner; growing up, she was one of the few people I knew who had air conditioning, and what a treat it was in that small space. Memories, too, of being allowed to walk over to the post office and check her mailbox, number 852; quite the novel task for someone used to rural postal delivery. And the memory of the last day we spent in that apartment, clearing out her things. Just before we left, I took one last sniff of the inside of the closet in her bedroom, to try to hang on to her soft, powdery scent.
Surprisingly, as I write this almost 15 years after that day, I can still recall it. I often wonder if the walls of that closet still hold her scent. I long to run up those steps, give a little hip-shove to the door that always kind of stuck, and see Granny sitting in her rocking chair, watching the news, or sitting at her table, reading the Gazette, or tending to her window sill full of African violets, which she grew better than anyone else.
For me, Granny and Almonte introduced life outside of the rural haven I spent most of my time in. I was allowed to wander freely on the town’s streets, in contrast to home, where I could explore our property and our neighbour’s rear fields, but no further, as we lived on a busy road. I found trails down along the falls and if the water was low enough, I could hop from one little rocky island to the next, all the while knowing that the safety and comfort of Granny’s apartment was waiting for me. I could wander up the street and poke around in Mesmerelda’s, Levi’s Home Hardware, The White Owl Antiques, or better yet, Stedman’s Variety Store.
Any other place I went, I was always accompanied by one or both parents. But in Almonte, I had a base and was free to come and go as I pleased. I always felt safe, welcomed, and those memories are largely why my husband and I continually pour over the real estate ads for Almonte properties. One day, we’ll be able to call Almonte home, and our children will have the same thrill and freedom that I did. In the meantime, we come to visit often, and I always look up at Granny’s apartment windows and feel all those great moments come flooding back.
Thank you, Granny, and thank you, Almonte.