Top photo: me with granddaughters Leah (11 yrs) and Ophelia (3 1/2 months)
I can’t believe August is already more than half over. It feels just like yesterday summer came calling and since then, it’s been slipping through my fingers like water. In my opinion, there are not enough days, weeks, even months in the glorious season of summer.
At the end of every June, like clockwork, there is a loud knock at the door. This is when the kid in me emerges from hiding, and gets swept away with beautiful, sunny Summer. Off we go to watch as many sunsets as possible, to get lost in the pages of an amazing book, to eat ice cream out of waffle cones, to beach comb and make crafts with our sandy treasures. We float on the pool and stare into the deep blue sky, pick berries, and ride bikes.
Sporting a helmet now as an adult, and a little more caution than I did when I was a kid, I still love to go whizzing down steep hills on my bicycle. I thoroughly enjoy the feel of the wind in my face taking my breath away. I equally enjoy the burn in my quads when lifting off the saddle to bear the brunt of bumps; or to propel myself up the last part of the next hill, or to catch up with my husband Chris.
What I clearly remember about riding bikes with my late husband Mike is that he didn’t necessarily need to know where we were going in advance. He was totally carefree, except when it came to broken glass. Mike repeatedly called out, “Glass!” and pointed to the ground on the left or right. I would tell him not to worry and enjoy the ride. He insisted, so that I, and the kids if they were with us, could avoid the tiny shards of glittery glass … to further avoid potential flats.
Chris, unlike me and Mike, likes to know in advance where we are going. Ready to roll, he’ll say, “Okay, where do you want to go?” When I shrug and give the look, “I dunno,” he pulls out his iPhone. Consulting Google Maps, these two have come up with some pretty amazing routes. I’m frequently being introduced to new roads, trails and views, right here in the hometown I thought I already knew—Maple Ridge.
Getting ready for a recent bike ride, I surprised Chris when I told him where I wanted to go. Losing our breath together and dripping with sweat, we rode non-stop, the long hill climb, to the top of 232nd. I remembered seeing one of those little neighbourhood libraries up there on the remote side of the road, and wanted to drop off a copy of each of my books.
The first time I ever went up to the top of 232 Street was when I was sixteen—on the back of a boy’s motorcycle. Having spent some time at our local movie theatre, a boy who worked there caught my eye. We exchanged a few glances over the course of time. One day while walking by, he was up on a ladder changing the marquee sign. Just as I was approaching, a plastic letter fell to the ground a few feet in front of me. I picked it up and stretched as high as I could and passed it to him, along with a smile. He carefully reached down to receive it, and smiled back at me.
One night, I watched a movie, while Todd manned the concession stand and patrolled the isles of seats for disruptive teens. After his shift, barely knowing him, I hopped on the back of his motorbike. I strapped on the helmet he gave me, wrapped my arms around his waste and held on for dear life. We headed up the steep, dark, dead-end street, passing the sparse houses set back in the trees. When we reached the top, we got off the bike and proceeded to the middle of the grassy hill. There we observe the breathtaking westerly view. Todd told me it was called, “Top of the world.” I later learned it was a place where kids went to party or make out. It was just the two of us this night, so thankfully, nineteen year old Todd was a decent guy. We quietly gazed at the stars above and the lights in the distance below. I, for a little while, ignored the fact that I needed to get home.
The top of the world, at the North end of 232nd is now fenced, and the development in the area has exploded over the years. The Stardust movie theatre, where I met Todd and frequented with friends is long gone. I have fond memories of this place where I saw a host of eighties classics, including: ET, Grease, Saturday Night Fever, Footloose, Pretty in Pink and Back to the Future. There is now a Dairy Queen parking lot where the iconic theatre once stood. Mysterious Todd, came and went in my life for about a year. While a lot of boys teased me about my weight, he was kind to me. Thinking back, it was like he administered CPR to my self-esteem, and then he was gone.
Whether I’m with Chris, someone else, or by myself, summer cycling makes me forget I’m now 52 years old. Childhood and teenage memories, sunshine and carefree living are all my best friends. Sometimes I wonder, while stopped for a red light, if the people in the cars around me can tell that I’m a grandma. Can they see past the sporty exterior to the arthritis setting in, and the spondylosis in my back and neck?
Spondylosis is a degenerative disc disorder that most adults get over time. According to my GP, specialist, chiropractor and physiotherapist, mine wouldn’t have reared its ugly head for maybe ten or even twenty years if I hadn’t been in the wrong place at the wrong time. Almost three years ago, I experienced a severe whiplash injury. Tests revealed two slipped discs in my neck which have forced me to modify my cycling and other activities.
The last time I went for a bike ride with my eleven year old granddaughter Leah, I thought a lot about my mom. I’m the age she was when she first became a grandma. I feel like we are similar in many ways, and in many ways, not. Often I think about what I’m doing or what I’m wearing and find myself comparing. I never saw my mom riding a bike, or in a swimming pool. I never saw her wearing a bathing suit, or jeans or sweats or anything spandex.
My mom was a real lady. She was the epitome of pretty in pink. I sometimes wonder if the pink skirts, pink polished nails, pantyhose, high heals and pearls gene skipped me or if she was just an anomaly. She was really classy, so well dressed, especially when she was still working. She would show up to my softball games (with my dad of course) all dolled up. Teammates who didn’t know her, but knew me were confused to say the least. I’d explain she came straight from work. Even if she didn’t, she still looked like a million bucks … in pressed slacks or a skirt.
Being lady-like did not stop my mom from being the loudest cheering spectator. From the sidelines, she yelled and encouraged me and all the players. She clapped along with the baseball songs, loving every minute of it. She’d cover her eyes when the game got intense and sometimes paced back and forth out of nervousness. This was also the kind of grandmother she was — a cheerleading, encouraging, enthusiastic, supportive grandma. She may not have ridden bikes with her grandkids, but she was there to pick them up when they fell off. She was at most of their games, events, recitals, concerts, graduations etc. Wherever they were and what ever they were doing, she wanted to be a part of it too. They were all superstars in her eyes and she took every opportunity she could to brag about them. As grandmas go, she was the best and I want to be just like her!
The recent birth of another granddaughter has brought these thoughts to the forefront of my mind. What’s being reiterated is this: the role of grandmother is the most serious and beautiful calling of my life. This granddaughter, Ophelia Heather, born on April 28, wasn’t born to one of my children, but to my stepdaughter, Alexa. Alexa’s mom is in heaven, so needless to say, I feel I’ve got some big shoes to fill and a very important roll to play.
If you read my second book, High and Wide: When Grief and Love Collide, you may remember Alexa and her sister, Nicola. When I met Chris, I learned very quickly that he had two stepdaughters. He called them his girls and you could tell, they were his world. Their mom, Heather (Chris’s late wife), passed away five years ago. Nicola was in her early twenties and Alexa in her mid twenties. And their dad, Al, passed away 13 years ago when the girls were just teenagers. Chris became their only parent when Heather died … and then I came along.
Shortly after Alexa announced she was expecting, she and Nicola informed us that there would be no “steps” when it comes to grandparents. Chris and I would simply be Grandma and Grandpa.
One day, during one of Alexa’s ultrasound appointments, it really hit me that I was going to be someone else’s grand baby’s grandma. In one joyful and heartbreaking moment, I realized I was standing right where Heather would have stood. This Granny-to-be (that’s what she would have been called), who was taken before she got a chance to ride bikes with this little one; or cheer her on at her special events and other extraordinary and difficult moments. I was looking at a screen another woman’s eyes would have gazed upon, in awe, capturing this unforgettable moment; this miracle! It was like the roof came off, the sky opened up and God shone a spot light right on me. I’m sure I heard Him say, “You’re up!” As though I was the understudy, filling in for the leading lady.
On the ride home from the appointment, Alexa joyfully gazed at the ultrasound photo of her healthy baby. I cried and told Alexa how sorry I was that her mom couldn’t be there. She said it was okay. I kept crying and she kept smiling.
Alexa is a single mom, so Chris and I were thrilled to have her and Ophelia stay with us for two months after Baby O was born. Since then, they come and go for a few days here and there. We have also gone to them in Vancouver for a couple of sleepovers.
I’m often in awe of the courage and strength of Alexa and Nicola. And I’m extremely humbled and blessed to be so wonderfully accepted and loved by them—and Frank, Nicola’s husband. I watch in amazement this new mom and auntie and how extremely well they are doing in their new roles; and I’m blown away that I (and my family), get to be an equal part of it. Sometimes, especially while holding Baby O, while talking to her, singing, praying, conversing with Chris, or just staring into her mesmerizing blue eyes, I have to pinch myself. When I realize I’m not dreaming, I thank God and ask Him to help me be the best understudy possible … to help me do a job that would make Him proud, and my mom, and of course, Ophelia’s Granny.
“From His abundance, we all have received one gracious blessing after another.” John 1:16