I lost all my grandparents by the time I was 21. Over a decade later, a long decade without grandparents, I’m finding them a strong part of my thoughts as I approach important milestones in my life.
John (Jack) and Helen Caldwell (nee. Bonar) were Anglo-Saxon Protestants who lived among the Scottish immigrants in war-time Montreal and were products of well-bred, hard working families. He, a former member of the Royal Canadian Air Force, enjoyed a long career at Johnson & Johnson in Montreal, where they raised their only child, Lynn.
My Grandma Caldwell had a special eternal twinkle in her blue eyes that light up with her smile and even more when she laughed. I can remember being young and seeing all the various tokens of my grandma’s travels; she had been to far off places that to me seemed unattainable. Scotland, Australia, parts of Europe. I can still remember a stuffed koala bear she had brought back from Australia that she kept in her cottage in Vermont. I credit her for my drifting, wandering and discovering soul.
My Grandma had several little endearing quirks that we all enjoyed teasing her about. She always gave us a cause for a laugh. Wherever she went, she made friends and would take great pleasure in telling everyone about her daughter and 3 granddaughters. She was strong, stubborn, but logical and wise, although she had an innocence about her. We lost her after a very short battle with cancer at 93.
We wanted to bring a little bit of her Scottish heritage into her funeral; I can remember sitting next to the bagpiper we had hired and promptly being literally blown off my chair as he played “Scotland the Brave” in my ear. My sisters and I giggled at the sheer volume of the bagpipes in the small space of the funeral home, and knew that Grandma would have loved it.
I never knew my Grandpa despite being 7 when he died. Sadly, my only memories of Grandpa Caldwell are of him sitting in a wheelchair in what they called a “nursing home”, rendered speechless from Alzheimer’s disease. He never talked, but I can remember his blue eyes, that I knew once had that very same twinkle of the eyes of his wife. My knowledge of Grandpa exists only in the stories of my Mom and my sisters. I know he was a die-hard Montreal Canadien’s fan, and loved to tease my sisters by pretending he didn’t see them sitting on a chair and sitting right on them til they gasped in laughter.
It’s been a long time since my grandparents have been a part of my life. I miss them, and know that I lost out on a lot not having them as part of my life. Yet as I grow, I can’t help to know that my Mom, my sisters, and I all carry within us the best parts of them: the hard-work, the love of family, the urge to discover the world, our stubborn nature, and our independent souls.
What special people they were.