Beside her bed in the chalet where Lulu slept are two photographs. One is her at age 20 – it’s a portrait of a beautiful young woman who has her hair cropped short and curled upon her head with pins. She’s smiling and looks fantastic. The other black and white photograph is from when she is twenty two. It is a wedding portrait: she and Benoit smile – teeth showing – past the camera and look young, happy and in love.
Lucienne was born in 1919 the oldest of many children (like seven or eight, I think). When she hit grade four she was forced to drop out of school. The family store had burnt down, and Lulu needed to give up her education to go and clean houses. She dreamed of becoming a nun, but couldn’t afford to join the covenant.
Instead she met Benoit, fell in love and had a family. Parties were always being hosted in her home. All night card games and laughter that would wake the children. And later, I remember, whenever we gathered as a family to celebrate a birthday, we’d all sing a rendition of Happy Birthday after which Lulu would belt out: “Hip, hip, hip!” to which everyone would answer: “Hurray!” and then she start again: “Hip, hip, hip!” “Hurray!”
When I was maybe five years old, I can remember going to Lulu’s Montreal home for Christmas. Every year she would bake her gingerbread men cookies. And I’d stick my face before the oven and watch as the cookies slowly puffed and hardened. It was the best when she iced them, giving them eyes, buttons and jackets – but the worst was when she stuck on raisons as well.
She spoke and read French. She loved politics. She taught herself English. She headed the Alzheimer’s Society up until the age of ninety, after Benoit himself passed away from the disease and she saw a chance to make conditions better for those in need.
She was stubborn. She had firm opinions. She was smart. She could be difficult. She loved her girls. She loved her grandchildren. She knew her own mind, even if you didn’t like it so much. And in so many ways, I can see that in myself and my mother too. Bull headedness, firmness, determination – call it what you like, but we also have big hearts.
And when shit hit the fan in my life, she was a significant supporter – reading each blog post, talking over skype, saying I looked pretty when really I looked a mess. I am grateful to have been with her on and off these past few months. I am grateful that we laughed together, ate together, rested together and talked.
Lulu died Tuesday in the early AM. She was ninety two years old and had laughed, loved and lived.
To me, she was an excellent grandmother. I miss her already.
How about one last time for Lulu, eh?
“Hip, hip, hip!”
P.S. You should have seen her at my wedding reception two years ago – geez! Talk about stealing the show. Everyone was coming and saying, “Hey Catherine, your grandma is cool.” She danced like ninety had nothing on her.