A friendship forged at Grandma’s house
My very wise grandmother gave me a life-long gift — the gift of a cousin’s friendship — because she was brave enough to host a few late-night giggle-fests between two little girls who just happened to be cousins.
My Grandma arranged for my cousin Karen and I to sleep over at her house together a couple of times during the mid-1970s. At this time, my Grandma was 75 and my cousin and I were about 12. Not only did she pamper us more than I’ve been pampered in my life (I’m talking fresh-squeezed orange juice and handwritten notes at your place at the table at breakfast time), she was youthful and energetic enough to take us to the Canadian National Exhibition. Candy floss and stomach-churning rides can’t help but cement a friendship. There was no way we could wait an entire year to continue whispered conversations that continued long past lights-out, so the letters from my home in Mississauga and Karen’s in Kapuskasing soon became a fixture in our lives.
These lengthy missives detailed the day-to-day triumphs and humiliations of being a pre-teen: teachers who could sometimes be arbitrary and unfair; friends whose loyalty couldn’t be counted on from one moment to the next; and parents and siblings who were so annoying that we really didn’t know how much longer we could stand living with these people — or how we could possibly be related to them.
Whatever was going on in my life (or in my head), relief was just a few notebook pages away. I’d fire off my version of the facts to my cousin, knowing that I could count on her to take my side, even if the rest of the world was against me.
It’s now more than three decades later and my cousin and I are back to almost daily contact. (Our correspondence took a bit of a beating during the early mothering years.) These days, we keep in touch by email. Funny thing: the notes we fire back and forth these days are sometimes even more fiesty than the ones we penned as girls. (Motherhood will do that to you, you know.) There are times when I wonder if the Internet is capable of handling the traffic or the content that whizzes between my cousin’s house and mine. So far, so good.
As a mother of three, two of whom are boys with autism, my cousin works hard to ensure that her children’s voices are heard. She has been an amazing source of inspiration to me over the years as I’ve advocated for my own four children in the healthcare and educational systems; and particularly during these past six months, since my youngest child was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome (an autism spectrum disorder).
Who knew when we were spinning in circles on those rides at the CNE, holding on to one another’s hands for dear life, that there would be times when our own lives would be spinning out of control, but that thanks to our grandmother’s foresight and wisdom, we would have one another to hold fast to until the spinning stopped once again.
Our Grandma, Mabel Bolton, passed away in 1995 at the age of 94, matriarch of a large and strong family that will always be grateful to her for teaching us that family is forever.