Friday, December 18, 2009
As mentioned previously, I was given the privilege of reading my stories on the Radio Show "Life Rattle". The third and final story I read was "Memère Rosa", written specifically for the show.
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Our house sizzled with excitement whenever Memère and Pepère announced they were coming for a visit. When I was a child, Memère would bring two things with her from Sudbury: homemade date squares and money. The date squares were for me and my little brother; the money, for playing cards.
Every evening, once dinner was done, after the table was cleared and the dishes washed, the adults would regroup and play cards late into the night. The game of choice was usually pinochle or euchre, and sometimes both, but always played for money. Not a lot of money—only dimes and nickels—but money nonetheless.
“There’s no point in playing cards if you’re not playing for money.” Memère was firm on this.
Even Yahtzee was played for money. Mom and Memère spent the afternoons rolling dice, filling in the tiny squares on the score sheet and exchanging coins.
Approaching one hundred, my grandmother still plays cards. And wins. Regularly. We’re not quite sure how she cheats. We haven’t yet caught her in the act. She’s a sly old bird.
To celebrate Memère’s ninety-ninth birthday, the entire family gathers at her nursing home: her children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and one great-great-grandchild—five generations of rowdy French-Canadians in one room.
In the centre of it all sits Memère in her favourite rose-coloured wing chair. Her back straight and knees together, she sits with her hands folded primly in her lap. She wears a royal blue dress and pink nail polish. Earrings wink at her lobes and a broach sparkles below her left shoulder. She rests like a queen upon her throne, receiving her loyal subjects who bestow kisses on her paper-thin cheeks.
She hasn’t dressed up for the occasion, this is how she dresses all the time. She always looks ready for a party. Most often seen in a dress or a skirt, her hair and nails are always perfectly done. Even today—approaching one hundred—she is dressed for visitors, including her earrings and ever-present broach.
I watch Memère as she sits in her chair. In her gnarled hands, she clutches a small white leather pouch. I know immediately what it is, for I have one just like it. My own white leather pouch, embossed with a gold cross, sits in my dresser drawer at home. Inside it is the pink rosary Memère made for me for my First Holy Communion. It doesn’t surprise me that Memère holds it today. She attends Mass every Sunday without fail and still receives Communion each week from the visiting priest at the nursing home.
Alone for a moment, Memére’s sharp eyes wander over the group until they come to rest on me. Her mouth curves up in a serene smile and she winks. I excuse myself from a conversation with my dad and cousin Sue and wander over.
Kneeling in front of Memère, I lay my smooth hand over her wrinkled, crooked fingers. I glance down at the white leather pouch clutched reverently in her hands. “What’s in the pouch, Memère?” I gesture with my chin at her hands.
I know she says her rosary regularly. I imagine the string of beads in her white leather pouch are worn from years of use, and I want to see them again. I want to hold those ancient beads in my hand as she has done so many times before me.
Memère glances around the room at her family. She leans forward and whispers, “There’s a lot of people here today.”
I nod my head, prompting her to continue.
Her eyes sparkle with excitement. “We might play cards later. I’m ready.”
She gives the white leather pouch a little shake and, rather than hearing the expected tinkle of rosary beads, I hear the distinct jingle of coins.
A wide grin crosses my face and I think to myself…I want to be just like her when I grow up.