“Back in my day, we didn’t have those fancy devices to give to our children,” Grandma Maureen glanced over at Felix and Emma from her usual place at the kitchen table. They were sitting shoulder to shoulder, small legs dangling off the floral-patterned loveseat. Their fingers, moving frantically across the screens of their tablets.
Felicia groaned. Another lecture from Grandma Maureen. Just what she needed today.
Grandma Maureen rose from her chair, the legs screeched against the old wooden floor. She shuffled into the kitchen in slippered feet, stooped over like an ancient tree.
Felicia watched her struggle to lift the kettle, her hand shook violently causing water to spray all over the countertop. But, just like Grandma Maureen always does, she quickly regained her flawless composure, setting the kettle down on the stove as gracefully as a twenty-five-year-old.
Felicia breathed in and out, in and out. She tries not to get upset with Grandma Maureen, but the old gal doesn’t get it. It’s hard to constantly be entertaining your kids, especially after working and running errands all day. Those tablets are Felicia’s saving grace. Long gone are the days when Pa went off to work, and Ma stayed at home, gliding around the kitchen in high heels, balancing a pot roast on perfectly manicured fingernails, Felicia thought bitterly.
“Awesome!” Felix howled. He jumped from the loveseat and scurried over to Felicia. His blonde hair sticking up in every direction. Just like your Grandpa Jean. Felicia smiled.
“Mom, look, I beat level thirteen!” Felix held the screen up so Felicia could see the balloons and confetti bouncing in front of a picturesque farm.
“That’s great Hun. Good Job.” Felicia gave him a high five.
As Felix ran back to the loveseat, Felicia heard Grandma Maureen scoff. Felicia glared at her as she shook her head; eyes trained on whatever she was knitting. Felicia rolled her eyes, rising from her chair beside the fireplace.
“Felix, Emma, go upstairs and play in Nana’s old room for a bit. I have to speak to Grandma Maureen about some adult stuff.”
They obeyed. Walking single file up the small flight of stairs. Their small faces scrunched in concentration as they wandered through the rough terrain of level fourteen. Felicia took a chair across from Grandma Maureen, she could now see that she was making a scarf. The yarn trailed down from the table, pooling at her feet like a pile of rope.
“What’s your problem?” Felica asked angrily.
Grandma Maureen looked up, knitting needles suspended mid-stitch. “What do you mean?” She asked.
Felicia shook her head. “You know what I mean, Grams. Every time I come over to visit, you’re always on me about the kids. They watch too much TV, they’re gonna go stupid, or…” Felicia debated stopping right there, but she figured she was halfway through her point — may as well finish it.
“Or why are they always on those tablet things? Their brains will turn to mush. Get them to do a puzzle or something.”
Grandma Maureen looked shocked. Her hands began to shake again. The knitting needles clanged together making a quiet tapping sound.
“It’s just…” Felicia rubbed her eyes. She knew she should just drop it, but a complex concoction of emotions simmered in her belly.
“You don’t get it. Working full-time, bills, endless lists of worries and woes,” Felicia studied the floral tablecloth, red roses—Grandma Maureen’s favourite flower. When Felicia gained the courage to look into her eyes, she could see the hurt etched onto every wrinkle on her face. The room was eerily quiet, save the tick tick tick of the grandfather clock.
Finally, Grandma Maureen set her knitting needles on the table.
“I don’t know what it’s like?” Grandma Maureen said incredulously. Then, she stood up so quickly, Felicia jumped, and for a split-second thought that she was going to poke her eye out with one of the needles. Instead, Grandma Maureen limped towards the fireplace, snatching a framed photograph of her late husband, Felicia’s beloved grandfather: Grandpa Jean.
Felicia still remembers the day that photo was taken. Grams and Gramps had insisted on getting a photo with all their grandchildren. They decided their backyard was the perfect backdrop. Seven kids between the ages of three and thirteen crowded beside them in front of Grandma Maureen’s impressive garden. Tammi-Lynn yanked Felicia’s hair so hard that she felt like a weed pulled out of the dirt. Then, Felicia’s cousin, Robert, pushed her other cousin, Brad into a beautiful arrangement of perennials, causing Grandma Maureen to chase after them with her pruning shears. Neither of them ever crossed Grandma Maureen again. Yet, despite the total chaos of the situation, Grandpa Jean smiled and laughed the entire time— just happy to be amongst his family.
Grandma Maureen clutched the photograph tightly to her chest as she limped back to the table. She gently set it down, carefully sitting back in her chair, her face crinkled in pain as she lowered herself onto her cushion.
Felicia glanced at Grandpa Jean’s picture. His hair stuck up on his head like ruffled plumage; his eyes were bright and kind. God, Felicia missed him.
Grandma Maureen pointed at the picture, her gnarled finger jabbing into Grandpa’s nose. “This man is the reason your mother and Uncle Dave turned out so good.”
Felicia refused to stare at the picture. She felt so guilty.
“Okay, but what does that have to do with what we’re talking about?” Felicia asked.
Grandma Maureen sighed and slumped back in the chair.
“Your grandfather and I struggled when we were your age. And just like you and Kevin, we both worked full-time.” She glared at Felicia putting extra emphasis on the words ‘full-time.’
“In fact, I worked all the time. I worked during the day at a bank that used to be downtown, and your grandfather worked as a welder. Drove two and a half hours every day. Hardly ever saw the man.” She paused, taking a sip of tea.
“Anyways, He would get home about 7 o’clock every night, and the first thing I would do was drop your mother and Paul into his arms. I had mending to do for the neighbours, baking to sell at Christmas. Anything to make some extra money.”
Grandma Maureen went silent, as she gently tapped her fingernail against the porcelain mug. Felicia figured she was trying to choose her next words carefully.
“I…I just didn’t want to deal with the kids, so I felt it was easier to just pass them off to Jean.” Grandma Maureen picked at the floral tablecloth, tracing her finger over the petal of one of the roses. Then, she gently grabbed Felicia’s hands, and smiled at Grandpa’s Jean picture.
“It was never any trouble to him though. He was always willing to spend time with his kids. He’d walk through the door looking as if he may fall over of exhaustion, yet, he still managed to get through a board game or a bedtime story.” Grandma Maureen said, tears pooled in her eyes.
Felicia could hear Felix and Emma stomping around upstairs.
“Level fifteen!” Felix roared victoriously.
Felicia felt awful. Shame covered her like a hooded cloak. She wished that she could teleport out of the house and stick her head into the frozen earth in the backyard.
Grandma Maureen released Felicia’s hands and quickly wiped away her tears with the sleeve of her cardigan. “I guess what I’m trying to say is that I watch you every day placing those screens in front of the kids. I get it, Felicia, sometimes they can be a bit much but…” Grandma Maureen’s voice trailed off.
Felicia closed her eyes. She did not want to hear anymore— she felt horrible enough already. Felicia rubbed her sweaty palms on her jeans. “Gram—"
“Felicia,” Grandma Maureen said sternly. “Let me finish.”
Felicia surrendered and nodded. Her head moved up and down like a broken bobblehead.
“Every time you come over, you’re always on your phone, setting up a meeting with this client and that client, fretting over everything: parent-teacher interviews, organic snacks for the kids. All the while, Felix and Emma sit around like zombies for hours just mumbling to each other every so often. You have the whole day to do something, anything. Play a game, go out to the garden, read to them, just something. Tell your boss you’re with your family.” Grandma Maureen let out a deep breath, taking another sip of tea.
“Those stupid tablets remind me of Jean. Before I knew it, your mom was standing by the front door with her suitcase packed leaving for college. I remember thinking: When did she grow above my waist?
Felicia laughed, “Yeah, Mom always said you were a busy body. But she admired you for that.”
Grandma Maureen eyed her suspiciously, “she said that?”
“Yes, Grams. All the time. Even I’m amazed by how much you can do in one day.”
Grandma Maureen’s face softened. Felicia could see her whole body relax. She let out a relieved breath, deflating like a balloon full of toxic helium.
“Well, I’m relieved to hear that. I thought she hated me for never being present.” Grandma Maureen said softly, picking at a fluff on her sleeve.
“No grams, Mom realized that you did what you had to do.”
Grandma Maureen stiffened slightly again. “I guess, but you are not in the same situation that I was. You can make the time to enjoy your children before they grow up.”
Felicia nodded. “You’re right. I promise I will…I just get so caught up in the days blurring together.”
Grandma Maureen perched her small chin on her hands. “As they do for everyone. Perhaps the next time your mother comes over I will get on the floor and crawl after her, although…”
Felicia chuckled, “No, that would just be weird. You’d get put in a home for sure.”
They sat there for a few minutes in silence listening to Felix and Emma babbling to one another. After watching Grandma Maureen over the past few days, Felicia realized that her time was limited. As was her own, her kids, her husband. But Grandma Maureen’s candle was getting snuffed out a little faster than the rest of theirs.
“Grams, I’m sorry I never got around to asking you about your past,” Felicia said.
Grandma Maureen waved her hand dismissively. “Don’t be sorry. I think it’s just natural for us to not take much of an interest in our grandparents until after they are dead.
Felicia’s mouth dropped a few inches. She hadn’t expected Grandma Maureen to be so blunt.
“It’s okay, Felicia,” Grandma Maureen said, grabbing her hands again and giving them a reassuring squeeze. “I was the same way with my grandparents. I viewed them as old antiques, sitting on a shelf collecting dust. I just never took the time, to blow the dust off them, and do a little bit of research into their history—who were they before they got placed on the shelf.
Felicia nodded. She always liked Grandma Maureen’s analogies. They put things into a better perspective; made you think more deeply about things.
“Anyways,” Grandma Maureen rose from her chair, rubbing her lower back. She shuffled back into the kitchen, placing her empty mug in the sink. That was Grandma Maureen’s subtle way of telling you she was tired and needed to lay down. Felicia stood as well, her shoulders ached from the tension, and she could feel a migraine funnelling around her brain.
“Grams?” Felicia asked, collecting Felix and Emma’s belongings.
“Yes?” Grandma Maureen replied.
“Thank you for telling me what I needed to hear today.”
Grandma Maureen smiled. “And thank you for telling me what I needed to hear for a long time.”
Felicia sat on the arm of the loveseat in Grandma Maureen’s house. Two months had passed since their tense, but much-needed conversation. Felicia had made it her goal to spend quality time with her kids every day— even just thirty minutes— no matter how late she gets home, or how tired she is. She always asks herself: What would Grandpa Jean do?
Felicia felt someone tapping her on the shoulder. She spun around and was greeted by her friend Terri.
“I’m so sorry about your grandma,” Terri said, enveloping Felicia into a bone-crushing hug. Felicia buried her head into Terri’s shoulder, trying so hard to keep the floodgates closed, but finally, the dam broke.
“Me too,” Felicia mumbled.
Felicia got home late that night. She had stayed to help her mother carefully stack all the casserole dishes into the fridge. It had rained incessantly all day, as if the world was mourning the loss of Grandma Maureen, as well.
Felicia peeled her coat and boots off and crept into her living room. She kneeled in front of a cabinet and pulled out two framed photographs of both Grandpa Jean and Grandma Maureen. She could hear Kevin snoring in their bedroom. Felix and Emma were supposed to be sleeping, but Felicia could hear them arguing.
“Look, Felix! I made it to level thirty. I almost beat the game.”
‘Whatever,” Felix chided. “I beat the game yesterday. It was super easy.”
“That’s because you are bigger than me!” Emma protested. Felicia could picture that small pout on Emma’s face as she said that.
Felicia slammed the cabinet door shut and marched up the staircase. She heard the bunkbed in Felix and Emma’s room squeak, something made a loud thud, the small sliver of light peeking out from under the door went dark.
“Shh, pretend your sleeping,” Felix whispered.
Felicia threw the door open and stood in the doorway, holding the framed photos in each arm. She snapped the bedroom light on, as both of her kids threw the covers over their heads.
Felicia grinned. “I know neither of you are actually sleeping.”
They slowly pulled the covers back down, blinking owlishly at her.
“Sorry Mommy,” Emma said.
“Oh, that’s okay,” Felicia said as she sat down on the bottom bunk pushing Felix’s small feet over. “Come here I want to show you both something. Felicia gathered Emma onto her lap, and pulled Felix beside her, cupping her arm around his thin shoulders. She placed the two photographs on Emma’s legs. “Do you recognize either one of these people?” Felicia asked.
Felix squinted, looking back and forth between the pictures, Emma was covering her mouth with her blankie, stifling a laugh.
“That lady’s glasses are really big,” Emma giggled
“Yah, they’re huge!” Felix said. “I bet she could see literally everything.”
“Shh, guys please.” Felicia put a finger to her lips. They quieted instantly. “This is Grandma Maureen and Grandpa Jean. I guess they’d be your great-grandparents, but everyone always called them that.”
Then, Emma said, “Oh yeah I loved Grandma Maureen. She made good treats, and whenever she washed blankie, it was always extra, extra soft.” Emma bounced on Felicia’s leg excitedly.
Felix sniffed. “Yeah, I remember her. She smelled like good perfume and taught me about the flowers in her garden. It was pretty cool.” Felix grabbed Grandpa Jean’s photo, studying it closely. “I don’t know who he is though.”
Felicia sighed. “Yes, he died just after you were born. But you guys would have loved him.”
Emma glanced up at Felicia and wiped a tear away that was streaming down her face.
“Mommy?” Emma asked.
Felicia quickly brushed the tear away and took a deep breath.
“Tonight, I’m going to tell you a story about your Grandpa Jean and Grandma Maureen,” Felicia pointed to the night table. “Put your tablets on the dresser.”
Felix and Emma reluctantly obeyed.
“But first,” Felicia said rubbing her hands together. “Let’s blow the dust off the pictures.”
Felix looked at her quizzically, “why do we have to do that, Mom?”
“Because,” Felicia said, “you have to take the antiques off the shelf and blow the dust off them before you can truly appreciate them.”
Emma shrugged, “Okay, I just don’t want to get it in my eyes because it will hurt.”
“Alright guys,” Felicia said, doing a little drumroll on the bed. “One, two, three, blow!”