Earlier this week I read a blog, Little Green Fingers: top 10 children’s gardening accessories, which really struck me. All of a sudden I was having these nostalgic feelings and memories of my Great Grandpa Dee came flooding back to me. So today, I want to share with all of you a look into a relationship, probably the most important one I’ve ever had in my life, that has continued to teach me the most valuable lessons even 22 years after his death.
Almost everything I needed to know was taught to me in Chase, BC by a man I have admired more than anyone in all of my 33 years of life. He instilled values in me that are fiercely strong. No one else has ever moved me as much as my Great Grandpa Dee has moved me. I’ve never been more proud of a human, than of him.
Let’s back up.
My Great Grandpa Dee was born in 1900, which I always thought was the most amazing thing in the world as a child. I still do. He came to Canada as Pol Polson, where authorities changed his name to Paul Paulson. He was Dutch. He was so handsome. He was my Great Grandpa Dee. GG Dee was a part (until I can clarify with family in what capacity, this will have to do for now) in WWI and I remember every year we’d tie ribbons around our tree in the front yard to show our thanks in support of his service to our country and fellow men. I never knew exactly what he did in the war, but I was just so proud of him.
I could always tell how fiercely my dad loved and looked up to this man, even though I was very young. I felt the same way. I was so impressed that he kept in the shape he did for as old as he was. At 91 he couldn’t hear a word anyone said, but that summer, he taught his adoring great granddaughter how to do a cartwheel in his front yard. I remember staring at him in awe while he stood on his front step cheering me on to try. He’d come down to the grass to show me again. My 91 year old Great Grandfather. Doing cartwheels. How in the world do you grow up without the lesson of resilience with this role model in your life? This snap shot is ingrained in my memory, thankfully having a photographic memory. I can even remember how I felt in this moment; an unconditional love. Respect.
One of my fondest memories was when I was quite young, my brother Daniel was a year old so I would have been 8 that summer. We were out in the backyard where my Great Grandpa Dee had his own vegetable garden that he still grew, still, in his 90’s! This must have been the year after he’d taught me to do a cartwheel, but I assure you he wasn’t finished with his lifelong lessons for me quite yet. He had at least two more to show me before he could go home to his wife in heaven (more on that in a minute).
It was time to pick vegetables for dinner, and boy did I hate vegetables (can anyone guess the lesson here since Colin and I are vegetarian?!). We were having potatoes and *gulp* CARROTS for dinner! “No, Grandpa!” I begged him. I begged him some more as he ushered me out the back door and down into the garden. I begged some more and finally he tapped me on the shoulder and he said, “Shhh! I’m going to tell you a little secret. You have to eat the vegetables you pick, that’s my rule in my garden. (In real life right now I felt the sudden urge to sob, so I’m totally bawling. Sometimes even I can’t believe the bond I had with this man, that I carry with me to today.)
My 92 year old Great Grandpa Dee reached down without breaking our eye contact. He swiftly pulled up a giant carrot from the ground. I was in agony looking at that carrot, because back then, and today, I hated carrots. If those were the size of the carrots, I for sure was doomed! Obviously seeing the terror in my eyes, GG Dee said, “Now, Tonia, do you see how big this carrot is? Look at the leaves. Are those leaves big like the carrot?”
Yes! They were!
“Can you see leaves the size of the carrot you would like to eat?”
I scanned that whole garden, and announced that I could not! But Great Grandpa Dee told me to look some more. Suddenly, he brushed away some big leaves and one teeny tiny leaf stuck out from the ground. I smirked and looked up at my grandpa and he was smiling so big. I pulled the leaf and out popped the tiniest carrot I have ever seen.
Great Grandpa Dee loudly announced, “Tonia’s picked her carrot for dinner! You have to eat that whole thing. What you pick, you eat!”.
I was no fool, I knew exactly what he had done for me that day. He winked.
On my plate at dinner time was the tiniest carrot that took me only two bites to eat, and while I gagged it down, those were some of the best bites of carrot I’ll ever have. While it wasn’t apparent until the last few years of my life, Great Grandpa Dee taught me to appreciate nature, to understand what nourishment, in food and relationships, your yard has to offer you and just how delicious raspberries from his raspberries bushes were. The only raspberries I’ve ever liked! He taught me to appreciate working hard for my food and for what I want, but also to understand that it is ok to compromise. I’ve longed for a big backyard with a garden my whole life, like a part of me has been missing ever since he passed away. This is something I am most looking forward to having once Colin and I find our property.
And I will plant carrots.
Grandpa Dee had the same house he’d always lived in and hadn’t changed a thing since his wife, Helen passed away, something a little less than 50ish years before him, if I remember correctly. One day, in his old man burgundy slip on slippers, which I loved to wear when he wasn’t, he turned on his very old fashioned radio (which I was amazed by!) and he told me a story about Helen. He loved her so much, and I’d never really heard a love story before like theirs. Her silk robe still hung behind his bathroom door and her hair brush still sat on the bathroom counter beside the sink. It was as if she had still lived there all of those years, yet she’d not been home for more than 45.
I don’t remember much about what he told me of her, except that he never stopped loving her and that he thought of her every single day. At some point, as I watched him talk about her, I asked him if he missed her. I can’t remember exactly what he said, but something like, “Oh yes, but I’ll see her again soon!”.
I asked him, “Do you think she’s waiting for you at the top of the stairway to heaven, Grandpa Dee?” and his eyes twinkled. Before he could answer, I said, “Actually, by then Grandpa, I hope for you she’s waiting at the top of the escalator because that’s a lot of stairs! Do they have an escalator to heaven?”
What man, after all these years, loved his wife enough to be the most content in his life, even without her, after her death, because of how sure he was of their bond. Of their love. He never wavered. He built an amazing life even after her, but honoured her every second of the day until he died. This was a lesson I only this last year figured out. He heavily instilled this incredible value of love and loyalty into me, listening to his stories. He taught me not to settle for anything less than the kind of marriage he and Helen had. My marriage would be the most important thing in my life, too. And it is!
Colin has asked me where this value came from and it was just suddenly that I put the connection together. These three lessons have shaped the woman I am today and I bawled my damn eyes out writing this blog. I relived moments today I haven’t thought of with this much clarity in many, many years. Pol Polson taught me unconditional love, resilience, kindness, humour, compromise and he did it with grace.
He phoned me just before he died to say goodbye. That was more than 22 years ago now. I hope he knows these words and he feels this deep and overwhelming love I poured into this blog for him today. I have lost a lot of people in my life, including best friends, room mates, my brother with whom I was extremely close… and I have been asked, at different stages of my life, if I could talk to anyone, dead or alive, who would it be?
I’ve never hesitated.
I would talk to my Great Grandpa Dee, so I can ask him if Helen was waiting at the top of the escalator.
And more importantly, to let him know I will plant carrots.
With purpose, and a thousand tears,