A visit to see Grandma Ina meant that my brother and I could pick out any treat in the store.
We would sit at her old chrome table, slurping chocolate milk and eating Hickory Sticks, as she talked at length about local gossip. Mom always did her best to show an interest. This person hasn’t paid their bill yet. This person has been using drugs…Grandma kept tabs on everyone.
She ran a small convenience store in the village of Barwick. Population? maybe 60 families. Her store sat on the sleepy main street, just over the train tracks from highway 11. What had once been a little cafe became a place for locals to buy chips, pop, ice cream, staple items like bread, and cigarettes. I think she sold a lot of cigarettes.
During our visits, locals would come in to grab a few things as we sat around her table talking. She was never shy to berate kids from across the room – don’t make a mess in that freezer! I just cleaned it up (as they looked for a certain flavour of Freeze or drumstick). Tell your mom she needs to pay her bill! They didn’t seem to mind her public humiliation. They knew Ina. The person who let a lot of people run a bill when she could have said no.
Grandma liked to share stories about putting people in their place (about how they should behave, what they should be doing with their lives, and who needed to pay their bills). A listen here...kind of story. She would take her pointer finger and tap it aggressively against her green chrome table when driving home her message. I said, listen here. You need to…
Grandma Ina wasn’t one to mess with. It’s funny because her appearance wasn’t very threatening. A petite little lady who always wore the same thing – a white polyester nursing dress. Seriously. Her dresses looked like an old nursing uniform, minus the little white hat. They had a zipper up the front and she often wore a worn, knitted cardigan on top. White nursing shoes with the thick rubber soles were on her little feet. And beige nylons. Her dark short hair framed her face in loose waves and curls. She often smoothed her hair back with her hands.
Grandma was given new dresses and sweaters at Christmas. She never wore them. They stayed tucked away in her drawers, while she continued to wear dresses with holes. I was told that she grew up very poor. She had four brothers and two sisters.
Back to what a visit with Grandma was like.
A visit to see Grandma at the Cafe was usually well planned out. A person knew that there had to be enough time for her to chat and then you needed a reason to be able to leave (an appointment, to make dinner, etc.) She loved to talk.
After two hours of conversation, I remember my mom turning to my brother and I, well guys, I guess we should start getting ready to head home. It was the cue to signal the end of our stay but it often had the opposite effect. It just meant that Grandma would talk faster or come up with another story. But it did start the eventual process of us leaving.
We would slowly make our way to the front door, with a few more stories being shared as Mom had her hand on the door knob. Just when we thought we were in the car and ready to go, grandma would lean her forearms against the door, hanging her head into the car and continuing to chat through Mom’s open window. It was comical to us because it was the same thing every visit. Looking back now, she was probably lonely.
Grandma ran her store until she was 94. She continued to drive her brown Dodge pick-up truck around the area, despite the fact that locals had concerns about her driving abilities. They would call my mom to share their latest sightings – like her driving out in front of a transport truck on the highway. Mom would say, what do you want me to do about it? She knew that Grandma would do what she wanted.
She had a presence. A personality of her own. I bet Barwick felt quite different for awhile after she passed.