Growing up I didn’t know my grandmother well. She lived in the city (Winnipeg) and I lived 8 hours north in the tiny town of Thompson. It was a very cold place, the hub of the north, where you could watch the northern lights dance almost every night.
My grandmother had a very challenging life. She was a residential school Survivor of the Pine Creek Indian residential school in Camperville, Manitoba. She was a deeply wounded and scarred individual who struggled with addictions and relied heavily on community supports. For these reasons I didn’t get to know her the way a granddaughter should, but I always thought of her fondly.
Some of my fondest memories of her always included a GIFT. She didn’t have much money, but she did have an incredible talent – she was a seamstress! Every year, without fail, my grandmother would send me a gift.
When I was young, she usually sent clothing that she had made for me. The clothing always had the same drenched tobacco smell.
Today when I catch a drift of that scent, I can see her sitting in her studio walk up, hunched over her sewing machine (placed so thoughtfully in front of the window), her curly black hair dangling over her cheek with a cigarette floating on her lips.
Oh, I love this image, she rarely had to lift her hand to smoke her cigarette!
As I got older, and so did she, she would send a variety of gifts from a five-dollar bill to a handmade sequin swimsuit. Did I mention she worked in dancers clothing shop? It was a shop specifically for adult entertainers! I remember my dad always saying, “I wonder what she sent you this year”? It was always a delightful surprise. When I was in high school my grandmother started a new tradition and started sending pieces of a Christmas village. No matter where I was living, year after year, the pieces arrived until she passed away.
My grandmother, who had very little, took the time to gift me something every single year. It wasn’t until I was older that I realized the significance of this. I didn’t know her well, but I know she was always thinking of me.
So now, whenever I see a Christmas village, I pause to smell the tobacco and watch the sequins dance like the northern lights as I listen to the soft, low, drum like vibration of my grandmother’s voice say “Nikki, you look healthy.”
Doesn’t every little girl deserve the beautiful gift of nostalgia?
Metis (Ojibway/Irish) from Treaty 1 Territory
Granddaughter of Clair McKay