Category Archives: Grandparents

Grandparents Are a Precious Unrenewable Resource

“Grandparents are a precious unrenewable resource.”

That’s how an uncle put it when I lost my second grandfather.

Somehow, I reached the age of 30 with 4 grandparents still living. And then at 40, I still had 3. There is no doubt that some magical thinking began to take place, because although my Nannies and Poppy were undeniably aging and growing weaker, it was still impossible to conceive of the world without them in it.

My twin and I were the much-loved result of an ill-fated union between two Newfoundland teens who found themselves working up on the Mainland after graduating. Our childhood was spent All Over the Map, moving from Toronto to Newfoundland, to Nova Scotia, back to Ontario, then for me, on to Quebec, Japan, Alberta, and back to Toronto. We attended 13 schools before finally graduating with 2 degrees each.

Our grandparents provided the continuity we desperately needed during our annual anchoring summers back on the island. Nanny and Poppy Stuckless and Nanny and Poppy Laing all lived in their little Lanes from the early days of their marriages until the ends of their lives. These were houses that they had built themselves and filled with their many children, grandchildren, and eventually great-grandchildren and beyond.

Grandparents and grandchildren get to take a delight in each other that is often lost in the daily grind of front line parenting. Our grandparents could be parental, but we always wanted to please them, never wanted to hurt them, and there was so much love and wit shared. When I lived in Japan, I spoke to my grandparents more than my parents even, and we all marveled at how I could be oceans away on that other island, and yet sound like there was nothing between us.

My grandparents and their generation in Newfoundland had an experience quite different from most Canadians. Things like cars and televisions came to the island a few decades behind the rest of Canada. Until their children were mostly grown, you could only travel between many communities by boat, and you survived the long winter by freezing and canning and jarring all you could manage to gather in the summer months, because no supply ships could get through. You dressed yourself and your family mostly in clothes you sewed or knit yourself.

When I think about my grandfathers, I think of the most manly men I know: men who built everything from scratch, fixed anything that was broken, caught anything they ate, drove anything that was mobile, skippered ships, and raised barns. But these were also the gentlest of men, men who loved to laugh and yarn, and men whose faces lit up just to see you walk through the door.

When I think of my grandmothers, I think of comfort and duty, and how for many years in Newfoundland, there wasn’t much time to rest or ‘have a spell’ as they said, because there was always so much physical toil. And yet, my grandmothers passed on their skills joyfully. For my Nanny Laing, my last beloved grandparent, and the one I lost just last year, knitting was both work and solace. Although we learned the act of knitting at their knees when we were about 6 years old, it was only in the last several years of my grandmothers’ lives that we began to knit ‘things’.

The photo gallery includes some pictures of those first deeply flawed knitted things, the most obvious example being my first ever pair of mittens. The first mitten was knit perfectly under the watchful eye of my Nanny Stuckless, who rarely needed a pattern and just gave me verbal instructions to remember. Alas, I was on my own for mitten #2 back in Toronto, and the result was in Nanny’s words: “just like a lobster claw!”

The small blanket I knit for my grandfather the year before he died. I remember noticing the mistakes I was making, but having neither the time nor the skill to fix the mistakes to get the gift ready in time for his anniversary. I didn’t mind them so much, though, since I knew that he would be able to see and feel that it was really me who had made this imperfect thing – and that some of those womanly island arts were being passed down after all.

When things on the island opened up and you could buy anything you wanted and drive without difficulty to a big town, some of those artisan and handmade things fell by the wayside for a while, devalued in the face of unlimited commercial options. Now, I think we appreciate again the value of the home made, rare as that is in our plastic world.

Without a grandparent left in the world, we inch closer to our own mortality. Poppy Stuckless, the first to leave us, would have been 101 this week. We raise a glass and eat his favourite Chinese food every year in memory.

I can tell you, they were hard to let go of and I miss my Nannies and Poppies every day; even more, the world with them in it was a less fearful and much brighter place.


Guest Blog by My Twin, Tara – Hard News

I am struggling tonight as I just heard that my Dad’s father, Poppy, fell and broke his hip tonight. I got to speak to him briefly, but he was already sounding a bit doped, as they’d given him some pain meds. He’s 88. Essentially he is the absolute heart and soul of our family. He is our centre. We’ve all come from him, look to him, and owe him a debt of some kind. Some emotional kind. He is an orphan who got to live his version of a dream by creating a giant, sprawling family. His village is the place I fondly refer to as my ‘ancestral homeland’.

When he had a stroke, more than 12 years ago, I was lucky enough to be there to ride in the ambulance with him the almost two hour ride into the city. He soon after learned to use a computer for the first time (since he could no longer build boats and fix engines) and wrote his memoirs. We happen to be currently in the process of ordering family copies of his updated version of the memoirs (280 pages, which include the history of the community in Newfoundland where he lived, and also, of our family tree as it grew).

Around 3 years ago, I was there the night he had a heart attack, and shared in the sense of blame we all nursed about him eating a ‘big feed of salmon and having some wine’. Later he had to remind us more than once that having a good feed, and a drink from time to time was one of life’s pleasures, and in his late 80’s that was no small thing. His nickname in our family and the community is the Skipper. This is a respected term, as he has captained more than a few boats. No matter that I am 40, I will never be ready to lose my grandfather. Tonight, as I await news, I am tearful and bereft. We are all children when it comes to facing the fragility or mortality of our elders. I have been so fortunate in reaching 40 with 3 grandparents still in my life, but strangely, this in no way makes me feel prepared for any kind of bad. Here’s wishing my Poppy safety through the night and I guess I thank the universe for this yucky reminder of what is most, most important to me and many of us.

xo Tara


The Fruits of my Knitting Frenzy



These are the amateur but much appreciated results. (note the pattern is the same though size, colour, function altered – manly afghan for Poppy, feminine walker seat cover for Nanny) Managed to finish these during my two weeks in Newfoundland for the family reunion/65th wedding anniversary celebration. While others were dancing and whooping it up, I’d be in the corner knitting frantically to the music, to get my offerings wrapped up before the big reveal. NEXT UP: something for my beloved maternal grandmother who supervised and assisted with some of my joining stitches. Not that she couldn’t knit whatever I come up with in a quarter of the time and 100% better!
I love the continuity my grandparents give me. As someone who moved almost every year until pretty recently, I’m often amazed that they all still live in the very houses that they did when I was born. You can’t buy that kind of anchor. Poppy has written and published his memoirs for the family. I keep hoping my stitches won’t unravel, but will hold firm.


Knitting with my Nannies in Newfoundland

My Nannies are my grandmothers. I have two, and one grandfather (Poppy) here in Newfoundland where I have come for two weeks. After a frenzied week of preparing for a clan gathering where we hosted approximately 300 guests at a hugely successful 65th wedding anniversary reunion, I am just now coming down from the high of family time, and getting enough sleep to be coherent. Cousins came from all over Canada and the US but now are trickling away in small groups every day. I’ll be the last one left.

It’s hard to be the last one left, as the mood shifts from fun and frivolity to nostalgia and guilt over not staying longer, even though you’ve been here the longest.

I don’t know anyone with three grandparents left at my age. I was 30 before I lost my first one. They are the anchors for me and my family. I know in my mind it can’t be, but in my heart, I still think they will live forever.

Knitting frantically during every spare moment has left my hands cramped, but provided more of that moving mediation that I have sought this year. There’s less of a caloric burn, but it’s still effective. I’ve finished knitting a small masculine throw/afghan for Poppy, to put over his lap when he’s booting around on his scooter. He likes to get out, but with poor circulation, he gets cold. My project has taken me more time than it would have either of my Nannies, but he will know I did it. The flaws are not subtle – it is clearly my creation. But, he will also know how much of me, how many thoughts and memories I had time for as I clicked away on the 4.5 sized needles, cramming a month’s worth of knitting into one short week.

Now, I’m stitching it together. It doesn’t look as polished as I’d like, but I love the feel of the high quality European yarn, and the colours, blocks of shimmery gray with deep brown and blue make me happy. I’d like to wrap him in it and keep him safe forever.