Drawing by Jamey McDonald
Today marks my 49th anniversary of emigrating from the Azores to Canada. This past week I have spent time in Montreal, the first place I set foot on North American soil on a cold February day in 1968. The memory of this date came to me in the middle of doing an interview for a radio community program, Palavras Partilhadas, at Radio Centre-Ville 102.3 FM., on yet another February cold Montreal day.
I took delight in the significance of the coincidence of time and place, as I was in Montreal to attend the reception at the Centre d’histoire de Montréal for the new exhibit, Fil de tendresse/Fio de ternura/Thread of tenderness.
Joaquina Pires, the curator of the exhibit, explains how hearing a reading of my short story, Avó lives alone, inspired her to discover her community’s experience of grandparents-grandchildren. The result is a well thought-out, important document that, although rooted in Luso-Montreal families and their stories, speaks truthfully of the experiences of other communities. The themes of loneliness and isolation, inclusion and participation in family life, transcend specific cultural groups.
Regardless of the name given to our parents’ parents, avó, avô, abuela, abuelo, nonna, nonno, grand-mère, grand-père, grandma, grandpa, all cultures share one essential thing: no matter how small or tentative the connection and depending on health, ability, temperament, physical distance, among other factors that are usually beyond their control, most grandparents want to have a relationship with their grandchildren.
The exhibit invites us to pause and consider the value and place of grandparents in the lives of their grandchildren and to find ways to integrate them into the fabric of the family. Often, for shut-ins, living alone, a simple telephone call is enough to sustain them for days. These are threadbare relationships that are completely at the mercy of time-running-out, either because grandchildren grow up too fast or because grandparents almost always die first and, indeed, for most human-beings it is the loss of a grandparent which introduces them to grief.
The families who participated in the project through photographs, interviews, videos and texts, reveal a vast array of experiences, many of them positive and giving us reason to celebrate the fact that so many grandchildren value their grandparents and make them an integral part of their lives. The memory of a special relationship between grandparent and grandchild can live on forever. I have come across many young adults who tell me, often with a “thread of tenderness”, about the place their grandparents have in their lives; and how, when the grandparent is gone, they cling to the memory of a story told, or a simple embrace, a smile, or a kiss given, as threads that bind their memories forever. Indeed, a “thread of tenderness” as the title of this exhibit shows, is often all we have to cling to.