My grandmother, Mabel Mills Blais, known by all as Momo, passed away last weekend. I have been wanting to write her a tribute, but how can I condense a whole life onto this page? The magnitude of that task intimidated me all week and kept me from trying, until I realized that it’s not my job to chronicle every detail of Momo’s long and fascinating life; at least, not right now. Everyone who knew her has their own version of Momo to remember, and all I can do is share myMomo with you. The Momo who will live on in my memories.
My most comfortable and familiar Momo memories center around her kitchen table, where we’d sit and chat when I came to visit. Standing ready by the stove, nudging one of her rescued feline friends from the counter, she’d ask “Shall I make us a cuppa tea?” Refusing the offer got me nowhere – halfa cup was always her next offer, as though the thought of a guest in her home not drinking at least a little tea was unconscionable. Officially, Momo herself only ever wanted half a cup of anything. She just had to drink through the top half to get to the bottom half, that’s all. When the tea situation was settled to her satisfaction, she would clink mugs and spoons and shift the whistling kettle while she hummed to herself about what one should do with drunken sailors*. Always sturdy, sensible, big coffee mugs for Momo’s tea – I never saw her using dainty teacups. Dainty just wasn’t her way.
Momo’s mugs of tea always came with offers of food: cookies, May West snack cakes, toasted tomato “sangwiches”… Despite years of my best efforts to convince my grandmother that I do not like sliced raw tomatoes as a sandwich filling, she offered me one every time I was in her kitchen. I can’t decide whether my preference just never registered for her, or whether she was getting a good laugh out of it. I’m inclined to believe the latter. Still, I have to wonder – what if I’d said yes, just to throw her off? Did she keep fresh tomatoes in her kitchen all year, season to season, just in case I called her bluff?
We talked about everything at that table. Sometimes politics, sometimes family goings-on, and always a discussion of something she’d heard on the radio. CJAD talk radio was her constant companion, always droning on in some corner of the house at all hours of the day and night. When her eyes started to go, the radio meant even more to her, and she’d relate stories from the radio programs as though she’d heard them from good friends. Whenever I came to her with a problem or a complaint about something at work or at school, she’d think for a moment and ask “Do you ever listen to Dr. So-and-So on CJAD? They talk about that sometimes. You should call in.” I often sighed, quite rudely and unfairly, when she asked me about the radio programs, because I never listened to anything but music stations and she knew that. It was the tomato sangwiches all over again!
She did watch TV sometimes, most of it absorbed through her closed eyelids while she rumbled the couch cushions with her snoring. If someone tried to turn off the TV while she was installed, she’d wake with a jolt and protest that she’d been watching that, and resting her eyes! And you know, if you quizzed her, she could almost always tell you exactly what had been happening on the screen.
Momo never had a problem sharing her opinions with you or with anyone within earshot. She was a woman who loved a good debate, and would shamelessly shift sides in a discussion if it meant it would keep the conversation lively. Looking back on those moments now, I can’t help but think that I’ve got a bit of her in me. I see all sides of every argument and can play the Devil’s Advocate and rationalize almost any position, if I’m given a chance. I see now that all those cups of tea with Momo had more of a role in shaping my personality than I ever realized at the time.
There’s so much more. More than I could ever fit here and more than I could ever really relate to those who never knew her. So many little things about Momo and about the big house in Longueuil. The Crayola-red and -yellow tulips in the front garden. The white stone lions on the front porch, who made such comfortable chairs for the grandchildren having imaginary adventures. Holding out peanuts for generation after generation of backyard squirrels (all of whom were named “Chippy”), and throwing stale bread out to the “dickie birds”.
Her home was always a home to all, with family members holding a lifetime, unrestricted Golden Invitation to come and stay as needed. Nobody would ever be turned away – even the Jehovah’s Witnesses who came to the door were accepted for a chat, and every stray cat who ever sat on the porch and meowed for food was given love and a warm home to purr in.
We’ll miss her. She was strong and opinionated, kind and witty, and it’s obvious that her whole family carries parts of her with them. You won’t be forgotten, Momo. Toodley-pips, and God Bless.
*Her preferred method of dealing with one was to kick ‘im in the belly and bust his boiler, whatever that means, but I can’t find a reference to that line anywhere other than in my memories.