Grandmother Gunhild (Nano)

Grandma Gunhild, who I called Nano, was an influential person in my early years. White Nano welcomed me to her cozy floating home beside ours and spent innumerable hours teaching me first steps of most of the needlecrafts that I have enjoyed through my life. In recent years, I have been drawn to the colours she favoured in the fabrics of her dresses. Rich shades of orange and yellow muted by greens and some browns, those colours serve to brighten the dreary grey sky she found in her new Canadian home.

Chosen from the catalogue and purchased by the yard, she sewed almost everything she wore, including the ever-present aprons that encompassed her well- defined frame. With an all-business demeanour she held her shoulders square and her body upright, giving an impression of height. Whenever I slouched she showed me the way it could be corrected, by placing a broom handle across my back and hooked there by the bend of my elbows.

I remember her shoes. They were always black with sensible Cuban heels, and were carefully polished, worn with ugly thick beige stockings. I think they were knit of a cotton fibre mom called lyle. The only time I ever saw Nano wearing pants was when she joined us to walk the beach at low tide to dig clams. I still have a photo of her with heavy wool fishermen pants tucked into grandpa’s heavy black rubber boots, and carrying a fire bucket. The picture on the book cover is definitely not the ever-proper lady I adored.

She poured coffee beans from a tight-lidded can into a well-worn wooden coffee grinder, and with a few cranks of its handle, Nano’s whole kitchen was filled with that wonderful aroma that I’ve coveted since then. Coffee is my primary addiction.

She seemed to know just the right number of beans to grind so their grounds could be placed directly into the basket of the coffee pot without measuring or spilling. Then she settled the lid into place and positioned the pot on the hottest part of the stove, which I recognized as the smallest removable circle of the three used to access the firebox when wood was added. The coffee-making process begun, we could go on with the current lesson until the coffee pot came to the boil. Some days it was knitting, embroidery, or crocheting, but today’s lesson was sewing on her hand cranked sewing machine. I still have it.

As my lesson proceeded, we eventually heard plop … plop … plop … and then the more rapid plop … plop … followed by plop, plop, plop, plop which meant it was time for Nano to pull the pot to the back of the stove before it boiled over. Our lesson interrupted, now the coffee clatch began as she set out the cups and saucers, spoons, sugar bowl and can of Pacific evaporated milk. Into my cup she poured milk from the can to at least half, then, when the blurping sounds of the pot had stopped, she added coffee from the steaming pot. I was allowed to add my own sugar, stir and test the temperature from a spoon.

As I grew older, the percentage of coffee to milk became greater until during my first year at university I eliminated milk altogether. I had forsaken sugar as a calorie saving measure long before then.