I Still Find Her Letters

She’s been on my mind so much lately that it makes sense to write about her. It’s during those rare, quiet moments in the day that I find myself missing her.

It’s likely because I’ve been writing. It was our thing.

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Five years ago, my grandma and I wrote and published a book together.
It was a collection of short stories about her life in Northwestern Ontario.

Where other kids in class had grandmothers who baked cookies and wore aprons, my grandma wore cargo pants, snowshoed through the wilderness, and could shoot a rifle better than most men.

She was a beautiful writer, a skilled pianist, and an avid curler.

She would curl in men’s bonspiels just for fun. She loved a challenge. She always said there was only one guy she was unable to beat.

I encouraged her to write short stories about her life. She’d send them to me in the mail. Stories on looseleaf paper and in various notebooks. I loved seeing her handwriting mixed in amongst our mail.

She shared her adventures as a child. Going bird hunting with her dog, Buttons. Building ramps to try her hand at ski jumping. Avoiding church by going for long nature walks with her Dad.

She described in such beautiful detail what she loved about flowers, nature, and being outdoors.

She wrote about my grandpa. Neighbours called him a “wild one.” He loved to fight at dances but also liked to waltz. He was misunderstood by many but she knew his kind heart.

She told of their life together living in the wilderness. The crunch of snow under their snowshoes, the swift rapids they travelled, and the many times they almost died.

Writing the book took about a year. I’d stay up until midnight, sometimes 2 or 3 a.m.

Writing, revising, laying out pages.

I’d grab some sleep and get up early so I could continue writing at a Starbucks near work. It was still dark when I got there.

My laptop, latest draft covered in scribbles and notes, a tea, and a pen. I’d write until the coffee shop was filled with morning sun. I’d lose track of time. I was happy.

I learned the process of self-publishing and how to register for an ISBN. Another published writer helped me over email and answered my many questions about what to do next.

I learned about bleed and trim and felt like a researcher trying to track down old survey maps and information from the Ministry of Natural Resources.

I helped coordinate interviews with my gram and newspaper writers back home, in hopes that an article in the local paper would help promote her book and upcoming book launch.

She sold 1,500 copies. I was so proud of her.

She was so excited. I looked forward to her phone calls. To hear about the compliment she received at the post office the other day or the person at the grocery store who wanted to take her out for coffee.

She loved when people told her the book made them cry. To her, it was a measure of her writing. She knew she had reached them.

Each time we spoke, she gave me a count of how many books were left. As the number dwindled, I think she worried about the day when they were all gone. That day never came.

When my gram passed away almost two years ago, we found 20 books left in a box in her bedroom. They were divided amongst our family as keepsakes, which is funny because we all had at least 10 copies each. But for us, it was a little piece of her that still remained.

She left personal items for each member of our family. For me, she left her writing.

I am so thankful for the experience of writing with her. Instead of talking to each other once a month, we talked multiple times a day.

Talking about sections to rewrite, debates over grammar, and her putting me in my place because I wanted to include personal stories that she didn’t want to include.

I was lucky to share some very private moments with her and to learn more about the woman I admired. It made me love and miss her even more.

I still find her letters throughout the house. Tucked inside books here and there.

On those days when I realize how long it’s been since we’ve talked and I miss the sound of her voice, I take out her book or read her letters. I want to hear her again. That’s the power of writing. I can hear her sarcasm, her sense of humour, her say-it-like-it-is approach to life. Her. The book and her letters give me her again for a little moment in time.

Writing her obituary was the hardest and most important piece I’ve ever written.

I knew what she hated. She disliked the term “love of her life.” She found the long list of family members’ names to be impersonal. Write about the person.

Her voice was in my head. I knew she’d care about how it was written and we both had high expectations.

In true grandma fashion, she left us a letter in her safety deposit box. She knew we would find it. She wanted to say goodbye and to tell us how much we meant to her.

“Someday you’ll write your own [book].” Gram told me on the phone one day. 
I will. And it will be dedicated to her.

This week, take a few moments and write a letter to someone you love. No email. Grab a piece of paper and a pen. Tell them what you love about them and why they’re an important part of your life.

It will be a little piece of you that they’ll always have.

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