All my life, going to Vancouver has been synonymous with going to Grandma’s house. Being on the ferry meant we were either about to visit Grandma or were coming back from her house. Her home in Tsawwassen was as much of a childhood home as any other.
From her home in Tsawwassen she could see the ferries coming in and out of the terminal. She’d watch from her balcony with her binoculars to see when we were coming in, then drive down to pick us up in her silver Mercedes. She would be wearing brown leather driving gloves, with freshly colored light red hair, and always had sticks of cinnamon chewing gum in the glove box. Sometimes she’d have chocolate, which she’d tell us not to chew so we could savour it as long as possible.
We were there several times a year, sometimes for weeks at a time. We spent nearly every Christmas there. My favorite spot to curl up was on top of her heating vents up on the 3rd floor, where I’d watch TV and eat nuts and bolts. I’ll never forget one Christmas Eve looking out the sliding glass door on the 3rd floor and seeing Santa and his reindeer floating from house to house. It’s one of my most vivid memories and I still can’t explain it. We even had a visit from Santa one Christmas, who knocked on the skylights in her tall living room ceiling.
In the summer we’d go over to pick strawberries. We’d end up with 20 or so pounds in a day, which would then be washed, plucked, chopped, and stuffed into freezer bags. The big deep freeze downstairs was always loaded with frozen strawberries. She was always having us run down to the deep freeze or downstairs fridge to grab a bag of strawberries or some other treat that was kept on reserve for when the family visited. She’d tell us that we sounded like a herd of elephants as we ran up and down, or sometimes slid down the railing of the spiral staircase.
After we all grew up, the house eventually became too big and the long spiral staircase became too difficult to climb, so she moved to White Rock. But even though she wasn’t watching for us though her binoculars as we pulled into Tsawwassen, it still felt like she was every time I took the ferry. And even though she lived a bit further from the ferry terminal, every trip to the mainland or beyond still began and/or ended at her house. I remember her calling her house “hotel Grandma” one time, and it kind of shocked me because it seemed like such an odd thing to say. Her house was the exact opposite of a hotel to me. It felt more like home to me than any other place in the world.
As we’ve been planning our trip to Thailand, naturally we had planned for the usual stopover at Grandmas for a night or two. Tragically, however, we find ourselves on the ferry a week or so earlier than planned after saying goodbye to her as she passed away. Going to Vancouver will never be the same, but I’ll always think of her as we sail across the Strait of Georgia and wonder if she’s watching us again from above.