Olivia Raymond Buchanan is a fantastic name.
Try it out. It's got history. Dimension. Class and warmth, culture and mud. It's a name that embodies the breadth that I feel my family history contains, and that I try to live up to in my own life, empathizing with people of all walks and trying to walk the line that is best and fairest for as many as possible.
It belongs to my late Grandmother, who passed on Monday night; but it's not the name that I knew her by. She had a special name for family, the confusing and endearing acronym MOG: "Mummy, Olivia, Granny". The pseudonym held so hard that it wasn't until I was an older child - somewhere in the six- to ten-years-old range, that I became aware that "Granny MOG"'s name was actually Olivia.
It even works for my own kids - we just changed it so that she's "Granny MOGG" (Great-Granny).
It's difficult for me to imagine what to write about MOG. In my earliest memories of her, she was my nice Granny with lots of interesting books and toys, at whose house there would often be arguments and I'd usually get chocolate that would make me vomit in the car after we left. Later, I realized that the relationship between my Mum and MOG was tense, and on talking to Mum I found out that there were a lot of ways in which Granny MOG was an awkward person to be family with - especially to be a child of, but also to be a friend or partner to one of her children, or a close friend to her herself. Like me, she was headstrong and liked to argue, and like me at times, she had no sense of how she affected other people - whether by arguing with them on a sensitive topic, or by refusing to share the work of the Christmas dinner, despite a new spectacular catastrophe each year (which could never have ruined those amazing spreads, excepting that she blew each tiny failure into a disaster of its own).
She was a deeply caring person. Everything *mattered* to her, especially the feelings of others, even when she couldn't read them. She was always devastated to find out that somebody was upset with her, and that it was her own fault. As the years went by, her responses changed, from lashing back to breaking down, and it became a lot easier to be around her - it's easier to be around somebody who admits fault than someone who redirects.
MOG was always, always popular with newcomers. She was a charismatic, friendly and polite lady who looked perpetually twenty years younger than she really was, and she *always* had an interesting story, because she lived a fascinating life, globetrotting with my Grandfather Ivan, who died before I ever had a chance to know him. Her adventures as a Nurse, a Teacher, a Mother and a Wife were some charming, others exciting, others still heartbreaking or revolting. I wish I could remember a nice one to write here.
I think that I, personally, got the best that there was to get out of MOG. I enjoyed her company, and her work as a painter. I am frank, and that allowed her to be frank in return - we have had some incredible conversations over the years, about God, about death, about people and about values, and she shared a few stories with me, for better or worse, that she told me she'd never told anybody else, and which I agreed to keep to myself. I am a man, and she always found it easier to get on with men than with women, even among her family.
On Monday, we received a package from her, in the mail. I never called or wrote to her enough; we would get things from her from time to time - a few postcards a year, the occasional package for me, or for the boys, each always off, or wrong in it's own special way. The letter she sent to us shortly after our wedding was addressed to "Mr & Mrs [my pre-married name]". The book that she gave me for Christmas one year had a message in the front detailing that she had bought it for herself, and enjoyed it so now it was my Christmas present. The newspaper clippings about things that I already knew, or had no interest in. The beautiful old toys for the kids that we suspect may be leaden. The declaration, during a largely lovely visit, that "The Black people in Montreal don't smile at you", as if they were in some way obliged to do so.
I could have taken advantage of that to have a dialogue, to find strange things in thrift stores and send them to her, to tell her about my life and the children, but there was always something more important to do, and with the birth of the kids, I even forgot to call.
I forget if it was really Monday, to be honest, but it's about right. For whatever reason, I didn't open it; it's addressed to the kids, for Easter, and I figured there'd be time later. Her packages for special holidays always used to come with big warning messages in all caps on them: "DO NOT OPEN UNTIL DECEMBER 24TH", so maybe there's a bit of habit in it.
I'm checking for a stamp, but it doesn't have one. She collected them, and would often choose ones that she found interesting, and ask for me to send them back to her for her collection. I remembered to do it about one time in five.
I realise, as I cut open the tape, that I'm using my Leatherman Wave multitool, as I do for pretty much anything. It was a gift that my Auntie Marion brought back from the USA for me when I was a teenager, and which I never sent her a thank-you note for, despite knowing that it drives her absolutely crazy to send a thoughtful gift and not receive a note. I think I thanked her in person, but I honestly don't remember. I could just be telling myself that.
I'm very bad at thank-you letters. I have a list of everybody who attended my wedding, whom I could have sent a mail merge to any time in the last five years to say "thanks for coming, thanks for the amazing gift you gave us", but it's still just a task sitting in my to-do list. Surely they know that I'm grateful? But how could they, if I never send the letters?
Whenever I get the chance to talk about the wedding, I always recall how amazing it was to have so many wonderful people be able to attend. That's what I'm thankful for. Seeing MOG meet my wife's Grandmother and hit it off was a magical and terrifying moment. They each asked after the other every time we spoke, until my in-law passed away.
Under the brown-paper shell are pass-the-parcel layers of card taped together, a very thorough protection for the "china mugs and plates". I dread what they could be, but inside the filling of bubble wrap, I find two beautiful gilt-rimmed mugs, with depictions and biographies of famous British Knights (in armour).
The nicest *things* that MOG ever gave me are:
- A silver tea-set, which I have never used, but get out and polish from time to time.
- The money to buy a suit "for job interviews", when I was 18 years old. With help from my Mum, I bought a really nice suit from Marks and Spencer, which I have never once worn to a job interview. It has served me very well on dates through the years though, and I polished and buffed the shoes just last week to wear at work.
- A wooden ball jigsaw, which comes apart into sixteen pieces. I am a fiend for little puzzles, and I can put it back together from mixed within a minute from memory. I showed it to another puzzle enthusiast once and he loved it and googled for one for himself, but couldn't find one with the same design.
There are two plates, as well as the two mugs. One of the plates matches one of the mugs, suggesting that this was once a larger set, something that MOG found lovely enough to prefer to send them on to us than to let them "go to waste." My family have a tendency towards hoarding, and MOG definitely had a lot of possession creep - there were two rooms in her house stacked high with junk, and several others with their storage closets very full. I don't ever remember her letting it get dirty, though - dusty, but not dirty.
Despite the connotations, I do find these pieces charming. The glaze is cracked, the gilt worn, but the images and designs are still beautiful. The Black Prince, Thomas Beauchamp, they're interesting characters and beautiful mugs. Another gift, for the next generation, well-intentioned and slightly off, but lovely, nonetheless. They're the last delivery we'll ever get from her, and I wouldn't have wanted it any other way.