phyllis preston

i’ve wanted to write something about my grandma for a while because she was both my closest relative and the closest person to me that died. her name was phyllis preston. i think that’s a lovely name. whenever i mention how much i like it people usually go “ewww” or something but i don’t get that. i can understand that reaction to gertrude or bertha, something that is phonetically displeasing, but phyllis preston sounds graceful and beautifully old world to me.

i guess phyllis probably had an average life. she got married, had two kids, got divorced, got a bachelor of arts degree at UVIC, and then lived alone in oak bay for the rest of her life. but i always spent a lot of time with her, even as a long-haired filthy skid, so i got to know her pretty well and never thought of her as boring. we would go for lunch, walk, clean her chandeliers, run errands, typical grandparent/grandkid stuff. i also took her to stuff like harp concerts, craigdarroch castle, and my friend steph’s doukhobor choir performances, because we both loved that stuff. all the details i learned during those times, the details that flesh out my brief synopsis of her life, made her fascinating to me.

for example, phyllis told me how she and norman (my grandfather) had car problems on their honeymoon. they were pulled over on the side of a dirt road. he was under the hood and got her to turn the key, and then flames erupted. norman caught fire. grandma remembered norman rolling in the dirt to put himself out, getting up, and removing his shirt and neck tie, and how all the skin on his neck came off with the tie because it had melted over it. she said he blamed her for the whole thing for many years afterward.

another example: grandma was awesome at abstract painting, which she learned at UVIC in her 50’s. she had a few of her paintings and sketches up at her apartment and i really liked all of them, even as a kid. i didn’t know what to make of any of them but they were neat. there was one that scared me though, it was a big painting of a collage of ripped magazine covers. something about it seemed violent to me. i guess i imagined some nut tearing magazines apart, god knows why, throwing the shreds in a pile, and taking a picture of it. oddly enough, that painting became my favourite of hers as i got older.

she was a lovely lady too. she was amazingly self aware and open to new ideas for an older person. she loved hearing all about the endeavours of my death metal band. we talked about gay rights. i filled her in on all my numerous, numerous, NUMEROUS girlfriends. she explained to me how she harboured a lot of hatred for norman for many years after their divorce until she realized that she was only making herself miserable by dwelling on something that made her unhappy, so she just let it go—simple as that. i tried to wear long sleeves when i visited so she didn’t have to see my tattoos and i wouldn’t swear around her but in every other way, i was 100% same old david and she loved and accepted me as that. i found these things pretty remarkable from an 80-something year old senior that i would never describe as being very liberal.

i don’t think i’m doing a great job of making phyllis seem spectacular or anything, but basically what i want to get across is that she was a really interesting person and i loved getting to know her. i mean, as a kid, i just thought of her as my cookie- and christmas sweater-dispensing grandma: i visited her, she fed me cookies, i went home. it was something else to eventually see her as a full person, to realize that she had 50 years on this planet before i came around, and that she did a ton of stuff in that time.

i wasn’t too upset when my grandma died. i actually saw a lot of beauty in watching her decline over the years. that sounds idiotically morbid but i don’t mean it like that at all, obviously. i mean that life has an ebb and flow to it and we usually only focus on the upswings, like childhood and growing up and achievement stuff like buying houses and shit. we take pictures of that stuff and stress the importance of them but i think the downswings are just as important, just as meaningful. those downswings are part of the whole picture; without them, you only have half a picture. it’s like looking at a painting but not seeing the yellows and reds—the beauty isn’t just in the blues and greens though, it’s in the poetry of how all the colours work together. at least, that’s how i feel about it. also, i was honoured to be there for my grandma’s decline, to assist her whenever possible, let her know how much i loved her, and just spend time with her like always. it was a really touching role reversal for me to help her when she was leaving this world, after she helped me so much coming into it. one of the last times i saw her, she started falling asleep sitting up while i visited her. i said i should go but she assured me she was fine and wanted to keep talking. we talked a bit more but she soon started to fall asleep again, so i playfully insisted, helped her to bed, and laid her down. she was very fragile and weak at this time but smiled and was grateful for the help. she looked so child-like and sleepy and peaceful laying there as i stepped back and said goodbye. it was such a beautiful moment.

i’ve mentioned synchronicity on here before, and here is another example of it: i had to search my email to find out when phyllis died. i found the email i sent to jenn at work to tell her about it, and it occurred on july 29, 2011. only one week shy of 3 years ago. i have to wonder why i would happen to write this so close to that date without being aware of it.

“something is happening, isn’t it margaret?”

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2 thoughts on “phyllis preston

  1. This is a really beautiful post. You did right by your Grandma for painting such a beautiful portrait of her as well as of life in general. I randomly came across your blog yesterday and ma slowly working my way through it. I appreciate your straightforward manner and candid, profanity-infused mental meanderings. I have had several moments where I was laughing out loud and my wife asked me what the hell I was reading. Thanks for sharing!
    -Burt
    Madison, WI

    1. i haven’t read this post since i made it. i always thought it was lame for some reason but i re-read it now and actually like it too, so thanks for drawing my attention back to it. and thanks for the kind words too, burt. that’s about the highest praise i could ever hope for.

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