Her name was Mary Connelly, wee Mary, My “Uncle” Johnny’s wee darling. My Grandma. I don’t know too much about her but she was one hell of a woman. I’ll tell you what I do know.
Mary was from Ireland, a feisty red-headed beauty with a bawdy sense of humour. She wore platform shoes and Multi-coloured caftans of orange and red. She smoked long thin cigarettes from a long cigarette holder. She drank her single malt scotch neat and loved to host a sing along. She married a military man from Glasgow, had four children and emigrated to Canada in the 1960’s.
We would all be packed up in my Dad’s chocolate brown Grand Torino early on a Saturday morning to leave our suburban bungalow for my Grandma’s smoky basement apartment that she shared with Uncle Johnny. Uncle Johnny was fearless, a handsome younger man, a steeple jack who always had a roll of large bills in his pocket. Without asking, he would peel off a few for us kids. It was the early 1970’s and we would walk unaccompanied across Eglinton Avenue West in Toronto to a little convenience store 15 minutes away. Two little girls, sometimes with their younger brother in tow. As we got older, my older sister would use our candy money to buy cigarettes. Later still we would buy beer. I was always sent into the store to make this purchase because I looked older. I’m not sure what the adults in our life, parents, relatives and beer store employees were thinking. The world was our oyster. We never, ever thought about consequences. We just did whatever we wanted. My sister was our ring-leader, always full of great ideas.
On the way to Grandma’s we sometimes drove along Yonge Street up to Eglinton Avenue, passing Master Johns, the bootmaker and the House of Lords, the hair salon. This was our first window into the world outside of our white-bread community of Ajax, Ontario, which at the time had a population of 12,500.
We always picked up a bucket of KYC at the intersection of Eglinton Ave and Venn Crescent along with two or three salads and large bottles of pop, a case or two of beer. We never ate this type of food at home, where my Mom tried to keep things healthy. I guess the feeling was that since we’d be spending the weekend with a bunch of chain smoking hard drinkers, what’s a little fried chicken and soda pop in a little girl’s life.
There was often a crowd of family and friends with my Grandma holding court, front and centre. They sang songs from the old country that we thought were funny but we didn’t really understand like
I’ve got a lovely bunch of coconuts, my Auntie Jean’s “party piece”
- Campbellton Loch
- I belong to Glasgow
- And my Grandma’s favourite “ I’m no hairy Mary, I’m your Maw.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b2BqtrraL4w
She was 78 when she died. I sometimes think of her. Like when I smell Chanel No.5 which is the fragrance I think she wore. My mother disliked her, indeed she disliked my dad’s entire family. She didn’t approve of them but actively participated with her children on those many Toronto weekends.
As I think about her now and remember those days I wish I’d gotten to know my grandma better. I’m sure she wished to know us better. Perhaps one day we will meet again.