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She Was a Great Old Broad

My Grandmother was a great old broad, in fact, if you called her a great old broad she would be thankful for the compliment. For much of her life, she chained smoked and drank beer and rye whiskey like a trooper, activities she gave up upon her retirement from the business I must add, and that allowed her to live a lot longer than she would have otherwise I am sure.

Sundays at her house were times to play cribbage, eat, drink and be merry, until a fight started that is. When she passed away in her eighties she had accomplished much of what she wanted to do in life and we had become closer friends and I loved her like no other. I think of her every day and I love to talk about her with anyone who will listen and always end up laughing when I do. She was a unique wonderful old broad.

She outlived a husband, boyfriends, some of her siblings, most of her friends and contemporaries given her friends were hard partiers who smoked and drank throughout their lives. She also outlived Pierre Elliott Trudeau our long past socialist Prime Minister, which was a life goal for her (irony is that her and Trudeau were born on the same day and year). I celebrated with her when she outlived someone whom she believed damaged the fabric of Canada beyond repair. I didn’t dislike him to that extent, it was a comical if not bizarre celebration to participate in.

I loved to push her buttons on politics, unions and the family members whom she disliked and she had many buttons to push too. I fondly remember the time when Mike Harcourt and his leftist NDP Government were elected in BC, defeating her beloved right-wing Social Credit Party (Socreds) in the Provincial election November 1991. Susan and I had cast our ballots and then drove to Edmonton from Prince George and settled in at the Fantasyland Hotel in West Edmonton Mall. A Roman-themed room as I recall since kitschy is a wonderful thing to take part in and that theme room offered all the kitsch needed.

As we prepared for bed the TV was on and the news of the Socreds losing the election to the NDP was confirmed, which was not a surprise to anyone given the polls going into the election. When the Talking Head on the newscast finished describing the destruction of the Social Credit Party I turned the TV off and reached for the telephone. The fun was a mere 11 presses of the buttons away.

Now I have to preface the conversation by telling you that I normally called her late at night or in the middle of the night anyway, depending on my rum consumption, and she was always willing to talk and mentor if not scold and berate. So with that in mind I called her after midnight Kelowna time.

When she answered the phone I simply asked, “So, what do you think of the election results?” Well, that’s all it took! She launched into a tirade about the intelligence of the BC electorate and then went on to describe Mike Harcourt and his cabal by comparing them to genitalia – male and female, slang descriptions, of course, other epithets invoking bodily functions, sexual activities and descriptive accounts of a person's orifices and what to do with or to those aforementioned orifices, comments confirming to me the pedestrian nature of the NDP Party, and the new Premiers apparent illegitimate status by him being the spawn of Satan. Then she really got wound up and the call lasted over an hour. I sure miss those rants. I really do.

Along with her husband (my Grandfather) and later her youngest son Dale, she owned and managed a trucking company called Falher Transport , during a time when most women were relegated to duties in the home. Trucking was and still is a man's world where the Old Boy networks are very much in evidence, though that is changing slowly, so she was indeed a pioneer in more ways than one. The trucking company was a small Alberta operation by any measure but it had a celebrated history and was populated with colourful characters with a million stories to retell, many of the stories involved Grandma in some way or other.

Grandma was a great cook and cooked for many people including the “boys” who worked for her at her trucking company. Often there were salesmen, bankers, truckers, delivery drivers, scallywags, ne’er-do-wells, in-laws and outlaws at the lunch table in the Edmonton warehouse in addition to her staff. She made lunch with purchased items together with “donated” and “otherwise acquired” fixins’ for the lunch table. Her men usually returned to the warehouse at lunch hour to eat and then went back on their deliveries or pick-ups when finished. It was a ritual that went on for many years and is still fondly remembered by many people to this day.

For the employees and visitors, she would make soups, stews, chili, perogies, cabbage rolls, and casseroles of varying descriptions, all hot and nutritious, and served without charge. Some of her diners being the “colourful” types needed the nourishment that Grandma offered them since their off-work lives were fuelled by booze and tobacco. Others made the trek to the warehouse for the good taste and the laughs, and both were served aplenty.

She was a real dichotomy and a very complex person.  On one hand, she was a rabid right-wing proponent of work or starve Depression-era ethics, on the other she would act as the mother hen or mother grizzly as it were if one of her “boys” was in trouble in any fashion.

Realizing that some of the more colourful of the boys were less than healthy financially because of their lifestyle and the lower level income they earned there, it was not a rare occasion to have some legal type show up to serve papers on Grandma to garnishee the wages of one of her boys. That would set off an emotional explosion and a baring of her fangs that was legendary.

On one particular occasion a bailiff showed up to present a garnishee on someone and when he entered the warehouse he asked one of the staff where the office was.  They directed him towards the office and then both guys lit a cigarette and leaned up against a pallet of goods and waited for the inevitable end result to play out. They had watched this play out before.

Yelling and screaming together with pushing, shoving and punching with perhaps a little scratching for good measure was the response Grandma offered the hapless bailiffs garnishee. After a couple of minutes the unfortunate bailiff came running out of the office with Grandma in close pursuit, through the warehouse he ran and as he passed the workers he yelled, “This woman’s fucking crazy!” and jumped off the loading dock running like his hair was on fire when his feet hit the ground.

One of her boys that were watching the floor show removed a smoldering cigarette slowly and deliberately from his lips and shouted back, “You bet she is! And fast too!”

With the bailiff now running away and the immediate threat to one of her boys having passed she turned around and stomped back towards her office and as she passed her men she looked at them and yelled, “You could have at least given me a hand you assholes!”

Without missing a beat one of them replied, “Help you?  Fuck that! We were thinking we were going to have to help him!” At that point, she swore at them and went back to her synoptic ledger.

Just another day at Falher Transport ‘s Edmonton operations. I could write an entire book on her and one day I just might do that but for now, I will stick to offering up recipes she handed to me. One of the recipes that pay homage to her wonderful and complex memory follows on a separate posting, a family classic...

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