After my Grandma Carrière died, I inherited her Tortière recipe and her Polaroid camera. Polaroid stopped making the film for the camera, which is a shame, but I’ll get plenty of use out of the Tortière recipe. It’s typed-with a real typewriter!-on a gravy stained four-by-five inch recipe card. The ingredients would horrify any hippie-yuppie hybrid Grouse grinding Vancouverite: two pounds of ground pork, breadcrumbs, spices, and pastry dough for the pie crust. The early French settlers were clearly more interested in survival than looking good at Pilates. There’s a few spelling mistakes on the card, the kind of mistakes a young French-speaking woman would make in the process of perfecting her English. I love that recipe card. I laminated it so it wouldn’t fall apart.
If only Grandma Carrière had been as easy to love as her cooking. She was a nasty drunk, although I seldom saw that side. I remember her calling on Saturday afternoons; she’d talk about things that didn’t make any sense and people I didn’t know. She’d ask-again!- if we received the commemorative Expo 86 video she’d sent. Had I watched it? I had. She was SO sorry that Mom hadn’t taken us to Expo, because of her goddamn socialist beliefs. I never knew what to say to that. Eventually Mom or Dad would get on the phone, and there’d be yelling. After that, my parents would disappear for a bit, to the basement or the back yard, and they’d have one of the arguments they never had in front of me.
There were many years that we didn’t speak to Grandma Carrière at all. We blocked her phone number, and sent her Christmas gifts back unopened. When I complained about the gifts, Dad told me about a Christmas from his youth. He had opened all his presents, and Grandma Carrière had opened a bottle of Sherry. As guests dropped by for a Christmas day visit, she was so far into the holiday spirit that she gave away his gifts. That shut me up. She had lots of brothers and sisters, most of whom didn’t want to speak to her either. They must have kept my dad at arm’s length too, because I didn’t meet any of them until my grandma’s memorial service a few years ago.It was a small gathering at the Maple Ridge Ramada, which wasn’t far from where Dad had grown up in Haney.
There was no use in feigning sadness, Grandma Carrière had pushed everyone who loved her away and drank herself to death at age 93. Instead, the feeling at the memorial was one of relief. The older, more Catholic generation talked about how happy she’d be in heaven. Their children, now in their 40’s and 50’s, wished her better luck in her next incarnation. When my dad had rolled up his pant legs and waded into the Alouette River to spread her ashes, Auntie Jo, who leads a church choir in Maillardville, sang Amazing Grace. We all joined in. That was in July, and the Salmonberry bushes on the river bank had been laden with fruit; the same Salmonberry bushes my dad had robbed of their bounty when he was ten years old.
A funeral is not a very good place to get to know people. So when Dad had suggested that we all meet again for a family reunion, everyone agreed.