Gratitude from A to Z: Grandparents

I am grateful for grandparents. Like most of us, I had two pairs - Frank and Jessie Witherspoon and John and Katherine Klassen. Neither lived nearby, so time with my grandparents was precious.

Jessie and Frank Witherspoon

I have vague memories of Grandpa Witherspoon. As a young man he left the family farm near Woodbridge and moved to West Toronto where he worked as a mail sorter on trains running from Toronto to Montreal and Toronto and Goderich. In those days, mail was delivered by train. At stations where the train didn't stop, the train would slow and my grandfather would throw the bags of mail for the town off the train and grab a bag handed up to him by a station attendant. Between stations he would sort mail. The Toronto to Goderich line has since been turned into a trail. I walk sections often and think of my grandfather who rode the rails along the same path. Family legend has it that Grandpa knew Walt Disney's father who was the station master at Goderich for a time.

My Grandma Witherspoon was a proper but loving woman of Scottish descent - a McClure of the Cameron Clan to be precise. We visited her in Toronto at Easter most years. She prepared delicious family meals and I can still taste her homemade buns. I recall the smell of the rose scented soaps in a glass bowl in her bathroom. She was proud of her career as a nurse working with wounded veterans of the first world war.

John Klassen

I remember Grandpa Klassen well. He was born in the Ukraine and fought the Bolsheviks, was captured, escaped and emigrated to Canada with his family. When I knew him, he managed a fruit farm in Essex County near Leamington. He had a wonderful sense of humour. I remember riding with him through the orchard. He would take his hands off the wheel and, to a young boy, magically steer the truck around a corner hands free. A tall man, he could steer a truck with his knees. Grandpa was an avid fisherman and I am grateful to have had the opportunity to fish with him at my favourite spot on the St. Lawrence River before he passed away.

Grandma Klassen as I remember her

My memories of Grandma Klassen are the most clear as she was with us the longest - able to meet my children, her great-grandchildren, before she passed. Grandma was an imaginative cook and for a time, maker of homemade wine. Her family, the Schellenbergs, also emigrated from Russia but as a young teen her and her family endured a much more difficult route by foot via Poland encountering many challenges. In later years, she would travel by train to visit us and, if in season, one of her suitcases would be filled with apricots that she and my mother would make into jam. Although she didn't have the opportunity for formal education she was well read and an avid writer and storyteller. She always sent thoughtful notes on important occasions.

What do you recall of your grandparents and the impact have they had on your life?

2 comments

  • Krys

    Krys St Marys

    You were so lucky to have memories of all your grandparents! JP died before I was born and his wife's funeral is what I remember, or at least the visit to Winnipeg that it entailed (I had just turned 4.) My Schellenberg grandparents lived in St Catherines so I didn't see them often. I remember a very clean house. My grandfather lost his sight and hearing by the time they moved to Leamington so I couldn't really communicate with him easily. Though my cousin Margaret said he would sit and talk with her for hours when she would bicycle to the shop where he worked with Uncle Henry in the early fifties. I recently put two and two together and came out with five perhaps about Grandma S. You may remember that when they were crossing the Polish border there was a time when one of the smugglers and Grandma got separated from the rest. It occurs to me that there was a negotiated deal there to save my 17 year old mother from rape. My grandmother was a very pragmatic person. When the bandits were taking her only remaining warm shawl she offered them her wedding ring in exchange. With no money, fuel or food left, the shawl was much more useful. I also remember your Witherspoon grandparents. Frank exuded a benign presence and always made me feel so welcome. I'm guessing maybe that was where your Dad got that 'calm' that Ted talked about. Maybe it had to do with clocks and the sense of time passing. Or maybe the gratitude for having survived life-threatening events. I liked Jesse too though she triggered a bit of upheaval when she came to your house by playing favourites. I was always amazed that she took that Alaskan cruise when she was 80! Of course my Mom went to Haiti so maybe we share grandmothers who travelled!

    You were so lucky to have memories of all your grandparents!

    JP died before I was born and his wife's funeral is what I remember, or at least the visit to Winnipeg that it entailed (I had just turned 4.)

    My Schellenberg grandparents lived in St Catherines so I didn't see them often. I remember a very clean house. My grandfather lost his sight and hearing by the time they moved to Leamington so I couldn't really communicate with him easily. Though my cousin Margaret said he would sit and talk with her for hours when she would bicycle to the shop where he worked with Uncle Henry in the early fifties. I recently put two and two together and came out with five perhaps about Grandma S. You may remember that when they were crossing the Polish border there was a time when one of the smugglers and Grandma got separated from the rest. It occurs to me that there was a negotiated deal there to save my 17 year old mother from rape. My grandmother was a very pragmatic person. When the bandits were taking her only remaining warm shawl she offered them her wedding ring in exchange. With no money, fuel or food left, the shawl was much more useful.

    I also remember your Witherspoon grandparents. Frank exuded a benign presence and always made me feel so welcome. I'm guessing maybe that was where your Dad got that 'calm' that Ted talked about. Maybe it had to do with clocks and the sense of time passing. Or maybe the gratitude for having survived life-threatening events. I liked Jesse too though she triggered a bit of upheaval when she came to your house by playing favourites. I was always amazed that she took that Alaskan cruise when she was 80! Of course my Mom went to Haiti so maybe we share grandmothers who travelled!

  • Rob Witherspoon

    Rob Witherspoon

    Thanks for sharing Krys. I guess that is the challenge of being the youngest grandchild by a large margin - you arrived late to the grandparent game.

    Thanks for sharing Krys. I guess that is the challenge of being the youngest grandchild by a large margin - you arrived late to the grandparent game.

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