I had been six years old for three months. By the time I was to start school in September, I would be closer to seven than six. In those days, you didn’t start school when you were five. You had to wait.
I passed my days playing with neighbourhood friends caught in the same dilemma as me, talking with grandpa, or playing by myself or with my two younger sisters. Saturdays were different though. On Saturdays, mom would dress the three of us in fancy clothes, and dad would take us on a bus ride into town. We’d walk up and down the streets, wander through the toy departments at Woodwards and Eatons, and ride the bus home again.
“Don’t you dare buy them anything to eat!” mom would admonish him before we’d leave the house on our Saturday jaunt.
“Bring them back just the way you take them out – clean and tidy!”
I loved my grandpa more than any other person in my life. I was his princess, and the only one who could understand what he said, after his ability to speak had been compromised by a stroke. I understood his tone, his gesticulations, his body language and what few words he retained, including yes, no, pretty good, okay and my grandmother’s name, which happened to be my middle name. I can tell you that now. Back then, I just ‘got him’. If an adult, especially my grandma, couldn’t understand what grandpa wanted, I’d be called to interpret. I’m sure my grandpa loved me as much as I loved him.
My second favourite person in the world was my dad, because he made Saturdays special, something to which we could look forward. Mom would dress us up, so we’d look pretty for him, and he would take us out – out of the ordinary routine and into another world. We’d ride on the bus and everyone we met would tell us how pretty we were. They’d tell my dad that he had a beautiful family, and he would beam at the praise.
We weren’t allowed to ask him to buy us cake or ice cream or chocolate milk, because we might spill something on our special clothes. But he could lift us high, so we could slurp fresh water from the fountain on the street. He’d be quick with his hanky to catch the drips on our chin. He would push the stroller, with my youngest sister in it, up and down the streets and we’d gaze into shop windows. My other sister and I held onto the side bars of the stroller, so dad could easily keep an eye on us.
When we’d board the bus for the return ride home, dad would straighten our outfits and tell us to behave so we stayed neat till we arrived home again.
When we did arrive home, the commander of our universe would greet us at the door, and check each of us to ensure we were as clean and tidy as when she’d happily released us to the unknowns of downtown Vancouver. Later, I’d sit with my grandpa, holding one of his huge bear-paw hands in both of mine, while I prattled on about every moment of our Saturday adventure. In turn, he would reward me with a great hug and a nickel for a roll of cherry flavoured Lifesavers.
Easter was coming. It was a few weeks away, and that meant spring showers and fragrant flowers, baby birds peeping and new buds peeling on trees. It also meant that the rain that had been falling heavily for the past few months would lessen. The stinging bite of frozen drops would soften, and black-grey skies would brighten. It also heralded a new outfit – an Easter outfit from a shop called Helen’s on Hastings Street.
In mid-March, mom took my sisters and me to the shop that sold fashionable children’s clothing. She chatted with the shopkeeper who helped her to pick out three matching outfits: pink dresses, smocked across the chest and trimmed with tiny flowers, a matching pink coat with a peter-pan collar, a white straw hat with tiny flowers around the band and colourful ribbons to be tied under the chin, snow white socks, white patent shoes with a matching purse, and lacy white gloves.
“Let’s keep this a secret,” mom said confidentially. “We’ll surprise daddy when he takes you to town at Easter time.”
My sister and I grinned with excitement to think that we would have a secret for dad. I knew his eyes would light up with love when he saw the three of us on Easter Saturday, dressed like blossoms plucked from a Japanese cherry tree.
When we arrived home, my mom opened the three white boxes she’d brought from Helen’s, each containing one Easter outfit. She shook out each dress and coat and hung them in our special closet, she placed the hats and purses on the shelf above our clothes and put our shoes and socks in a community dresser drawer. In the days that followed, I often found myself sitting at the foot of the stairs that began in the closet and rose to the attic. From there, I admired our new outfits, and dreamed of Easter Saturday and the look of surprise on my dad’s face.
That Easter Saturday, my sister and I vibrated with anticipation as mom dressed the youngest and help the two of us as needed. The door to the bedroom was shut tight, and dad had strict instructions to stay in the living room with his newspaper and morning coffee.
A short time later, my mom twirled each of us about giving us a thorough inspection. When she was satisfied that we were ready, she raised her fingers to her lips.
“Sssh!” The sound hissed quietly over her smiling lips, as she opened the door to the hall.
“You two, take your sister’s hands so she doesn’t trip,” she whispered.
The three of us skipped into the living room and stood before dad. He appeared to be absorbed in a newspaper article.
“Well?” mom asked.
Dad looked up at her, his paper standing stiffly on his lap, masking his ability to see us. We quivered with excitement.
“Well, what?” he asked, drawing out the moment.
He knew we were there.
“Your daughters are ready for their day in town!” mom exclaimed.
“They are?” dad asked.
I could imagine him grinning behind his paper. He enjoyed teasing us.
“Where are they then?”
“Put your paper down and you’ll see,” mom said.
Dad promptly folded his newspaper with a snap, his face showing shock at the three little girls dressed in pink who stood before him. We giggled with glee and clapped our hands.
“I’d better get my shoes on!” he stated, rising from his favourite armchair.
A few minutes later, we were out the door and dancing up the street to catch the next bus into town. Saturday sunshine bounced off our white patent shoes, and fresh air filled us with energy. The day was full of promise for my dad and his three cherry blossoms.
As years passed and Easters approached, I often remembered my grandpa, his impact on my life, and how my dad had consoled me when we received news that he had died: one last stroke – a big one. I was heart-broken.
A few years ago, my dad died of heart disease, amongst other things, and once again I was heartbroken. On the day of his memorial service, I consoled myself, remembering an Easter Saturday and Japanese cherry blossoms, and I realized only then that we had never had to use the three pink umbrellas that lay folded on the rack under the stroller. My dad had known all along about our surprise that day. In return, he had a surprise for each of us, but, in the absence of rain, he had had no opportunity to share them with us.
Now, I wish it had rained that day, if only for a few minutes.