Every time I hear this song it chokes me up.
My brother wrote it about my grandmother and her relationship with our grandfather after she passed away and grandpa was still around.
After she died he continued to live in the little house they built on the Greenwood Road where they spent most of their lives together in Thorburn, Nova Scotia, before passing away at the whopping age of 100.
Yes, that’s right. 100.
If you live in the area you probably have heard of my grandpa Billy Kyle, if only for the fact he was able to out-live damn near everyone else in the community.
Originally from Scotland, he made the trek to Canada and before he was of legal age, starting working in the coal mines just down the road from where he lived. He met Belle, they fell in love, got married and started a family which would eventually include three daughters, one of which happens to be my mother. She ended up travelling all the way to England to fall in love, but luckily brought my father back to Canada, where we were able to spend a good amount of our childhood at our grandparent’s house, just a few hours outside of Halifax.
I’ve got so many good memories from that place growing up. The chair swing in the backyard, the tree they planted when I was born, the chocolate bars my grandma used to hide for us in the cupboard every time we visited.. too many to count really.
After grandma died grandpa he always talked about how much he missed her.. but he kept on, and in spectacular fashion too.
If you had met him you never would have known he was in his nineties. He was always moving, he didn’t stop. He walked the mountain at the end of the road nearly every day and we calculated he’d actually traversed the distance of the earth nearly twice over the span of his lifetime.
Not many people can say that.
Even when he was at home he was moving. Late into his nineties he’d be puttering around the yard, in the garden, up on ladders, fixing and organizing and making sure everything was in its place.
He was an inspiration to everyone that knew him, especially me, and we were all rooting for him to make it to the century mark in good health.
With every birthday that would approach he’d always say to me it would most likely be his last.
‘You’re not allowed to leave yet grandpa.’ I’d say.. ‘You’ve got to make it to 100, remember?’
He’d smile back with that twinkle and say, ‘We’ll see.’
And he did.
It was an amazing accomplishment.
And then we started to lose him a little.
For someone with such a quick wit and sharp mind all those years, it was the dementia that really broke our hearts in his graceful exit from this earth.
I remember staying at my parents house, I was sleeping in the attic, he was down in the spare room, in the middle of the night my mom would be up with him trying to calm him down. He’d wake up thinking he was in New Glasgow, or he needed to be somewhere else, or that someone had broken in and stolen things from the house. At that moment it really hit me how much of my parents’ lives had been sacrificed to take care of him, not just in the end, a good part of his later years really.
With a lump in my throat I thought, ok, the grandpa we knew is no longer with us, and that’s ok.
Then early the next morning, back off to Ottawa, I said goodbye to him like I had done many times before. We stood in the hallway with my mother and for a second it was like his mind had come back to say goodbye one last time.
Completely lucid. Eyes locked.
‘Ok, Layton, I’ll see you next time.’ he smiled.
‘Alright grandpa, see you next time.’
No thank you for being an inspiration in my life, no sorry for not spending a lot of time with you in my teens or taking enough photos of you over the years.
Just.. see you next time.
And I walked out the door.
Dad phoned me in Ottawa the morning he died as I was on my way out the door again to run a road race I had foolishly signed up for without any training. After some time, I decided to go ahead and do it anyway.. and ended up running a sub 40-minute 10k for the first time in years. I am by no means a spiritual person, but I’ve no doubt he was with me that day.
And then we had his funeral. And just like that there was nothing left.
Just memories of him. And his home.
As these things usually work out my parents were in charge of selling the house and all of its property. They ended up negotiating with a young spit-fire by the name of Courtney, and her newly engaged partner Eric. They had big plans for the house. A new start for them and a new start for that space. It was exciting for everyone involved. My mother, like mothers do, told Courtney her son was a wedding photographer. I rolled my eyes like I usually do when mom tries to pimp me out, but this time it worked out. After a brief meeting in Halifax we were all set to go. I’d be shooting a wedding in my grandpa’s backyard.
What a trip.
I showed up Saturday to the house and the place was almost unrecognizable.. in a good way. The amount of work they’ve done is unreal, it’s been completely renovated, but a lot of the little details from the old house are still kicking around, which means a lot to us and hopefully them too.
Courtney was quite simply a force the morning of her wedding day. I’ve never seen a bride both delegate with ease and work independently like she did. She envisioned a rustic, backyard DIY wedding with meaning, and she got it. Every detail was perfect. Collected bottles and flowers and old pepsi crates and even the original windows and doors that grandpa installed almost a lifetime ago all found a new temporary home under a tent that got battered with rain a good part of the day, but only until it needed to stop.
It was an emotional, fun, sweet, hospitable day and an absolute privilege to be a part of.
We’re all proud of what you’ve done with the place and wish you two the best of luck in the future making new memories on the Greenwood Road.
Billy would be proud too.