The subtitle is “What I learned on my road trip with Grandma” and that is exactly what the book is about: the book is even dedicated to Grandma. No surprises here. See Iain and his Grandma here where they discuss the book briefly.
The epigraph supports what Iain and his Grandma think about their experience of spending time together: “Time just gets away from us.” (Charles Portis, True Grit). We hear it often…I always meant to visit him but there was always something I had to do: there are as many versions of it as there are people. It might refer to a friend, a parent, a grandparent, a neighbour, a cousin etc. etc.
The road trip started out as one of those things that seemed like a good idea at the time. The author had been at a pub in Ottawa with his older brother and they were discussing Christmas gifts. They used to give gifts as a pair: sometimes home-made, twice they gave self-portraits for which they dressed up in costume. However, this year Iain’s brother had decided that “it was time to expand his gift basket into his own, private, improved basket.” He broke the news to Iain at the pub making sure he had already bought his gifts so he couldn’t be talked out of it.
Iain began to feel stress about gift buying for the first time: it was a “new, uninvited feeling.” “I’d never understood the requisite stress others felt when giving gifts. I’d always just waited until a day or two before, and inevitably the magic would happen.” His Grandma was the last grandparent left and the only elderly relative, the last of her generation. She had been part of his life much oftener when he was growing up but he hadn’t seen much of her in the last decade. “She was on the cusp of ninety-two. Ninety-two! Considering that cusp, she was in incredible shape, mentally and physically.”
His brother suggested that the most valuable thing he could give his grandmother would be time. “I know you’re working on your writing, but you can also take time off. Time that you could then spend with Grandma. No one else in the family can o that as easily.”
“Actually, you could take her on a trip.” And that’s how it all got started.
When Iain tells his brother that he’s not really worried about Grandma and her routine, we realizethat he is worried about his routine! His brother gives excellent advice and no sympathy: “Stop worrying for three seconds of your life. Get out of your own head.”
Iain is used to being alone all the time and he is worried about what he and his Grandma are actually going to do for five days in one another’s company. He knows that his grandmother never complains but his brother explains that this is a good match because Iain always complains.
The scene when he picks up his grandmother is very cinematic:
“I finally manoeuvre room for both of Grandma’s bags in front of the duvet and behind the cooler. I slam down the rusty trunk and walk around to her side of the car. “Ther you go,” I say, opening her door. “Don’t worry, it’s comfy. Well, comfier than it looks.”
She pats my arm “It looks cozy.”
The door, like the car, is tired. It sags and groans on its rusty hinges. Grandma smiles, lowering herself gradually, carefully. She steadies herself on my left arm all the way onto the low-riding seat.
That’s when I notice my front licence is hanging on by a single screww. Theleft screw is long lost. But, as Dad had pointed out earlier, I keep it in place with grey duct tape. The most recent strips of tape must have lost their hold. I usually have to re-tape every two weeks or so. I ask Grandma to hand me the roll that I keep on the handbrake.
As I straighten and fasten the dented licence plate, my delicately positive mood disintegrates. With Grandma watching, this act makes me feel more foolish and unsophisticated than it usually does. And realizing this, that I don’t usually feel any remorse or embarrassment over continually taping my front plate, fills me with a deep self-directed sourness.”
But our endeavor is official now. It’s no longer speculative. It’s real. It’s happening. Grandma’s sitting in my car. Even while I drove to her house, part of me still didn’t believe our trip would actually happen.”
It is at this point that Iain realizes the following:
“The most difficult thing for me might be having constant company for five days, the responsibility to make conversation with another person, to make meals for another person, an older person. I suppose I can cope. I’m hoping she can.”
How this turns out for Iain and his grandmother is what we learn in the remainder of the book. Here’s a bit of Grandma’s conversation with Iain just to whet your appetite further:
“I think feeling lucky is really only important, really only helpful, in the present. It seems tempting to wait for perspective, perspective gained by time. But it becomes irrelevant in the past. Luck doesn’t really mean the same thing if it’s only understood through memory, is what I’m trying to say.”
When Grandma and Iain discover they both like books and they both like Iain’s record album collection, things start to liven up.
I personally found Grandma’s own story slightly more interesting than Iain’s story but then she does have the advantage of 64 years more experience!
I’m thinking I will try Iain Reid’s first book soon. It’s called One Bird’s Choice and I’ve got a hold on it at the library. How about you? What’s next on your TBR list?
P.S. check out this latest news re Iain Reid’s writing.