My grandpa was a man who carefully chose his words. He never blathered on, and what he said had importance and a certain poise. When he passed away in the cold January of 2016, it didn’t seem real. It took weeks to fully grasp that the most important male figure of my life was somehow no longer here.
In an effort to make sense of his absence, I began a deep dive into my own memories, starting with the earliest: summers in a wading pool, hot hose water on sticky plastic. Watching Grandpa in his apiary, slowly walking between the rows in sun-bleached flip flops. Sharing cold watermelon in the sun, his skin carrying the faint smell of garlic. Floppy hats and folding lawn chairs, woven nylon strips pulled tight by sun-warmed metal. The sun and Grandpa always seem to be connected in my mind.
I wish I could have known the type of little boy he was, but that is not for grandchildren to know. He was born in Kerrisdale in 1929. In his youth he developed what would become a lifelong interest in horticulture and botany, and in 1952, graduated from UBC with a bachelor’s degree in Horticulture. He worked in horticulture for thirty years. He also married my grandmother in 1952, and together they raised three daughters. His middle daughter is my mother.
It was important to Grandpa that his children and grandchildren all knew the names of every tree and flower and fruit and vegetable that grew in our gardens and our neighbourhood. Nomenclature and correct identification was key to understanding the natural world. How classes of flowers and plants were connected and what families they formed allowed for a holistic view of nutrition and the land. His horticultural education and culture of the time also influenced my grandparents’ cooking and how they fed their children and, later, their grandchildren. My grandparents were influenced by the cookbooks of Adelle Davis and had incorporated her healthy eating ideas into their home before it became mainstream. There were no canned foods or TV dinners; we ate what we grew, with a protein added. Grandma and Grandpa felt that if you were going to eat it, it needed to fuel you well and nourish your health.
My grandmother did a lot of the cooking, but Grandpa cooked as well, and one of his favourites was wheat germ pancakes—almost always on a weekend, when we could all be together. They were packed with good stuff and served with plain yogurt, honey, fresh fruit, or real maple syrup selected from the Lazy Susan in the centre of the teak dining table. Somewhere in Hardy history, we named them “power wheels.”
The power wheels of my childhood were well cooked, chewy, dense. The version I have recreated here is a little lighter, a little different, which is perhaps the point. Nostalgia is the feeling of a thing we can’t go back to but that lives in our past, and the specifics of those power wheels live for me in that time. I still follow his routine though: sifting the dry ingredients, then adding the wet, whipping the eggs first to make the end result fluffier. Grandpa also incorporated whatever extra treats were in the fridge to add flavour: molasses, bananas, yogurt.
I inherited Grandpa’s green thumb, and used to call him for nothing more than to tell him about an heirloom tomato I was harvesting the seeds from, or a clematis vine I had got to climb to the perfect height. He was always as excited as I was. I was a loud and boisterous child who grew into a loud and boisterous adult; distinctly at odds with his quiet, shy, steady self, and yet it didn’t divide us. I was his eldest grandchild and he accepted me for who I was, and we liked each other. Love is one thing, but like is something else. To like your family is a special gift, and we had it.
He has been gone for two years. I miss him. I want to send him pictures of his favourite plants in my neighbourhood, and I still reach for my phone before I remember he’s gone.
But on balance, I believe a few things: That people live as long as you remember them. That there is always a new season and new plants to grow and tend to. And that there is always a good time to share home-cooked food with the people you love the most.
Jessica Hardy is a food and culture writer living in Vancouver. Her profiles of our shared city culture are designed to inspire & connect us all. Jessica’s work has appeared in the Vancouver Observer, Montecristo magazine and BC Living. She has made media appearances on CBC Radio One and the Wall Street Journal.