A Sparkle in the Grey {A Tribute to Lillian Alton}

I specifically remember taking this photo after she had a conversation about death with me. I wanted to remember her in that moment. I was preparing for now.

Note: October 19, 2007, is a date I will never forget. It’s the date I lost my grandma, my mentor, and my best friend. This article is dedicated to her, Lillian Alton (1928-2007).

After visiting my mom this past August, I packed up my vehicle and was getting ready to leave. It was morning and the sun was shining through the trees onto the driveway. As my mom and I hugged and said farewell, she noticed something shining in my hair. “Oh, my gosh, Meg. You have some grey hairs,” she said in disbelief. I glared at her and sighed, “yes, mom. I’m aware.”

“My baby has grey hair,” she said and paused. In this moment, I could tell she was reflecting on her own age and life. Instead of complaining about aging, she smiled. “You’re so much like your grandmother. She started to go grey in her thirties.” Knowing how close I was to my grandma Alton, she knew this would make me smile. And it did.

Time and time again I’m told how similar I am to my grandma. Even in her absence the past ten years since her death, I am reminded of how like-minded we are. A person may be gone, but their memories live on, as do their characteristics and habits in many cases.

Growing up, I always felt a strong connection to my grandma, Lillian. Her real name was Lydia but she despised it and insisted on being called Lillian. Even after her aneurysm as she lay in intensive care at the hospital, I remember seeing a look of agitation when the nurses and doctors called her Lydia. I asked them to call her Lillian, and right away, her facial muscles eased up and there was peace in the room. 

Right up to her death, she was a woman of integrity. She stood up for what she believed to be right and never backed down, sometimes to a fault. She was a strong woman who spoke up when she saw or experienced injustice. She frequently challenged the status quo and loved to educate people on why her opinion was right, even on topics such as which way the toilet paper roll should go. (The roll should go over, not under, by the way.)

I think she was reading a joke in this photo. She loved jokes!

As a child, I loved visiting my grandparents and especially gravitated to my grandma, whom would spoil me with hugs and kisses, and allowed me to lick my empty ice cream bowl. When I was young, she and my grandpa would take their grandchildren on an annual day trip to various places in my home province of Ontario. She claimed she liked being a grandma because she could love and spoil her grandchildren in a way she couldn’t with her own kids. That’s one of the advantages of being a grandparent though, right?

She took her role in my life seriously. After my parents divorced and my siblings and I grew up with our dad, grandma stepped up to the plate and insisted on helping drive us kids to sports practices, theatre practices, church, and supported me at my Junior Achievement trade shows in high school. Grandma took a genuine interest in her grandchildren’s lives and would encourage us to be the best we could be. She encouraged me to be as strong as a woman as I could be. She taught me to always stand up for myself and to be a voice for the marginalized and to find the strength to keep fighting for justice even when I felt like giving up.

Grandma asked me for my signature after my first theatre performance when I was 8.

Grandma was an encyclopedia of knowledge. You could ask her any question and she would have an answer or an opinion on the topic. She had a hunger for knowledge and taught me that education was the best way to get a man’s attention, not my body, after all, knowledge is true power. Grandma’s stack of National Geographic magazines was stacked in huge piles in her garage and dated back to the 1970’s. My siblings, cousins and I enjoyed going through them from time to time, and we always headed to Grandma’s to do a serious homework project since her encyclopedia collection was large. I believe there was a thick book containing small font for every letter in the alphabet. When Grandma got a computer, she was mesmerized by the functionality of the “world wide web” and I’m certain that if she were alive today, she’d have a Facebook, Instagram and Twitter account and would probably also be on Snapchat. She was always ahead of her time and ensured her family knew the importance and value of recycling and composting. Grandma was resourceful from growing up in the Great Depression, and she taught me that the proper way to shop was to purchase items I knew I would need when they were on sale. “Well, you’re going to use them anyways, so you might as well stock up!”

Grandma was a great cook and her house frequently smelled like food. I remember countless meals in her kitchen, being surrounded by family and a collection of roosters staring at me. To say she liked roosters is an understatement. Grandma’s love for roosters began when she was just a girl and would walk home from school only to be greeted by one of her family’s roosters, whom she called Petey. He must have loved grandma back because he would literally jump up and fly onto her shoulder, something most roosters don’t do. Grandma’s friends adored her and she was frequently the subject of a gift with roosters on it. When she passed away, she had the largest collection of roosters I’ve ever seen. But they didn’t enter into the bathroom. Good heavens, no! Fish decorations belonged in the bathroom, not roosters.

That was my grandma. Everything had its own place. And from this, I learned to be diligent and thoughtful about the seemingly little things in life. Placing the salt shaker on the right of the pepper made sense for her since she was right-handed, “salt on the right, pepper on the left,” she would mutter to anyone who would listen. And it made sense to me. And it still does. I’m certain some of my friends think I’m nuts for the little “rules” I have for my house, but it’s those little rules that remind me of grandma and how she put thought into absolutely everything she did.

So when someone remarks about my incoming grey hair, I am reminded about my grandma and how I, like many of my family members, are carrying on her traditions. Grandma Alton helped make me the woman I am today. Now each time a grey hair pops up, I am reminded of her. And to me, that’s a beautiful thing.


She always talked with her hands, and her vocal accents when telling stories could rival any modern comedian.
Grandma and I, Christmas 2006 (her last Christmas).

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