“A Little Piece of Ham” is a beautifully told story of a child’s relationship with her Meme, her aged grandmother. Ontario contributor, writer and artist Cyn Williamson tells the story of her grandmother’s later years and the lessons that she learned during the times she spent with her. A grandmother is a great gift, and this story brings that to realization in a delicate and loving story.

When I was a young girl, there were times when my Meme lived with us. Meme seemed old and was crippled. She didn’t want to live in a nursing home, so my Mother and her siblings, all 13 of them, took turns welcoming her into their homes.

It happened to be our turn to host Meme. It was Autumn, and we were celebrating Thanksgiving. Meme couldn’t go outside to smell the wet leaves, or to collect walnuts with us, because she was restricted by her disability, and by her special wheel chair. None-the-less, my Mom made up for this inside of the house, by making sure that Meme was always near us.

Mom would park Memes’ chair in a spot where she could see us, but I felt that Meme was just keeping an eye on us. It seemed impossible to get any mischief past her. Often she would say her rosary beads or pray from the pamphlet for ‘shut ins.’ She seemed innocuous enough, sitting quietly praying. We were not fooled by this, she may have been quiet but she made up for that by being watchful. Just when you had stuck your finger in the jello, for a little taste, she would instantly look over and catch you in the act. Even when playing ‘chicken and the fence”, a checker game, she was the clever one. She always won.

On this particular Thanksgiving we had a beautiful ham. My Mom worked hard at a grocery store and she was sure to pick a really nice ham for our dinner. After dinner it was my turn to wrap ‘left-overs’ up in dishes or with foil. When I got to the ham platter, all that was left was a ‘little piece of ham’. It was the size of my thumb. I was about to scrape it into the garbage, when Meme made a loud ‘tsk’ sound with her tongue on the roof of her mouth. “You should wrap that up and save it, you may need it” she suggested. With some attitude, I wrapped up the ham with foil and stuck it in the fridge door, slamming the door behind it. I didn’t need her bossing me around!

Later that week, as we were making our lunches for school, I discovered that there was nothing to put on my sandwich. There was only butter. Meme was sitting there, beside the fridge watching me. She smiled and reminded me that I had saved some ham. My sisters looked on while I guardedly unwrapped the ham. Squishing it flat between my fingers, I spread it evenly over my bread. I looked at Meme sheepishly. I did not give the sandwich to either of my sisters, instead, I brought it to school, and I ate it! It was the tastiest sandwich that I ever had.

Two years passed until we hosted Meme again. I had grown up a bit. I was thirteen years old, and it was Summer. Meme had become frail and even more crippled. I spent time with my Mom caring for her, even putting her on a bedpan, during those nights when my Mom worked at the store. Meme needed me in ways that left me weak with sadness.

When Autumn came, Meme fell, breaking her hip. On September first, she died in the hospital.

It is at Thanksgiving, that we still collect walnuts and smell leaves that have fallen. This is when I remember my Mother working hard at nights, and our Meme watching us from her special chair. I miss having her around to play checkers with. We all learned lessons but somehow I believe that she taught me more than I will ever understand.


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