Grandmimine & me - Ottawa 1990 ish

Treasures of Grandmother: Her gift of Reusing, Yoga & a Natural Life

Posted on November 3, 2011

The IWAV Transitions fund raiser went well and the Blue Lily Wool dress raised $350, had an exciting bidding war & went off to the happy winner.  The evening was lovely and as there are so few occasions to go out and get dressed up on Salt Spring, this was a delight.  There were white table cloths, beautiful flower arrangements on each table and the food was an assortment of local cheeses and oven fired bread with fruit at every table.  The place was packed and all the tickets had sold.

The theme of the night was “Treasures” and when I got up to introduce my dress to describe its many virtues & the process of the construction, I found myself sharing why I do what I do – the origins and links to the idea of treasures in my life.  So it goes like this…

My maternal Grandmother Jeanne Leblanc was a wonderfully unusual combination of tradition and way ahead of her time.  She was by birth and origin a French Canadian Catholic woman who was very devoted to her faith until the day she died.  In the 1960, when Swami Vishnu Devananda came to Montreal to teach the West the virtues of Eastern spirituality and yoga, for reasons I don’t know, she went to a class and started her lifelong yoga practice with him as her teacher.  And from that time on, my Grandmimine as I called her, was introduced a natural lifestyle with the physical/spiritual practice of yoga into her life.  Somehow she lived in harmony with the unusual duality of her Catholicism and her yoga practice.  She was a French Canadian Catholic Yogini – this is how I’ve described her when I trying to be succinct about this multi faceted woman.

The practice of yoga brought her awareness to natural food so she acquired some of the tools of the trade – a juicer being one.  As a young child I was familiar with the sounds of her juicer, the yellowy brownish apple juice that she made or the more exotic brilliant orange carrot juice and always the words “C’est tout naturel et de bonne qualite – c’est bon pour toi et ta sante!”  Upon waking up after a sleepover it was quite normal to find her either in a headstand or in the middle of her morning practice doing her Sun Salutations.  In attempts to get her attention to ask about breakfast I would try to get at eye level with her which usually meant some kind of upside down pretzel move to request some toast.  Those were golden mornings, soft light and then the smell of toast cooked on a folded metal wire hanger slightly burnt on the edges and singed with the imprint of the metal, my favourite, served with butter & mashed banana.

Yoga was a household word in my family way before it was the trendy consumerist body conscious exercise it can be today.  Even though I began doing yogic postures at 5 years old by copying my Grandmother in those morning rituals, in 1984, at the ripe age of 14, I went to Sivananda yoga classes in Ottawa and to a the Sivananda Yoga Centre in the Bahamas for a week long retreat with my Mom. The classes and ashrams were run by aging hippies with long braids (often both men and women) clad with drawstring cotton baggy pants and tanks, women with no bras and unshaven underarms.  Sivananda Yoga, the practise my Grandmother followed and I did by the virtue of inheritance, is so different than many of the contemporary styles today.  The practice started with a hearty schedule of 12 Sun Salutations to start and the shivasana (corpse pose) after every posture – a little lie down after anything strenuous – and the final shivasana and relaxation was the longest and most in depth I have yet to experience in any other yoga class.

But this long winded meandering story, is really about the gifts which this very unique woman imparted to me and which became some of the most important principles and values in my life as a woman and mother.  These principles & values ultimately shaped my life and my chosen lifestyle in very significant ways.  The authentic nature of my involvement with natural food, yoga, alternative healing modalities, reusing, & natural lifestyles which are almost mainstream now (yoga in every city and town, Whole Foods Corp etc), were seeds planted in the offerings from the very embodiment of Jeanne’s life were adopted by my 14 years old self and have stayed with me to this day.  In high school when my teenaged peers were preppies and into the nasty fashions of the 80′s, the plastic culture of the time, I was working at a health food store, dreaming of living off the land, going to yoga class, learning herbology and becoming a vegetarian.

My Grandmimine Jeanne was so full of heart, strong, stubborn, determined, kind kind kind, loving, dedicated to her only child (my Mom) and to me, her only Granddaughter. And just before she died she got to meet her Great Granddaughter Codi.

Her imprint lasted with these words: all natural – quality –  handmade – made from scratch – love.  ”Je t’aime” was always on her lips.

She sewed, was very fashionable, frugal, full of light, thoughtful, independent, willful, courageous, determined, easily startled, squealed, laughed easily, fabulous cook, indulged me, accepted me & loved fiercely.

As a teenager, I asked her often to teach me to sew but I couldn’t exercise the patience to learn.  I didn’t want to sew with a pattern and that is how she believed one began the process of learning the skill. She would often reconstruct clothing out of necessity & frugality.  For her this was just treasuring what she had, making use of it: recycling. She’d change the neck line on a garment making it lower cut, more comfortable & feminine.  My Grandmimine was a petite woman who had a figure that I am sure had men notice, lovely bosom curvaceous and slender.  And she took care of herself with yoga and eating well, walking instead of having a car…

She is in me with genetics to be sure, I inherited the beautiful thick mane of hair known on the maternal side of my family – my Mom got her hair, then I did and lucky for my girls they got her hair too with some curls added to the mix (where did that come from?the milkman…) lucky ducks, though they don’t know it yet.  But not only that, I was given a recipe for a healthy body with the spirit of feminine beauty with a thoughtful natural recycling philosophy of adornment and fashion.  To reuse what we have, items we treasure transformed, made special again and given new life, resurrected.  A true Eco.fashionista way ahead of her time.

The only garment we made together in the end was my first foray into recycling and reconstruction.  She had a heather grey wool pullover vest that she had cut the neckline in a low scoop neck, I loved it and she was willing to give it to me.  Then I thought: what if we cut it down the middle and laced the front back up like a medieval laced bodice.  We found a beautiful piece of chestnut coloured velvet ribbon in her sewing box and we proceeded to make the holes in the vest edges necessary for lacing.  It worked perfectly.  I loved this thing and wore it to death!  In those days I was particularly enamoured with pre-Raphaelite art, Waterhouse and the like – in the vest we made together I felt like a damsel from the days of old.

In the picture above you can see my Grandmimine Jeanne and myself wearing that reconstructed grey wool vest newly made (you can see only a peek of the velvet ribbon at the top of that hug).

I wish she could see what I’ve learned and made.   If she is with her God in Heaven then maybe she can.

I know she would be proud of me, my own version of her legacy.

Je t’aime Grandmimine. xxoo

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