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Grandma's smokes Add to ...

A few years ago when the rest of my family was out of town, I went to visit my grandmother. As the two of us had never been out to a movie without the other family members along, I thought it would be a nice idea.

I walked into the care home and she appeared, sitting in her wheelchair; she has had several strokes and multiple falls. She was still wearing her bulky red winter jacket, evidence that she had just been outside to inhale yet another cigarette.

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When she saw me, she clasped her hands together and a sunny smile appeared on her face. I gave her a hug and told her about my idea to see a movie together, a suggestion she eagerly accepted. I reminded her about the cardinal movie theatre rule: She wouldn't be able to have a cigarette for well over an hour.

"I know that," she said impatiently. "I'll have my smoke before the show."

My grandmother Carma is incomparable. She despises only one thing: the colour green. "It's ugly," is the only reason she ever offers for resenting the hue. Family members aren't permitted to buy her clothes, linens, jewellery or anything else that features the despicable colour.

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Her loves, however, are many: her family, chicken fettuccine, a charm bracelet with a picture of her only great-grandchild, coffee with cream and no sugar, matinees and popcorn, Scrabble and pie from the local municipal airport's small café. But there is one love that trumps all the rest: her cigarettes.

She looked at me out of deep, disarming eyes. Brown and small, I knew they held infinite mischievous ideas. Often when I looked at her, I wondered what she was like when she was my age. I wished she would tell me more tales about meeting my grandfather, who was in the army, and what it was like to raise five children virtually on her own. I knew that behind those eyes lay stories of survival, disappointment, love and passion.

Suddenly, a sharp sound interrupted my thoughts. "Cigarette!" my grandmother screeched.

She is never without her beloved Craven As. When the cigarettes run out, her patience and sense of propriety disappear along with them. I took her outside for another cigarette before we got into my car and headed to the movie theatre.

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Once we had arrived, I reminded her again of the movie protocol. She looked mildly frustrated, and I felt bad repeating myself, but I remembered tales of my mother's embarrassment when she had taken my grandmother to the movies and I wasn't ready to repeat her experiences.

After getting our tickets, we made our way into the dimmed theatre. Because my grandmother was wheelchair-bound, we were able to get prime seats in the very back row. I felt a bit relieved; so far, this wasn't as difficult as I'd anticipated it would be.

Forty-five minutes later, right in the thick of a comedy that just wasn't that funny, my grandmother began to squirm in her chair. I leaned over.

"How are you doing, Grandma?" I whispered.

"I need a smoke." She glanced at me through the darkness, no doubt awaiting an affirmative response. I told her she couldn't have one right now and reminded her about the promise she had made.

She sat back in her chair and stared straight at the screen. I knew she was angry with me, but the movie would be over soon. I turned my attention back to the film. We were at a pivotal part where the main character professes her love to the man of her dreams. The movie theatre was silent.

"I need a smoke!" my grandmother bellowed at me, even though I was sitting right next to her. People all around us turned to look. Some muttered under their breath. My mortification soared to new heights. My grandmother looked at me expectantly.

"Grandma!" I hissed. "That is no way to behave in a movie theatre! Where are your manners?"

She repeated that she wanted her cigarette. She had no fear, and she obviously wasn't concerned about what anyone around her thought. For a flickering moment, I admired her audacity, but I wasn't about to give in. I promised her she would have her cigarette as soon as the movie was over.

Less than a minute later, out of the corner of my eye, I saw something move. I glanced over in my grandmother's direction and saw that she was slowly wheeling herself backward through the double doors. I knew I had to admit defeat. I got up out of my seat and followed her to the lobby, where she was making a beeline for the doors to the outside world - the world of nicotine freedom. I arrived at her side to find her puffing on a cigarette, her eyes closed, a look of sweet serenity upon her face.

She opened her eyes. "I'm sorry, dear, but the movie just isn't that good," my grandmother said, as if the reason she had just raced to leave the theatre had nothing to do with her habit.

I laughed. I had to hand it to her - my grandma was a fighter and she knew how to get what she wanted, but always in an endearing way. No one could ever be frustrated with her for very long, least of all me.

With a small, inaudible sigh, I suggested we go get a slice of pie and some coffee. My grandmother smiled up at me while flicking the last ashes of her cigarette onto the pavement. "That would be lovely," she said.

Crystal Auffray lives in Victoria.

Illustration by Tara Hardy.

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