We had a memorial service for Tim’s Granny yesterday. Granny Ann. She passed away a couple of weeks ago.
I haven’t written about it because in a way it feels like borrowed grief. She wasn’t my granny – I only knew her for ten years, not a whole lifetime. So it feels sort of presumptuous.
But I wanted to write down what I knew about Granny Ann.
I miss her. She always wore hiking boots, indoors and out. Boots and hardy tweed skirts, and when she sat on the sofa to do the crossword she would put a sheet of The Times on the cushion and put her muddy feet up.
I learned to love playing cards with Granny. Endless games of Oh Hell in a lamp-lit sitting room, with the darkness drawing in outside. She was a keen and exact card player, and woe betide you if you dealt in the wrong direction or got distracted during your turn.
At Christmas and Easter she brought bags and bags of chocolate. We split it between us and walked it off afterwards, Granny stumping on ahead with her stick and her cheerful hairy dog. Later on we walked ahead while she walked behind. Later still she stayed indoors while we walked, reading The Times with her feet up.
We took baby Henry to visit her just after he was born. She held him and we took photos, and then I asked her about her childhood and her youth and she talked for an hour, telling me stories about a house by the sea and driving a car in South Africa. I’ve forgotten the details, and I wish I hadn’t. I wish I’d written it down.
Every birthday, every Christmas, every anniversary, for Tim and me and the boys when they came: a card on the mat. A beautiful card that she’d chosen to suit us. A cheque inside. Granny’s cheques got us through many skinny patches in our early married life, and then later on eased us through broken cars, sent us for much-needed dinner dates, bought the boys’ coats and shoes, allowed me in early motherhood to go for a haircut, when only a haircut stood between me and feeling like I’d never be a proper human being again.
She could be fierce. She often was. She was sharply intelligent, brisk and no-nonsense, but generous to a fault. Early on she discovered my favourite cheese, and from then on she would send Waitrose bags across with Tim’s mum every now and again. A fat squashy parcel of sausages from the butcher. Shiny oranges, a few pages from the Times supplement she thought I might enjoy, and my favourite cheese. Who was I, really? That’s what I think about, now. I was just the wife of one of her twelve grandchildren. How did she keep room in her head for my cheese preferences?
Earlier this year she came for afternoon tea, to see our new house. It was high summer. She ate my apple cake and brought juice and tiny mince pies. Both our patio doors were wide open and the sun streamed in to soften all our edges. Teddy sat on the floor and fed Binky his raisins. It was the only time she came here, in the end. I can’t remember whether we knew it at the time, but perhaps we did.
There was a moment, a few days after she died, when I realised that we’d never see a card in her handwriting on our doormat, ever again. The absence of her was new and awful. I cried.
She wasn’t my granny, but I loved her. Because of her I know about long lives, well-lived; about the power of detailed, consistent thoughtfulness, about good manners and getting on with things and keeping your end up. That’s quite a lot for ten years. And Granny Ann, I’m grateful.