Tag Archives: Remembrance

How to make someone feel better about anything (for Grandpa, 1928-2015)

It was..somewhere in 2007, or 2008? I was intensely vulnerable, cramped, unsettled, unhappy. Nowhere near my best self, and painfully aware of it. Something small had happened to make me feel all of those things more acutely.

I sat in my mother-in-law’s car, shivering, with a knot in my stomach. On Grandpa’s driveway (Tim’s Grandpa, not mine, though I’d mentally adopted them both as my own some months before, and hadn’t told them). Grandpa Tom came out and opened the door. He took my hand in his – a firm, warm grip – and looked me very steadily in the eye.

‘You are one of us now’, he said. ‘Don’t you forget it.

‘You’re ours now, and we’re not leaving.’

He really meant it. I believed it. I can’t think of a better indication of the kind of man he was.

I’ve always hoped I’ll be able to do the same for someone else, someday.

Photo 25-12-2010, 10 56 49 pm (800x640)

Ten years of Granny

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.

The invisible soldier

I edited a book this summer and loved it. It was about the history of the LDS church in the St Albans area, but really it was about family history. I spent afternoon after afternoon looking at cracked and grainy photos of family groups, fascinated: Victorians in ruffled collars, navy men, women in fur coats with luminous eyes. And then there was Ernest.

There were two of Ernest, taken at the same time: one by himself, and the other with his wife and four tiny children. He is in his early thirties. He has a pencil moustache. His army uniform is so new you can almost see the starch. They took the photos, and then he left for the trenches. I imagine they took them in case that was the last piece of him they had.

It wasn’t, thankfully. He was lucky, or as lucky as you get when you’ve served at the Front. He came back, had another baby, resumed his life. He had a beautiful tenor voice, and sang in the choir. But his health was bad, now. Nine years after coming home from the mud and filth and gunfire, he was dead at 43. His oldest boy was fourteen, his baby only three. There are stories then about his son, forced to be the man of the house in his early teens. There are photos of them all as adults: the mother, the daughters, the son who had to take his father’s place before he was ready. The space where Ernest should be.

I read it, pushed away my computer, and sobbed, heartbroken. I won’t ever find Ernest’s name on a memorial, but the war came to find him just as surely as it found the boys in the fields. And so his wife, and his son, and his daughters were victims too. The war – this war, and all our wars – left fractures everywhere. So many of them were invisible, but no less painfully felt.

And so I find myself wearing a poppy this Remembrance Sunday because there are things I would say to Ernest if I could. I would tell him I was grateful. I would tell him that the life I lead is directly thanks to the choice he made to defend it. I would tell him they probably missed his voice like anything in the choir.

I would tell him that I remember.

Fear no more the heat o’ the sun,
Nor the furious winter’s rages;
Thou thy worldly task hast done,
Home art gone, and ta’en thy wages:
Golden lads and girls all must,
As chimney-sweepers, come to dust.
No exorciser harm thee!
Nor no witchcraft charm thee!
Ghost unlaid forbear thee!
Nothing ill come near thee!
Quiet consummation have;
And renownèd be thy grave!
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A note

This blog deals mostly in trivialities. Today I’m thinking of good friends who have lost someone truly lovely, and can’t find any trivialities to write about.

The beauty of this human soul of ours is that often things can be felt more in quiet than they can be said in words. So today I’m making space to be quiet, and remember.

Except to say that: some lives inspire you to live yours better. For which, I am grateful.

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