You probably wouldn’t have picked my Gran (father’s mother) to be longest lived of my Grandparents.
Four foot nothing and with less flesh on her than a Chicken McNugget she lived a sheltered life, not extending much beyond her husband, her family and her church. Anything new was “how do they think of these things?” and the science fiction posters on my bedroom wall would easily give her nightmares when she stayed over.
When we were kids we used to catch the bus with my mum and dad every Sunday and trek across to the other side of town. My Gran would have dinner ready for us after she returned from church (sometimes we would go with her, albeit slightly unwillingly). The things I will always remember about that back room: the two arm chairs both positioned in front of the coal fire, the smell of my Granddad’s pipe tobacco, a faded poster of some faraway place under the stairs, the small cool space of the pantry, the small knife and fork drawers that revolved out from the smooth wooden surfaces and the tick-tick-tick of the clock on the cupboard.
Sometimes if he was in a particularly good mood my Granddad (hereafter referred to as Little Granddad – the name we gave him as kids so we could easily clarify who we were talking about) would quote odd bits of poetry and laugh without explanation, “And the hooded owl went twit-twoo”, or take us out into the back garden and show us his goldfish: which he used to check every morning during the winter, breaking the ice to try and keep them alive.
In the afternoon the whole family would pile into my Little Granddad’s Robin Reliant. God alone knows how 6 of us fitted into that small 3-wheeler – it must have required some serious re-writing of the laws of physics
(picture shows a Reliant Robin of a similar make to my Granddad's)
If the weather was good we would sometimes go up to the nearby park, but mostly we would transfer over to my Nan and Granddad (mum’s side) for tea. .
Sometimes, when my parents wanted a night to themselves, we would stop over at my Gran’s – sleeping in the same tiny back room where my dad and his brother had grown up (though mostly we stayed at my Nan’s). In later years I always used to have to stoop slightly coming down the stairs so that I didn’t bang my head on the ceiling.
After my Granddad died in 1987we saw my Gran increasingly less. It’s inevitable: you get to that age in your life and suddenly its only birthdays and Christmas. Sometimes I would drive, walk or cycle over to see her and say hello and she would always be pleased to see me.
Every Christmas Eve I would drive through the heavy traffic to pick her up and she would stay at our house for a few days, using either mine or my brother’s room as a temporary home.
I remember one Christmas, the most miserable Christmas ever: probably around 1998-2000. We were all struck down with a bad cold and feeling like death. We were all convinced that Gran was going to die, upstairs in my brother’s bed.
But she didn’t. She kept on going, still producing her own father’s ventriloquist dummies from time to time, still marvelling at how wonderful the modern world was, still writing her poems and enjoying her church and her garden. We kept joking that she would live to get her telegram from the Queen on her 100th Birthday (although I believe that this tradition is now sadly no more).
Gran died in late 2002 leaving an empty space in all our lives. I still think about her a lot, more than my other grandparents: but I still miss them all.
On the day of the funeral we went round to her house one final time and walked around it in silence. Everything was gone: my mum had hired the house clearers without telling us. Never again would I hear the tick-tick-tick of the clock, or stand in the doorway of the pantry and imagine my Gran reaching up to a high shelf. Never again would I see her, standing in the garden on a warm April day and admiring the flowers.
They scattered her ashes in the fishpond at the crematorium: the same place they’d scattered her husband all those years ago. She never did get her telegram from the Queen.
Happy 99th Birthday Gran: I still love you as much as ever and you are always in my heart.
On a final note: the below clip takes you to an instrumental cover version of a Genesis track that, for some reason, always makes me think of my Grandparents (I think it’s the gentle picture of rural England). Lyrics are reproduced below.
Sunday at six when they close both the gates
A widowed pair, still sitting there
Wonder if they're late for church
And it's cold so they fasten their coats
And cross the grass, they're always last
Passing by the padlocked swings
The roundabout still turning
Ahead they see a small girl
On her way home with a pram
Inside the archway
The priest greets them with a courteous nod
He's close to God
Looking back at days of four instead of two
Years seem so few
Heads bent in prayer
For friends not there
Leaving tuppence on the plate
They hurry down the path and through the gate
And wait to board the bus
That ambles down the street