THE LOVE

Both my Grandparents died towards the end of 2014. Granny – Margaret – was 91, and Grandad – Wilfred – was 93. They had been married for 73 years.

The saddest thing I saw in 2014 was my Grandad hunching over the grave of my Granny at her funeral, addled with dementia and weakened by the loss of his life-long comrade. It is never easy to say goodbye but it was less harrowing to see Grandad going into the ground beside her just three months later and to imagine that they are reunited once more. Granny and Grandad bickered constantly but the length of their marriage is amazing: it is a true testimony to THE LOVE.

When we were small we stayed in their beautiful house. I always remember this as a happy place with crisp clean sheets, light, freshness, and the smells of powder, soap, cooking and tomato plants growing in the conservatory. In this house we ate tasty things baked by Granny, learnt how to construct things from lego, and marveled at the elephant poo mountain which Grandad proudly blagged from the circus each year. We rolled around on the lawns and carpets respectively learning about garden-spiders and forget-me-nots and the illicit filmic worlds of Romancing the Stone, Jewel of the Nile and Smokey and the Bandit. Grandad loved to tape things for us to watch and would sometimes warn us that there was some “language” involved. We loved “language” and relished being allowed to hear it at Granny and Grandad’s house.

Wilf and Margaret with (from left to right) my brother Ned, me, and my cousin Nat

Wilf and Margaret with (from left to right) my brother Ned, me, and my cousin Nat

Grandad was a meticulous newspaper reader and my prevailing memory is of him breathing heavily over his spectacles and consulting the Guardian and the Radio Times, encircling television items of possible interest, completing the crossword, and – when we were old enough – carefully folding the paper away and engaging us in discussions about the issues and affairs of the day. As disrespectful youngsters we did unkind impersonations of Grandad and his newspaper. We likened his concentrated breathing to that of Darth Vader. However now I recall that sound only with fondness and recollections of broadsheets folded under spectacles and a tv remote.

Me and Grandad at Aunty Hilary's house, that tam I am wearing had a C&A label in it and I remember it well

Me and Grandad at Aunty Hilary’s house, I am about four in this picture

My grandparents’ house was always neat with all the surfaces smooth and tidy but I discovered that if I asked nicely, Granny could produce treasure from unknown corners. She impressed upon me the truly sacred nature of textiles; certain things would appear wrapped in tissue paper to be discussed in hushed tones… I remember an embroidered silk dressing gown and a piece of African needlework featuring gold thread. Granny was herself an extremely talented embroiderer and went through a phase of doing dragons and cockerels intricately worked and covered in teeny tiny beads and couching. She also had a practical side and was forever “having a turn out” in which unwanted clothes would be palmed off onto my mum and her sister making room in her wardrobe for new ones. Granny loved new clothes and I was encouraged to follow suit. When I was a teenager one of her bugbears was my insistence on wearing giant holey sweaters for weeks at a time which would always induce a tut and remarks like “surely you’re not still wearing that old thing”.

My brothers and I all discovered the same trick when staying with Granny and Grandad and this was to always ask for a certain book from their wondrous Beatrix Potter story book box set. Many beloved titles in this collection were rather short but there was one which was an epic and it was this one which we always requested. I remember Granny asking me several times during readings of that book whether or not I was tired, to which I would always reply that no I most certainly was not. She eventually took to saying we could pick anything from the box “except that one”. I loved story time with Granny. As well as Beatrix Potter’s stories I remember her reading “Little Women” and “Good Wives” to me. She liked Amy best and I liked Jo.

Granny was staying with us the very first time I kissed a boy. I came home rather traumatised by this experience and recall her rough, embarrassed kindness, and being hustled up to bed with the reassuring words “you don’t need to be chasing around after silly boys”. When I was 17 I traveled to Cairo with my grandparents and we stayed with my uncle who was living there. I was undergoing a feminist awakening. I had a shaved head, wore the same cardigan for the whole trip (“that old thing”) and was decidedly down on THE PATRIARCHY. My Grandad – teacher, carpenter, mason, Christian, patriarch – was no fan of these choices, nor of my chosen reading materials at the time – The Great Cosmic Mother: Rediscovering The Religion Of The Earth by Monica Sjöö and Barbara Mor, and Possessing the Secret of Joy by Alice Walker. We argued lots.

Grandad asked me about my future plans. I said I was thinking of moving to Ireland to live in a treehouse and he went ballistic. He announced that he couldn’t go off gallivanting around at my age because he’d been fighting a war to which I replied with the appallingly simplistic confidence of youth that there was no point to that war if his children’s children couldn’t enjoy freedom of choice.

Several years later I read Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks and the second I finished it, I sent it to Grandad along with a letter of apology conceding that I could never imagine what he had lived through in World War II and that I was extremely lucky to live in relative freedom in tree-houses in my old scruffy jumper with my feminist boots on. He sent an extraordinary reply listing the many wars of the 1900s and ending with a warm paragraph saying he hoped me and my hippie comrades could teach the world “that killing people will never solve the world’s problems”. I was very moved by this concession and have never forgotten that letter.

As well as these specific incidents my general memory of my grandparents in one of being cheered on. Granny and Grandad came to all our concerts, took an interest in our education, sent us cards and treats when we passed exams and encouraged us wholeheartedly to pursue our dreams. They never told me to give up on being an artist, even when my creative focus went towards questioning everything they believed. There is a deep generosity and safety in that, and it was this – THE LOVE – that I was feeling at Grandad’s funeral on Monday. The Vicar made believers and nonbelievers equally welcome and talked very thoughtfully about LOVE; I especially liked that he asked us to remember Wilfred in many different ways including happy memories, sad memories, a time when we were angry with Wilfred, a time when he was angry with us. For in the end THE LOVE includes it all.

As well as saying goodbye to Wilfred and Margaret our family welcomed Toby in 2013 and Abigail and Barnaby in 2014. My youngest brother and his partner have another wee one on the way in 2015.

from left to right: Barnaby, Abigail, Toby

from left to right: Barnaby, Abigail, Toby

I held Barnaby throughout the funeral service on Monday, trying to keep him entertained so he didn’t grizzle or get bored. At just a few months old he is curious about everything and itching to walk, to investigate, to discover. There are forget-me-nots and spiders in his future, wondrous films to watch, “language” to learn, books to read, opinions to form, exams to pass, girls to kiss…

…I have become a bit obsessed with making the house into a nicer place. I want my little nieces and nephews to remember my home as a wondrous place full of treasure and interesting things with a nice smell and happy memories of warmth and cake. When my brother and my sister-in-law set up Barnaby’s nursery one of their most treasured gifts was the whole set of Beatrix Potter books. I hope one day to have the privilege of reading to Barnaby from these tomes, and wonder how long it will be before he figures out which is the longest one and insists on having it at story time.

So although it has been sad to lose my grandparents there is more to celebrate than to mourn; we had them for a long time and they gave us a lot. They were both ill and frail at the end, and I am glad that they aren’t frustrated or suffering any more. I am also relieved they are together again.

I hope Toby and Abigail and Barnaby have as many years ahead of them as Wilfred and Margaret did back in the 1920s and that I can pass some of the wondrous things I got from my grandparents on to the next generation…

Goodbye Margaret and Wilfred and Rest In Peace. You are remembered in THE LOVE.

23 Responses to THE LOVE

  1. Emmylou says:

    Love is awesome.

  2. What a wonderful wonderful piece of writing…..I lost my own Nanny (my dads mum) almost 20 years ago and my dad gave me lots of her kitchen things…. 2 nights ago I dropped one of her big pudding bowls and I promptly burst into tears, I wasn’t hurt or anything but it felt like a part of her had just been snatched away…..reading your beautiful words has reminded me that it’s not about the things loved ones leave behind what count but the memories they leave in our hearts and I’ll always have those….. my Nanny always had tins full of cakes or biscuits, could poach the best eggs, shared a very old and dry cigarette with me when I was far too young to smoke, and wore the most spectacular combinations of colourful clothes….thank you so much for writing about your grandparents and am very sure your nephews and niece will remember you and your home with more love and affections than you could ever believe possible x

  3. Terry says:

    What a beautiful tribute to two wonderful people. Thank you for this. *hugs*

  4. Mark says:

    Note to Abigail, Barnaby, Toby, and anyone else who visits:

    The house may always smell of cake (what a result!) but beware of overprotective bears near the cake tin xxx

    (^) (^)
    o o
    0
    vvvvv
    ^^^^^

  5. swantje says:

    Grandparents are so awesome and important… I didn’t have much involvement with either of mine, only very late in my granny’s life formed a fairly strong bond with her, mainly over the phone, since I was overseas. I encouraged her to speak her amazing life on tape and my uncle typed it, bound it and added photos to ‘the book’ and it now is a great source of inspiration to us and others.
    My kids never had grandparents, it continued to upset me greatly – I see it as a real loss in their lives, a missing dimension. Your post is absolutely moving.

    • Zoe Tribur says:

      Your kids never had grandparents…I assume what that means. I never had grandfathers and have always felt their absence, both in my life and in my parents’ lives.

  6. Gill says:

    felicity, that was beautiful and all so true. Mum and Dad gained such pleasure from their grandchildren and they all have the same memories as you. RIP mum and dad. My days are empty now you have both gone xxx

  7. katherine says:

    This made me cry. Twice. I have little to no memory of my grandparents, I still know I was loved by them though. I’m so glad you’ve got such great memories.

  8. Elaine says:

    My grandparents were also such an important part of my life. They have been
    gone many years now but I still remember spending time with them quite fondly on the farm and later in the city.
    Thank you for such a lovely post, Felix.

  9. Susan says:

    Oh Felicity, could hardly read the last due to tears. You were/are SO lucky to have had them. A wonderful tribute to THE LOVE. Take care and enjoy being an Auntie. Hugs

  10. Joceline says:

    My lovely house is and always will be a place of joy, hidden treasure and cake x x x x You do your grandparents proud

  11. sweetea says:

    Lovely. Yes, THE LOVE sees us through so many parts of our life. Enjoy your happy memories of your grandparents and enjoy making new ones with you niece and nephews. xo

  12. What lovely memories you have to treasure.
    Jacqui x

  13. Lara says:

    Such a lovely post Felix. Made me think of my lovely memories of my grandparents and how important the role is that they had in my life. I think your nieces and nephews will have lots of good memories of you & I love that you are thinking how your house will help with that.

    I’m so sorry you have had such a sad time and sending you big hugs and lots of LOVE. Xxxx

  14. Marilyn - Russian River, CA says:

    Oh, my, what memories your story brought back of my grandparents, maternal and paternal. Grandparents are “Angels” and I’m sure yours in heaven will be guiding you and the upcoming generation to happiness and “The Love”. Thanks for sharing. M

  15. Donna Smith says:

    What a lovely tribute. What you said about seeing your Grandad hunched over the grave gave me a lump in my throat, often the hardest part about saying goodbye to someone is seeing the people that are left behind. But it’s great you have so many wonderful memories and great to remember they contributed so much to your growing up. I think it is fantastic you are going to recreate these memories for others! Xx

  16. Caro says:

    What a beautiful post….so much food for thought and so lovely to hear such a rich account of your grandparents. So sorry to hear of your grandads passing. Honoured to read all this xxxxxxx

  17. Joanna says:

    Such wonderful writing. I am quite sad that I didn’t have much contact with my grandparents. I hope I’ll be a grandma one day and, maybe, give some small person the same kind of important memories that you share here.

  18. Penny says:

    Thank you for such a moving post Felix, about the Love, and your evocations of those you love. I love how much you brought out that encouragement and appreciation ( and honesty, humour and acceptance) really changes and shapes how kids will live their futures. My lovely Pop used to wonder out loud “I wonder where this road goes” when we were driving places with him and my Mardi. This was often just before lunch, when it was hot, and the road would often take us down dusty places and need a twelve point turn at the end. Mardi (my grandmother) would often be exasperated at this tendency, but we always found our way back again. They died a day apart, after about 63 years. Mardi taught me to make buttonholes that don’t fray, and to darn things, and cut out fabric so that I had plenty leftover, and how to roll it all up neatly so the edges were all contained. She also took us as littlies to the quarantine island in Moreton Bay looking for the graves of ancestors buried there, and told us the stories about those who made it onto the mainland (including Ellen Daniel who gave birth under a dray across from where the Treasury building in Brisbane is now: she told me this story much later!) Pop taught me to body surf in the big waves at the tail end of the cyclones, (in south east Queensland, Australia) and about how you don’t get lost, because you know which way you came in. Works as well on travels to Orkney as it does near Toowoomba. Thank you for such thought provoking posts, I always enjoy them, and I wish you some gentle pause time.

  19. Amelia says:

    Thank you for your lovely piece. I lost my grandpa at the end of November, and am struggling to come to terms with it. Your clear perspective is very helpful, thank you for reminding me that there is love through all the sadness.

  20. Rosie says:

    I loved reading this piece- it struck me as a very moving collection of memories, and reminded me of my own grandparents who I lost in the last few years. I still clearly remember all the sensory memories of their house- which were always comforting and consistent- apart from the 5 hour drive to their house, which I always spent dreading the inevitable fish pie that I knew would be waiting at the other end!

  21. Pingback: An Encouraging Thunder award and a right old waffle……. | ericka eckles

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