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

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