Thursday, 7 April 2011

Thoughts for a Thursday: Grandparents

Recently I've had a few conversations about grandparents, and their importance in people's lives. I think it's sad that most of my nieces and nephews only have one grandparent. Admittedly, she's a pretty cool grandmother to have. (Love you Mum!). I also feel sorry for those of my friends who didn't have close relationships with their grandparents.

Until I was about 3, I had one great-grandfather, three grandads, and two nanas. I don't remember my great-grandad. And I had very little to do with one of my grandads (actually my clearest memory related to him is of his funeral). And, one of my grandads died when I was nine. However, my memories of that time are pretty hazy, so I don't remember much of him, unfortunately.

What I do remember of that house was the freedom. This was the house where kids - in my case, kid, singular - were expected to entertain themselves while the adults caught up and talked about adult things. I was brought in for food and drink (the biscuit tin was always full - sultana pasties, hundreds & thousand biscuits, in particular, where much prized. And, somehow, the sachet drink at Nana's always tasted different from anywhere else. This Nana became the Biscuit Nana). This house had a magic table (my older siblings called it Aslan's Table). It had a garden that was free range. I could pick and eat pretty much anything. The rules were unspoken, but clear. It was magic. (These are my Dad's parents.)

The other Nana and Grandad lived in two different houses in my memory, and I don't remember much of the first one. Well, snippets. The second one was a unit in a set of pensioner units. That would be why there were toys to play with inside. (This Nana became known as the Toy Nana).

Although this set of grandparents were around longer, and I built stronger, more adult, relationships with them, as a child their house didn't have the same sense of freedom as the other. And, somehow, wasn't quite as child-friendly and welcoming - although to all appearances, it should have been.

The Biscuit Nana was a product of her time. She grew up before she should have, with adult responsibilities at a too young age, supporting her family. They were a non-demonstrative couple, but hugs and kisses were received and given when we visited. Nana worked most of her life. Unusually for her time, she learnt to drive, mostly because Grandad couldn't, as he had lost his eye in a workplace accident. She was strongly independent, in a quiet way. They struggled in the Depression, but held it together. She was only able to have two children, but accepted their in-laws, and had strong bonds with Nana's family. Nana was always a snazzy dresser, with great shoes. If only any of us had inherited her colouring: blue-black hair, with violet-blue eyes. Aunty Gwen got the eyes, and they are stunning.
[Every morning, Dad would ring his mum and they would talk and talk and talk. When Nana moved in with us (just for a short while before she died) every morning he'd put on his dressing gown, and sit at the end of his Mum's bed and they'd talk and talk and talk. The first morning after Nana's death, Dad rang his sister - at the same time he used to ring his mum - and said 'we're orphans'. It hit me then that, no matter how old you are, whether you were a grandparent or whatever, you will always be a child. And you will always need your Mum and Dad.]
Grandad was bedridden for most of my life, but he relished and cherished his grandchildren - we could do no wrong in his eyes. If you've ever wondered why I have two teaspoons of sugar in my drinks, you can blame him. I can remember staying with them, and Grandad bringing in my breakfast on a tray in the morning - breakfast in bed! He spoiled us - and part of it would be a glass of milk with two sugars. He also gave us money when we visited, for treats (I got 50 cents, my older siblings got less. Inflation guys!).

The Toy Nana and Grandad. It is hard to compare of course! And the fact they died when I was an adult changes your perspective. But, my Little Miss Matchy-Matchy traits come from this Nana, I'm sure of it. (Shoes, I can blame on both of them - and my mum). Again, independent woman. Oh, and she passed her organisation / volunteering / crafting propensity to her daughter, and hence to me.
Grandad was a gentle soul, giving and accepting. He had six children. It didn't matter to him who was the biological father - they were all his. To his dying day, he wished he knew who his biological father was. How does a man cope when he comes home from work one day, having left behind that morning his wife and infant daughter, and is greeted by two older daughters calling him dad? He adopts them legally but, more importantly, takes them as his - in his heart. The joy when he was reunited with his first daughter (from his first marriage) - after 58 years! - was just beautiful.

Do I miss them? Damn straight.
If the Biscuit Nana was alive, I could show her that the $400 she gave me to help buy textbooks in my first year at university (and that my inheritance from her paid my uni fees for the next two years of my BA) was worth it. That I didn't cost my dad a lot of money. That I used my degree to good effect. That I did it. (Until fairly recently, I'm the only one of my family - pretty sure both sides - with a degree.) We could talk cricket. And rugby. And league.
If Grandad C was alive (always Grandad Cxxxxxx - and Dad was just Grandad. No surname. That was his dad) I could ask for help with my garden. I could make him a cuppa.
If the Toy Nana was alive, I could show off my craft skills, and talk about our cats. I could ring up for cooking advice. And we could chat.
If Grandad F was alive we could talk about books. I could introduce him to some fabulous new children's books that have been published. He would have LOVED Harry Potter! We could complain about the fact that there's very few fantasy books published in large print.
If they were alive I would cherish them, as I might not have done while they were alive. I was too young, in some instances, to do so. I would love them. I would show them that the lessons they passed on - intentionally or not - have been heeded.

At nearly 40 I have learned that you always need your grandparents. That they are some of the most valuable people in your lives. If yours are still alive - and, if you really love them - tell them. Now.
If you are grandparentless - think about what they mean to you. And think it into the universe.
We know they're listening. Why should death stop them from keeping an eye on us?
Nothing will stop that love.

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