No, I’ve not changed my blog title. Although 29 is approaching with alacrity, and I do enjoy being snuggled down on the sofa with a blanket and a logic problem book at 9pm on a Friday night, I don’t feel I’ve reached the necessity of this title just yet. You may disagree. Tough.
No, in two days, on February 23rd, we shall be celebrating my Grandma’s birthday. She will be 81. I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking that my Grandma is the best. (She is.) There would never be sufficient time to tell you all about an Ouzo-drinking (in her younger Greek holidaying days), piece of the Parthenon owning (it’s like a small scale Elgin Marbles scenario), just under 5 foot tall lady, but you get a picture of who I’m describing here: someone out of the ordinary. I’ve learnt a lot from Grandma, and here are seven key lessons in a life well lived.
My lovely Grandma
Lesson One is a brief one; you’re not old, you’re older.
If I give you the word ‘old’, what comes to mind?
‘Old’ comes with many connotations, not many of which are positive. Grandma’s teaching was to describe as ‘older’. It’s still true and doesn’t instantly conjure up a caricature. Older people are fascinating, often with stories that are quite incredible, especially to someone with a love of history. Older people were once your age, they’ve just, well, aged. Older people are actually somewhat unstoppable, which leads me neatly to…
Lesson Two; you’re never too old to try something new.
In 1956, Grandma and Grandad purchased a plot of land, just off Whitton Dene. There was no house on this corner plot yet, but here their first home was built. I have vivid memories of Care Bear wallpaper and the bunk beds, an old metal swing in the garden, and a low apple tree. In the garage there was an inspection pit dug out in the centre for my Grandad, the mechanic, to mend everyone’s cars.
Many happy childhood memories were made here; summer barbecues with musical accompaniment, mini Olympics round the crescent, and drifting off to sleep under the Heathrow flight path. Into our teenage years it was a most handy location for us and the cousins to access London, coming complete with a loving taxi service from Hounslow East. You could even hear REM concerts and rugby crowds at Twickenham from the back garden.
While everyone else’s Grandma was gradually slowing down to a more sedate pace of life, mine was jetting off to Florida and Israel, and running the older person’s group (including catering for 50 at a time) well into her 70s.
Then, in 2011, after living in the same house for 55 years, where she’d lived with my Grandad until his death in 1994, where her 3 children had been born and grown up, Grandma moved. There was consternation among her friends – moving over an hour from ‘town’ to the Hampshire countryside, leaving all her friends behind. A move of madness!
Grandma hasn’t looked back.
She’s up and down the M3 on the National Express to Heathrow with regularity, and zipping up to Manchester on trains. She’s thrown herself into various organisations, her weekly exercise class, church, the Trefoil Guild, being a ‘Be-Friender’ for Live at Home. The midweek communion even meets in her flat when repairs are carried out to the church.
The reason Grandma moved was to be closer to my parents.
The reason for that was because she had a hip replacement that went badly wrong.
It wasn’t her first hip replacement, but this time when the surgeons went to attach the mesh and bone with cement, cement leaked out the back of the mesh and entrapped the nerve on her right leg. Lesson Three is that determination is the bedrock of success.
She was told she might not get the feeling back. She might be unable to walk again, or if she did it would take a very long time. My Grandma. My independent, strong-minded and force to be reckoned with Grandma.
It wasn’t easy, but nothing was going to stop Grandma. She went to Physio, and worked hard, through pain, to walk again, defying expectations and getting there faster than the professionals ever expected. Her attitude and determination kept her focused on what was ahead. We are a bit more careful now, don’t take Grandma on several mile hikes anymore.
So in miles per hour, Grandma now takes life slower. But only in that one respect.
Although Grandma lives life in the fast lane with a social life more exciting than mine, she always has time for people. And Lesson Four is just that: time has the greatest value. Amongst the cousins, I don’t think there’s one who hasn’t been the grateful recipient of Grandma’s listening ear, and shoulder to cry on. Time with Grandma is time well spent.
This has also provided us with a great answer to the question ‘what do you buy the lady who has everything?’ You spend time with her. You go to the cinema with her, to a National Trust house, out for afternoon tea.You offer to teach her how to use her Freeview box (again). You drive her places now that she no longer drives, and enjoy a day out together. You spend time, and make memories.
No occasion is now complete (there’s no excuse since she lives so close), if Grandma is not there. My brothers and I are fortunate as when we’re all together, we are regularly forgiven for teasing Grandma. There was the time her Army neighbour bought her home a bong from Afghanistan. (It became a pen holder, so she tells us). We suggested the name ‘Great Granny Barb’ in anticipation of her first great-grandchild, and occasionally use it as a term to wind her up. A term of endearment, I mean endearment. ‘Grandma, get a tattoo!’ we’ve encouraged. No movement on that one as yet, but as you’ll have seen, we’ll never say never with Grandma.
‘Great Granny Barb’, or Nana as she prefers to be known, and her first great-grandchild
While it sounds like we tease Grandma mercilessly, we have this rapport through time spent together.
She is also generous to us because of Lesson Five: you can’t take it with you. Even when you take Grandma out for a birthday or Christmas outing, it’s hard to stop her paying for the tea and cake. We’ve all been the grateful recipients of timely gifts at one stage or another, and it’s a reminder to myself to be generous. The financial cost of a coffee or breakfast may be nothing compared to how blessed the recipient feels.
Lesson Six is another reminder to myself: be organised. My Grandma was the district commissioner for the Girl Guide company my Mum was in. Maybe it was the lack of girl guiding (I danced instead) that is the missing link, but somewhere along the line, I have misplaced the ‘Uber Organised’ gene that I feel is rightfully mine via the female line.
Without the aid of a laptop (we feel it may soon be time for the advent of an iPad in Grandma’s life), Grandma has organised coach holidays for 50 and catered for wedding receptions.
From Grandma and Mum, I have learnt the value of organisation. I have witnessed how never to waste anything, to make do and mend, to use leftovers for soup, to run a tight ship. Now all I need to do is put all that into practice.
The last lesson I am sharing here, the seventh, is a crucial one: there’s nothing like a shared bottle of red.
I’m sure you’ve heard many a mother-in-law joke in the past, but to me they’ve had no real relevance. I love my Dad’s relationship with my Grandma.
Many’s the time they’ve shared ‘just a half a glass for me’ of red wine (and the rest of the bottle). They will hang out, just the two of them. I’ve never heard my Dad say a bad word about my Grandma. They get on, genuinely and brilliantly. And they are both partial to a glass of red wine. As am I.
My Dad’s own Mum died when he was 25, and I wasn’t born until he was 29. Sadly I never got to meet my other Grandma (although I understand the two Grandmas got on well) and unfortunately we did not see a great deal of my Dad’s Dad, who died when I was 21. I was surprised to learn after he died that they had taken part in many an amateur dramatic theatre production. I imagine grandparent experiences would have been very different had my other Grandma lived. But, thanks to Grandma, I never feel I’ve missed out in the grandparent stakes. She has been all the grandparent one could wish for.
Thank you Grandma, for being you. Here’s to many more years and happy memories…with lots of love…