Posted on | January 14, 2014 | 5 Comments
Wow, look at you! You were a beauty. I used to stare at this picture painting of you as a kid. It hung on my Great Gran’s (your mum’s) wall, in an oval glass frame, etched along the edges, and suspended by a heavy chain at the top. Then it hung in your home.
As a kid I used to stare at it, finding it hard to believe that I – broad-shouldered, overweight, cumbersome – was related to such a dainty, doll-like person. (You never mentioned my weight when I was a kid – or ever – and for that I thank you. Enough people in the family did.)
I had a word with mum some years back – not morbidly, I hope, and certainly not greedily – just a quiet word in her ear. When the time came, I said, and you passed on, if nobody else in the family claimed it, I would like that photograph. So it will be mine soon, just as soon as we can work out a safe way to transport it across the Pond.
Big bummer that I am not going to be at your funeral tomorrow. This is when living thousands of miles away feels like hell. So that’s why I’m writing you a letter, to celebrate you, my memories of you, and the things I love about you. They are in no particular order.
1. Sweet, kind, gentle. These are the words that best describe you, for me. You called me “doll” and were always ready with a smile. You were soft, as a Gran should be. There was a fuzziness to your face. No, not facial hair! God, if it was, you would have got rid of it. You were always so proud of your appearance. There was a soft, sheer film of fuzz above your mouth that sometimes I would catch when the light hit it. It made me smile.
2. The caravan rallies. Sooo many memories of those. You and Grandad would take us, me and big bro, away for weekends. It rained a lot (it does that in Scotland) so there was mud. There was also a lot of to-hell-with-rain-and-mud playing, and I don’t remember you ever complaining about muddy feet and clothes. (I would have done!) There was a social every Saturday night, and dancing. You were a fine dancer – especially good at a dance called The Slosh, which can best be described as a kind of Scottish line dance, but slower, tamer. I always got mixed up with the moves. You: never. Where did bro and I sleep, for goodness’ sake? Because the whole caravan was half the size of the room I’m sitting in now. Cozy and compact was an understatement. Ornaments were glued onto surfaces so that they wouldn’t move. On the back of one door there were flags of all the Scottish Caravan Club rallies you had been to. That surface was almost completely covered. I had my first crush at a rally. I sang my first song in public at a rally social. There were a lot of naughty snacks and too much fizzy pop. I have mixed memories of those rallies: painful because of my shyness; happy because we always had a laugh with you and your pals. But it put me off camping for decades, and still has, if I’m honest. Sorry Gran, but also thank you at the same time
3. The berries. Every summer for a fair few years, you and Grandad would bring the caravan up to a farm near our town, for the school holidays. We’d pick raspberries there and so would you. Mum would even join us after work in the afternoons. I loved that, thanks to your caravan, we had somewhere to go to the loo that was more civilized than the dark shed everyone else had to go in. And I loved that we could come and eat lunch with you, usually sitting on the steps of the caravan. We all worked hard at the berries. We never questioned skiving off. If we did slow down or skip some fruit, you and Grandad were straight onto us, telling us off. I like to think the hard work ethic passed down to bro and me came from you, and from the generations before you. Because honestly, despite the fact that your side of the family was huge (six kids!), I can’t think of one slacker among them.
4. The Boxing Day shopping trips: you, me and mum. You and Grandad would come and spend Christmas, and the day after, the girls would go shopping in Dundee. If anything else is being passed down through the generations, it’s a love for a good sale.
5. You had talents I did not fully appreciate when I was younger. You could make a perfect paper flower. You sewed beautifully. And am I dreaming this or did you practice yoga back in the ’70s? Wow. Way ahead of yourself there, if my memory does serve me correctly.
6. Remember when Hubby and I came and paid you and Grandad a visit before we left for the USA? So many visits to you, both in my childhood and adult life, had been pre-planned or dominated up until then, taken over by other people. Perhaps a family meal had been arranged, or mum and dad had something to discuss with you, or there was a shopping trip planned. Bro and I, as kids, were usually plonked in front of Glen Michael’s Cartoon Cavalcade, a cartoon show on TV. And as an adult… I don’t know, for years there just wasn’t a strong connection between us, I guess. But that day, you and Grandad opened the door to us, and led us in and sat us down to a whole series of photos you had dug out. It must have taken you hours. We had the best laugh I can remember having with you. Then we all cried when we left, Grandad too. It prompted me to devote some time, over here, to collecting old family photos and making up two big family albums, past to present. Thank you for inspiring me to do that. And thank you for that precious visit.
7. Gold. I am a silver wearer. They say you’re one or the other. So when you gave me, as a leaving gift, a gold necklace and bracelet, I politely thanked you and packed it away. I wore them only once or twice. And then a funny thing happened. Last Christmas Day my best friend over here, W, gave me a gold necklace. She apologized – “I know you wear silver, take it back if you want” – but I didn’t. I immediately loved it. The morning after that late night phone call to say you had passed away – quietly in your sleep, thank goodness, because the last few weeks must have been unbearable for you, you went through so much – I dug out the gold bracelet. It goes perfectly with the necklace. I am now not exclusively a silver wearer.
Aww Gran, take care up there, and don’t let Grandad nag you. Enjoy a wee vodka on me, and here’s to you doing The Slosh every single night, not just at the caravan rally socials. A little something to make you laugh:
love you to bits