Wednesday, January 03, 2018

L'il Granny

When my Grandad died in 2008 I wrote a post where I shared some fond memories and talked about the wonderful man he was. I don't think I ever really planned to write it at the time as it seemed very final to be saying it, but something made me feel as if I needed to, to preserve something of who he was, if only for me.

I feel the need to write something similar today, because a couple of days ago my Nan passed away.

It was expected and we were all probably as ready as we could've been, but the finality of that phone call where I was told the news still took the wind out of my sails.

This hasn't been the easiest thing to write, and I'm sure I'm missing so many little things that I'll kick myself for forgetting when I remember them later, but I just needed to write this.

So let me tell you about Stella.

She was brilliant, let's say that straight off. Of all my grandparents, she was the one I spent most time with, not only because she was the longest lived of them, but because as kids Mum used to take my brother and I over to spend time with her during summer holidays. Every Friday we'd get the bus over  to her house in St. Margarets. If she was working we'd watch TV before racing off to meet her when she finished work at midday; if she wasn't, or after she'd retired, we'd all take a morning stroll down the river to Richmond for a bite to eat in the cafe in Dickens and Jones department store followed by a bit of shopping. Occasionally my brother and I would stay overnight - it always feeling like a treat to get to spend more time with them so we'd be on our best behaviour.  Nan and Grandad had a VHS player long before we did, and they'd taped Raiders of the Lost Ark - complete with adverts - off the TV. My brother and I watched it on a weekly basis to the point we knew every line of dialogue inside out.

She cooked the best dinners - incredible roast potatoes - and always catered to my fussy tastes without quibble. Pudding was always a chocolate gateaux that she served on a proper cake stand and cut with a proper cake knife (and she'd always let me have seconds). It became a recurring joke amongst us that not long after dinner when we were sat with full bellies she'd ask if anyone wanted a packet of crisps or a banana. She was for a long time the only person I'd allow to call me Timmy. She was always generous with the pocket money she gave us.

She'd tell us stories about the war, about how she'd cycle home from the factory she worked at in pitch black, and how one night she got caught out when the air raid sirens went off and she had to make a mad dash for a shelter in Richmond where a man tried to barge her out of the way to get in first and she gave him a piece of her mind. She talked about sitting under the stairs during the blitz, and how thunder and lightening would remind her of it so much so that she would get out of bed and sit there by Grandad's little bar when there was a storm. In later years, she even bought some heavy duty ear defenders like workmen use when they're drilling in the street to wear during storms - the idea of her sitting under the stairs wrapped in her dressing gown and wearing her ear defenders never failed to raise a smile; even she thought it was funny.

When they came over to visit my brother and I would run up the road to meet them; when Dad took them home we'd run up the road trying to keep pace with the car. As the years went by I got more protective of my grandparents, always offering to pick them up and drive them home when I got my first car so they didn't have to get public transport. Nan would sit in the back, waving like the Queen as we set off. And then, when Grandad passed I got more protective still. Together they had been the perfect team - she helping him with everyday tasks when his arthritis took hold, he holding her arm in the crook of his when they went out in case she should be a little unsteady on her feet. Alone, she seemed to me a little lost, rattling around the home they had shared for 60 years, half of an unbeatable duo waiting for the other to one day return. I wanted to wrap her in cotton wool and keep her safe.

I nevertheless shared some great times with my Nan over the next couple of years. Every Tuesday I'd stop in for dinner with her on my way home from work - always chicken and chips because she knew that was my favourite - then we'd watch a bit of TV and have a cuppa before I went out for a run. However long I was out running, when I got back to my car she would always be standing in the porch waving me off and blowing kisses.

I remember in August 2008, a few months after Grandad had died she asked me if I'd take her shopping so she could buy something for Mum's birthday. I'd already picked up a few gifts on her behalf, but she wanted to choose something special herself – and she wanted to go out exactly as Mum and I did when we went on our shopping trips. So one sunny day I picked her up. She was ready and waiting, immaculately turned out in a smart pink jacket and pretty skirt. We went to Kingston, because that's where Mum and I always went. And because Mum and I always started our shopping days with a Starbucks, she wanted to go to Starbucks too. After a few hours of shopping - during which she almost smacked someone in the face with her walking stick as she lifted it up to point it in the direction we were going - she asked that I take her to Nando's, because that's what Mum and I did - so I took my then-84 year old Nan for her first Nando's. She had a quarter chicken (lemon and herb) and chips, and she thoroughly enjoyed it.

A few years later she broke her arm and not long after that she decided that she couldn't stay in the house on her own anymore. She moved into a lovely top floor room in a retirement home not too far from where I live and furnished it with a few things to make it feel like home. She took part in the arts and crafts they offered on a weekly basis, painting a mug in broad lilac stripes one time, a ceramic cupcake jar in bright colours another. She made a little drinks coaster, and a mirror with blue and green tiles that I had no idea she'd made until Mum told me yesterday, it looking like it could've been bought in a shop. When they were given to her after they'd dried she didn't seem too bothered by them, but they remained in her room nevertheless.

As the years passed she got a little frailer, giving up her walking stick for a stroller, then giving that up for a wheelchair, but whenever I visited her mind was still sharp as a tack. She was always interested in what we were up to with our lives, with our work and whether we'd done anything exciting. She'd always ask me if I'd been shopping recently and whether I'd bought anything. She supported me when I headed to Los Angeles for my Yoga training in 2012, and kept a framed copy of my graduation photo in her room.

She had the most beautiful handwriting; I envied it from a young age as it looped across everything from birthday and Christmas cards to shopping lists. Even though she struggled to write in recent years, it still looked a hundred times better than my scrawl. She had a lovely smile and a great sense of humour - I have the most brilliant photo of her holding a vase of fake flowers upside down, a broad smile on her face as she saw our reactions thinking it was real. And she always dressed so prettily, whether she was going to the shops, out to dinner or coming over to spend time with us. Even in her retirement home she was very particular about her appearance, wearing lovely knitted jumpers and patterned skirts, having her nails painted and her hair styled regularly. We called her our Glamorous Granny.

In October she turned 93, an age even she seemed surprised to have reached. My brother and I bought her a perfume she loved and a basket of flowers. She sprayed the perfume liberally and admired the flowers, telling us which varieties she could see and remarking how beautiful they were.

Not long after that she was taken ill. She was defiant, a spark of determination blossoming as she said she was going to get better. But eventually we were told to say our goodbyes and I did that at least three times because, bless her, she couldn't have been quite ready to go. The last time I saw her was when my brother and I visited on Christmas Eve. She was peaceful in her bed in the room that had been her home for seven years, surrounded by her photos and trinkets and flowers.

A little over a week later she passed away, with as my brother put it, immaculate timing, seeing in the New Year and then slipping away a few short hours later.

Over the years, she was known variously as Nana Spong, then Nana, then Nan when we reached that age where we didn't think it was cool to call her Nana. As we grew and began to tower over her she became L'il Granny, and then most recently because my brother can be a ridiculous person when the fancy takes him, G-Ma. Whatever name we gave her, I'll never forget her. I loved her to bits. She was the absolute best.

I'll miss you, Nana.


Inexplicable DeVice said...

Oh, Tim, your L'il Granny sounds like a wonderful person! And I'm so sorry you've had to say goodbye to her - and three times, at that.
This is a lovely memorial to her. I was smiling and grinning along to much of it, but at one point my eyes began to sting a little. I think I've had my contact lenses in too long...

Now, I've just realised that you sneakily returned in December with your annual reading list, so I must avail myself of that.

Very much (non-pervy) love to you and your family!

eroswings said...

I'm so sorry to hear about your grandmother's passing. She sounds like a wonderful person, and now she's in heaven with her husband, at peace and now watching over your family like she did in this life. Another angel to protect you, another star in the skies to guide you.

Thank you for sharing your story with us. I know you wrote it to honor and remember your grandma. And it's a lovely and beautiful piece. Your memories of your grandma are wonderful and full of joy, love, and hope. Your love for her and her love for your family radiates from your words. I wish you and your family much peace, strength, and serenity.

An Eskimo belief and one of my favorites:
“Perhaps they are not stars, but rather openings in heaven where the love of our lost ones pours through and shines down upon us to let us know they are happy.”
Take care and Best wishes to you and your family, Tim