When my shift finished I managed a brief nap and a skyped chat with Ahmed, before rushing out the door to visit my Grandad in the sheltered housing scheme in which he lived. Despite being fairly advanced in years, he was a fiercely independent soul and still managed to potter about in the communal garden which he insisted on tending for the “old folk”. Although, I had pointed out on a number of occasions, that he was in fact, one of the old folk himself these days.
Armed with supplies of Mum’s homemade cakes and jams, I drove out to the small village in which he lived. The beautiful sunshine and the stunning luscious Devon countryside seemed to soothe my discontented heart. The drive there always calmed me and all my troubled thoughts temporarily vanished. As if he knew I was coming, my Grandad was in his kitchen just in the process of making some tea. “Sit yourself down lass, tea’s brewing”.
Whilst he was pottering around in the kitchen, I picked up the well-thumbed family photo albums. The room hadn’t changed much over the years and was still packed full of wall to wall mementos. As I was once again admiring my grandparent’s wedding photographs, my Grandad put the tea and some of my mother’s homemade upside down cake on the table. Nodding at their wedding picture he said “She were a beautiful bride, my Edith”. I agreed she was and I knew that I didn’t have to remind him how lucky he was to have spent sixty perfect years with her before she sadly faded away with Alzheimer’s. “We were happy love, never a bad word between us in all our time together. She were a good wife and a good mum”. I already knew that as my Grandma was one of the kindest and gentlest souls that I had ever met; with a ready smile and a passion for bingo. As a child, she had saved me from many of my mother’s tongue lashings for some childish prank; always there with a bar of chocolate and an Elastoplast for a cut knee. I honestly can’t remember her saying an unkind word about anyone. She was never critical or judgemental in any way and had the most beautiful copperplate handwriting despite having to leave school early to find a job to help provide for her siblings.
My grandparents had married young and their wedding picture in the same silver frame took pride of place on his mantelpiece. I know that he missed her and he told me that he still spoke to her everyday even though she had passed away a few years’ earlier.
It had broken my Grandad’s heart when she had succumbed to Dementia. Their plans of a golden retirement together dashed in one cruel blow. My Grandma’s decline was fairly rapid and despite all the hazards and hardships; my Grandad wouldn’t allow her to be placed into a nursing home insisting instead that he took care of her himself. He always said that he’d made a promise sixty years’ earlier to take care of each other in sickness and in health and he wasn’t going to break that now. Sadly, near the end despite all his protests, there was no alternative for her other than respite care. I knew that my Grandad found this hard as the only time that they had been apart was during the war when he had been away serving his country. Despite his arthritis he would make the long bus journey to the hospice every day and spend several hours sat by her bedside even though she no longer recognised any of us. He would hold her hand and patiently talk to her for hours, just as he had during their lifetime together.
“We had a great life together, love. We were lucky to have each other and you lot and it was enough for us. We never wanted for anything else”.
I realised how hard it must have been for him tending to her throughout her illness and despite all this I asked him why he hadn’t made the decision to hospitalize her sooner.
He paused for a moment, caressing her picture in his gnarled hands, he said “Because she’s my girl, and she’ll always be my girl”.
Getting up he wandered across to the mantelpiece and picked up a battered old tea caddy, then sitting down beside me he emptied it onto the table. He took a pile of crumpled old twenty pound notes out and straightened them into my hand with his arthritic fingers. Smiling up at me with his watery blue eyes he said “Go find your young man, lass and I hope your life will be filled with as much joy as mine and your Grandma’s.”
“But Grandad …”
“Hush lass, it’s what she’d want for you, now say no more, just put it in your pocket.”
As the tears rolled down my face, I realised then that there would be no more compromising for me. My grandparents’ legacy had blessed and touched my life in a thousand million ways and whilst I had lost my way for a while, I was now more certain than ever that I deserved that too, even if I had to cross the Aegean to find it.