Every Day Of Your Life Is A Special Occasion

My grandparents lived a shrewd and careful life similar to so many others of their age; no doubt, borne out of meagre wartime rationing and a “make do and mend” ethos. Their generation was recycling long before the days of green dustbins and eco-friendly products. In fact, we still have shelves around the house that started life as a wardrobe door somewhere because my Dad, who inherited their philosophy, never throws anything away and is probably one stack of rubbish away from an episode of Hoarders. He converted our loft some time ago and together with his garden and allotment sheds manages to house all the “useful” items he has accumulated over the years; my mother always sleeps with one eye open waiting for it all to come crashing through the bedroom ceiling and crush them both to death.

Subsequently, I knew that when my beloved Grandma died I would need to help my Grandad sort through her things as she had an old blanket box that contained all her collected treasures. So one rainy winter’s afternoon we set about the task and as I opened the blanket box the aroma of lavender filled the air immediately evoking the images of summer days filled with butterflies and sunny flower beds. My Grandma used to sew all the lavender from her little garden into little gingham and broderie anglaise sachets and those she didn’t give to friends & family, were bundled into drawers and wardrobes to fragrance all her linens and clothes.

As I lifted the first layer of tissue paper, I hauled out all the boxes of memories containing photographs, a jewellery box containing broken brooches, a solitary hairclip, a seashell and belt buckle; nothing of any real monetary value but every bit as precious to my Grandma nevertheless and I couldn’t help but wonder what had made her keep them. Even though I had been close to her, I still felt like I was intruding upon a lifetime of her golden days rummaging through her belongings deciding which items to keep and which to send to the charity shop. There was an array of silk scarves which had always been her trademark wrapped around some gift boxes containing perfume that I had bought her for various birthdays and Christmas’s, still folded in to the original wrapping.

The disappointment must have been etched on my face as I realised that Grandma would never have worn any of my carefully chosen gifts and I said as much to Grandad suggesting that I would have exchanged them for something she would have preferred.
Smiling wistfully he took them gently from me and smoothed the creased wrapping paper lovingly with arthritic hands and said “Nay lass, you’ve got it all wrong, she liked them right well. In fact, she were so proud she used to show them to everyone she could”.

I still couldn’t understand why she didn’t use them and he told me quite simply they were the equivalent of her Sunday clothes which were only used for “church & best”. Neverthless, I felt sad that she had never used them and suddenly remembered all the beautiful gifts that I had packed away into drawers waiting for that special occasion.

The fact of the matter is every day is a Sunday moment and a blessing; as I breathe a sigh of irritation for some small minor nuisance someone somewhere is taking their last breath wishing that they too had another opportunity to wear that special dress, use that expensive perfume or polish those crystal glasses. So today I will be cooking the “olds” Sunday lunch on a table dressed with all my treasures and wearing my party best.

One of my "treasures" - my great grandparents

One of my “treasures” – my great grandparents

Sometimes Just Sometimes When People Say Forever, They Mean It – Part Fifteen

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.

And if you’d like to read the rest of the Honeymoon Stories, you’ll find them here & tales about life in a Devon village here

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