As children when the old fella kissed us goodnight the evening before our birthday he would deliver what became known in our family as the birthday speech, more eagerly anticipated than the Queen’s Christmas Day one. His speech started with the immortal line “now this is the last night you’ll ever be thirteen again because when you wake up in the morning you’ll be fourteen” and this fast became a family tradition
I’m pleased to say that as we got older this particular tradition stopped; think Dad recognised the teenage eye rolling and wisely decided to quit whilst he was ahead. However, it was resumed when my nieces were old enough to appreciate it and woe betide if granddad ever forgot as he would be curtly telephoned before bedtime by the intended recipient to remind him that he was late.
Another part of our family folklore was that as a small child my sister, used as a tactic to delay her bedtime, would always chant “don’t turn the light off, don’t shut the door & talk as you go down the stairs” when my parents went to kiss her goodnight and it comforted me to repeat it to the old fella every evening when I took my leave of him at the care home. So it somehow seemed appropriate when the vicar included that phrase during the service at the funeral reminding us that by leaving the door open he would always be with us.
Family traditions and rituals are the tapestry of our childhood memories and remind us of the love woven into our daily lives. What sometimes appears to be an insignificant word or gesture will frequently become an echo of time past which will often bring a smile or much-needed inspiration on an otherwise rainy day. By treasuring our family customs it enables us to hold on to those we love who are no longer with us but yet still guide and inspire us through turbulent and difficult times. Somehow I know that the old fella would think that that is the best legacy of all.
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