Just spent an hour de-cluttering some boxes in the barn. I like to do this methodically and check each piece of clutter to ensure I can truly discard it hence it takes more time than a requested BT engineer to actively get around to even starting these goals. But I had an hour …
I came across a dusty envelope, a letter from my paternal grandfather (who died in 1993). The address on the front is to a small one-bedroom cottage I rented at the time – for £150 per month. He was 91 when he wrote it.
I sat on my haunches and opened the envelope. My 23 year old self will have pocketed the £30 and made a mental note to thank him when I next returned ‘home’ but I doubt I paused long enough to read between the lines produced by his shaky hand at some point during the ten months he lived as a widower.
What do I see now?
I hear loneliness, but empathy that his granddaughter, his only grandchild, lives two hours away in a town in the Midlands and is probably too busy to think about visiting the ‘old people’.
I hear honesty. He spent time sitting around ‘thinking’??? I do that too grandad! He hopes I am well and wants to ‘make up’ for the intervening years in which we’d stopped ‘pocket money’. Those days started when I was just tall enough to stand level with his knee and he would hand me a coin much to my complete delight. OMG, he even writes the words I love you. He never said that to my face.
Then again, he was a distant persona in my young eyes, born at a time where men never went out without wearing their trilby and overcoat or mac in winter or sports jacket in summer. He worked as a lecturer and took two weeks off in August, every August. He would take his wife, my grandmother, to the south coast to stay ‘in digs’ (that’s where I got the expression!) in houses along the sea front where rooms were rented by the week – much like my Airbnb experiences of today.
Some years, he would treat her to a day return P&O ferry crossing. His routine on holiday was much the same as at home after he retired – a gentle stroll down to the town to buy the day’s supplies and a pint of ale or two in the pub on the way home.
I recall an austere man, serious mostly until we played pontoon, as granny called it, whereupon he would make me giggle as he debated what to do for his hand muttering “Shall we risk it for a biscuit? Twist” and I would wait with baited breath while dad turned over the next card.
I had no siblings but entertainment was not an issue. I had my imaginary horses I had to feed, pat and let out to their paddocks (wherever I happened to be at the time) with every motion carried out like some elaborate mime, hanging the headcollar (or bridle if I’d been ‘riding’ around the garden) up on a hook so it didn’t get muddy or stood on.
Cards, or boardgames such as ‘Monopoly’ or ‘Mastermind’ with the coloured pegs. Dad and I would play this at my grandparents (but never at home, I now realise) and his default contemplation tactic of flattening down his moustache usually preceded some amazing move I could never quite keep up with. Sometimes I would wriggle with impatience because he took soooo long.
Christmas Day afternoons meant games, after a lunch with more food prepared than was consumed and before a completely unnecessary tea. The five of us played around the table, pausing only to watch the Queen at 3pm.
Grandad was the big man, who liked ‘his special drink’ and I would watch as granny poured the amber liquid in the small glass whenever he requested it; always this glass, never a different one. He loved all “cowboys-and-indians‘ films, and the small black and white telly perched on the sideboard when I was small was always on way too loud but the gunshots, saloons and dresses worn by the women grabbed my attention. After a while, I would even recognise the more famous actors and loved the drawl John Wayne brought to each part he played. The original ‘True Grit’ remains a favourite of mine and I know I first saw it sat next to grandad, his long fingers nursing the small glass of whiskey through which the light glimmered. I remember howling with tears when Little Blackie was galloped and galloped until it dropped down dead, but it was ok grandad assured me – horses on filmsets were trained to do that. Phew.
Granny would make his meals, his bed, and I think now she made his world. She was dutiful (she’d been in service apparently and as a child I knew not what that meant. Then I grew up and watched Downton Abbey).
G&G didn’t outwardly show affection. They were from a generation who didn’t. Yet when granny passed away one morning (about which, dear friend, I shall create a flash fiction piece soon) his life ended.
Those ten months he ate less and less. My mother went in to help as much as she could, dad was still commuting at the time so went in at weekends but grandad’s mind wasn’t in it. He knew enough to realise his body would one day let him see her again, if he starved it of life enhancing nutrients. So he ate very little and lost lots of weight. He drank his amber nectar, maybe to dull the pain, maybe to help his liver out a bit, so he could reunite with his loved one.
I wish I had noticed him a little more in those final months but I was probably worrying more about whether Alan in accounts had noticed my new shoes.
This letter is not clutter. It shall be placed in my bedside cupboard 🌸
Have a great weekend 🤗