I was at a funeral on Friday: my paternal grandmother, my last surviving grandparent and a woman best described as formidable. Rather than let someone who didn’t know her do the eulogy, my dad stood up and talked about her life. He did her proud, but what struck me wasn’t so much what my dad said as the difference between her life and ours. Bear in mind that two days after the funeral, both the Observer and the Sunday Times decided that what really mattered – that is, what they put on their front pages – was whether Stephen Fry was quitting Twitter. That, according to newspaper editors, is what really matters now.
My gran was born in a Welsh mining village, a place devastated by the miners’ strike, and she was born on Boxing Day. Funds didn’t stretch to giving her a birthday and Christmas. One year she saw food being smuggled in on Boxing Day, assumed it was for a surprise party, and went to her room. She put on her good dress and waited. And waited. And waited. And waited. Eventually her absence was noted, and she discovered that the food was for some aunt’s birthday. My gran got leathered for wearing her good dress.
When my grandmother was in her early teens, she was put on a train to stay with relatives. Turns out there were no relatives, or at least no relatives waiting for her. She’d been put into service, getting up at the crack of dawn to look after her new employers, working until late for precious little money.Â That was in Bath. My gran was bombed out by the Nazis there, her home destroyed, every trace of her old life gone. In her early twenties she essentially started again, from scratch.
We don’t know we’re born.
0 responses to “Bye, Gran”
Not such an easy thing, starting from scratch in your twenties. Only a handful of belongings, no home to go back to, no family left, and a world where the most normal interactions amongst others leave you bitter and isolated in response.
It’s only lately though that I’ve been able to say “you know what, maybe I should get some credit for getting through the life I never asked for” rather than wearing the cloak of “you just bloody get on with it.”
> We donâ€™t know weâ€™re born.
When I went to see my grandma in hospital last year, there was an extremely frail old lady in the opposite bed who’d had a stroke. Her husband told me that she used to drag the dead bodies out of damaged fighters and bombers during the War. Previous generations seem to have done that sort of thing quite routinely.
My grandma used to walk for miles across the Yorkshire Moors, and went on doing it for a few weeks after falling and breaking her leg. My dad had to persaude her that maybe she should go see a doctor about it.
> Itâ€™s only lately though that Iâ€™ve been able to say â€œyou know what, maybe I should get some credit for getting through the life I never asked forâ€
I’ve never had to do it, so I can only imagine. It’s hard enough doing life once, never mind restarting when you’re in your twenties.
It’s extraordinary, it really is. We’ve no idea how lucky we are. I sincerely hope we don’t learn that the hard way.
My wife’s Gran (Gran-in-law?) walks absolutely everywhere and she’s in her 80s. Her daughter suggested that maybe she was a bit old to walk everywhere and she should use the bus (for free). First time on the bus, the driver pulls away before everyone is seated and she falls and breaks her hip.
> Iâ€™ve never had to do it, so I can only imagine.
A co-worker says “I went home for the weekend” or “my parents are helping me with my deposit”. Small talk to others, a slap in the face to yourself.
Lest we get too nostalgic for the hardy spirits of the days gone by – the one story that will always stick in my head about my grandparents is that the first child my grandfather ever held was his grandson (my cousin). The mix of deep-seated ethnic views of women’s roles as well as the 1950s belief that “children are the woman’s job” meant that he never once picked up or held any one of his five children. His involvement in parenting was limited to conception and the belt. And to think, some hearken back to “traditional family values.”
My Gran sat and drank whiskey in front of the TV for twenty years and lost her mind. And she didn’t do anything particularly astonishing during her lifetime. Her passing in March was a release for my whole family.
Sounds like some people had decent Grandparents, though!
Well, my grandma’s pretty amazing, but my father’s mother was a right nasty piece of work.
> Lest we get too nostalgic for the hardy spirits of the days gone by
Oh, I’m not. I’m delighted we – well, we lucky westerners at least – are living in a completely different world from the one my Gran grew up in.
> And to think, some hearken back to â€œtraditional family values.â€
Again, glad we’re living in a (largely) different world – not just the attitudes you’re describing, but also attitudes to race, sexuality, etc etc etc.