New memories in old places

My sister, Claire, and Grandad fishing at our piece of beach (circa 1987)My sister (Claire) and Grandad fishing from our piece of beach – circa 1987

We all headed to the spot we thought was the spot where, as children, we played on the beach for a week in February. It looked different but Dad worked out a path from the tree he remembered which I said I remembered but I don’t really know if I did.

The asbestos chalets and caravan sites were gone, replaced by two-storey mansions with balconies and timber decks and six-burner stainless steel barbecues and expensive cars in double-garages and signs warning people not to enter beyond this point because this is an exclusive resort for the people who can afford it.

We squinted as we tried to look through the mansions; superimposing over their imposing structures with the little green asbestos chalet we’d call home for week in February. It was hard to imagine but I desperately wanted to get it back. That’s when Dad said that tree was the tree that was once in front of the chalet we’d called home for a week in February, and that’s why I said I remembered it when maybe I didn’t …

We traced a path from the tree Dad recognised to the beach and all agreed that this was the spot; our little plot of sand and sea that was our beach for a week in February. The beach looked smaller now, the sand not as white, water not as clear. But it was the spot. We all agreed. It was too cold to swim so we stood in the water and I sang that stupid song that we made up one holiday which we all found hilarious back when we were four and five and eight and ten but now it simply made my 12-year old niece look at me with that funny eyebrow thing she does when I make a joke.

We weren’t all there, my brother had plans and one of my sisters had just had a baby, but it was still a good turn-out. We were all staying in this new two-storey holiday house which lacked both character and enough bathrooms. I wanted it to be the same as it was back then but it wasn’t; we couldn’t hear the waves as we fell asleep, there were no bunk beds, no early morning runs along the beach with Grandad, no card-games, no jelly-fish stings, no straining our ears to hear what the adults were talking about when we reluctantly went off to bed. We are older. We are adults. My sisters now have their own families to bring here or somewhere like here and make new memories.

On our last morning I went out for a run to retrace the steps we would take with Grandad on his morning jogs during these annual family holidays. He would jog, or attempt to jog, whilst we got distracted by the treasures that had washed up on the shore overnight; shells and sea jelly and cuttlebone and seaweed.

I ran to the point he would run to. It seemed a lot further out when I was eight. I walked out onto the rocks and waited for a sign. For something. A vision. A rainbow. A dolphin leaping into the sky. Even just a slightly different wave to break up the tempo a bit. I breathed in the fresh, sea air and waited … But the waves kept on in their hypnotic rhythm, the sky was clear and the dolphins weren’t playing along.

I had desperately wanted a new memory, a significant moment, to sit alongside all the memories I had of this place. I wanted something that would reinforce the importance of our time spent here all those years ago. I wanted to feel as if they hadn’t gone; my Nan, my Grandad, those childhood memories.

I ran back to the house to find my niece waiting for me. Everyone else was asleep. She was up. And dressed. And waiting.

“Want to go the beach?” I asked her.

We went back to that piece of beach which was our piece of beach. We threw our shoes off and walked on the sandbars. They still felt like they could go on forever, into the horizon. We marvelled at the flat sea and the colours of the sky. She drew her name in the sand. We collected handfuls of shells. We walked in the freezing cold water until our feet ached, and then went back for more. We talked and laughed and told stories. We watched old men walk their old dogs. We walked and walked without getting anywhere in particular. There were no dolphins or rainbows or visions but it didn’t matter; I loved that morning spent with my niece.

I couldn’t recapture the childhood memories of that place but I did get a new memory – something that will now sit alongside those older memories.

That simple morning beach walk – I hope that will become a memory for my niece and one day, in twenty years time, she revisits this place that was hers for three days in December and builds another, new memory to sit alongside it … and so it continues.

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Missing Grandad (or, why I’ve not written in awhile)

Katy and Grandad

circa 1982

 

How lucky am I to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard 

A. A Milne

I have been away from this blog for a little while because my Grandad passed away. It was only two months and two days since my Nanna died when we got the news.

I am devastated.

There are times I feel really selfish for grieving because I know I was so very blessed to have grandparents throughout all my childhood and a good part of supposed-adulthood.

Anyway, I haven’t felt like doing much of anything but I am slowly getting things back on track. Like this blog.

I remember calling my Grandad for a chat one day, over a year ago now. I remember how his voice lifted when he heard me on the other end of the phone.

“I was just thinking about you Kate,” he said.

He went on to tell me he was standing at the kitchen sink, drying the dishes (as he did after every lunch), looking out the window and thinking about how proud he was of me for moving to Melbourne and following my dreams.

That was my Grandad.

He was a soppy thing.

He was my favourite person in the world.

And he is why I have to jump back right back into life and never stop chasing those dreams.

 

Remembering my Nan (things I learnt about grief)

My beautiful and amazing Nanna passed away this year (I have already mentioned her in a previous post and will probably keep on writing about her forever). As those we love get older we know that it is only a matter of time before we that call, though nothing prepares you for it. We comfort ourselves with empty sentences; “they were old, they had such a long, wonderful life” but it doesn’t make the loss any easier. We can say “she was unwell and now she is at peace” but I don’t even know if that is true.

Nan had been battling Alzheimer’s for sometime. It is such a devastating disease – watching someone you absolutely love and adore slowly deteriorate in mind and body. To see this vivacious woman who was smart, creative and always go on the go become a shell of emptiness.

It is cruel for the person suffering. It is cruel for the family and friends. It is cruel for my Grandad who loved her for over sixty years.

I felt guilty about the grief I was feeling because, yes, she was old and, yes, she was unwell but I soon learnt grief does not discriminate. Grief doesn’t hold off until it feels ‘worthy’ to punch us in the guts. Grief just is. And you have to go for the ride – as horrible and as puffy-eyed and as runny-nosed and as downright sad as it is.

Part of that ride was the funeral and part of my need to express my grief was to speak at the funeral.

This is the poem I wrote in the memory of my Nan for my family.

For Nan

I told her not to go

You’re staying right here, I said

But she shook her head

Gave that smile

Patted my hand

And went away

Leaving an empty space

It is big

This space

It cannot be filled

It is paddling

It is laughter

It is butterfly cakes and kisses

It is cups of tea

And two biscuits

It is the warmth from the heater

The mantelpiece

The handheld hoover

The word hoover

And daft a’peth

And ice lolly

And frock

And ironing on the kitchen bench

It is swinging in the garden under the peppermint tree

It is burials for goldfish

It is the budgies and the rabbits and the quails

Birdbaths and birdseed

It is the nest she made when we were sick

And always having something to do

We can have a look in the hall cupboard

Play Scrabble or cards or Boggle or bingo

Or that game with Lucille Ball on the box

Colour in a doily

Warm homemade play-dough

Pink or blue?

It is the Easter bonnets

(We would never win first prize)

It is the dress-up days

Craft days

Birthdays

Rainy days

Christmas days

The feast laid out on the pool table

The tablecloths and serviettes

The Christmas cake with Santa’s footprints

Homemade fruit mince pies without orange peel

No backyard cricket please!

It is ballroom dancing with Grandad

And seeing them hold hands

And kiss

And staying up to watch The Bill

And sleeping-over

It is feeling loved

And safe

It is stories of the war

The Blitz

The bomb-shelter

The boys

It is Taft hairspray

It is lavender and Charlie perfume and Oil of Ulay

It is walks in the park

Coffee and cake at the shops

A weak cappuccino

It is Dunsborough holidays and caravan parks

It is advice

Guidance

Support

It is a second home

It is someone always on your side

It is kindness and a smile and a ‘good morning’ to a stranger

It is Nanna and Grandad

Nan and Gug

It is a beautiful woman

A kind, caring soul

A generous spirit

A creative mind

She has left an empty space

But enough memories

Enough moments

Enough love

To fill it and leave it overflowing

Engagement Photograph - 15th August 1949

Nanna and Grandad – Iris “Billie” and Ron
Engagement Photograph
15th August 1949

The most important thing I learnt from my Nanna

When I was five years old I painted, upon a large piece of butcher’s paper, what I believed to be an exceptional picture of a raccoon. I don’t know why. But I did. My kindergarten teacher, Mrs Taylor, said she was very impressed. I took it home proudly, excited because:

  1. Mrs Taylor complimented my work (and if you knew Mrs Taylor you would know that this was no mean feat)
  2. It was a Thursday. Thursdays were Nanna Days (as were Saturdays and most Sunday afternoons but there was something extra special about the Thursday). Nan would be at our place or Mum at hers and Grandad would come for dinner.
  3. I could now show off the aforementioned masterpiece to one of the most important, special people in my life – my Nan.

I excitedly unveiled my painting for Nan’s approval. That approval never came. Nope. Nan didn’t feel the need to tell five-year-old me that the painting was “amazing” nor that I was “very clever”. No. Instead she used the phrase that all artists under the age of seven, and the Surrealists, dread; “What is that meant to be?”

What is that meant to be?

Wasn’t it obvious?

As I felt my artistic cred slipping I remember thinking – Nan doesn’t know what a raccoon is. She doesn’t know what they look like. Of course! That had to be it.

So I told her.

“That doesn’t look like a raccoon,” she replied, not unkindly. I’m sure she was probably offering me a piece of cake or chocolate or a biscuit or something as she said it. “No, not a raccoon,” she continued. “It looks more like a burglar. Let’s say it’s a burglar.”

“But it’s a raccoon.”

“No, it doesn’t look like a raccoon,” and she pointed out all the reasons why …

You know what? She was right. It didn’t have raccoon ears or a raccoon nose or anything even remotely raccoon-like, except the black band across the eyes which made it look just like a cat-burglar.

The truth to anyone can be a difficult thing to hear. To a five-year-old from a grandmother they idolise it is actually, strangely, OK. Because I felt safe, I think, in the knowledge that Nan loved everything we did and would support us, no matter what, but I also knew from that moment she would always be honest.

Maybe that is why her opinion always meant so much to me.

Why that moment has stayed with me for all these years.

What I love about that story is Nan’s way of finding the alternative – of making something out of nothing: It’s not a raccoon  it’s a burglar. She did it all the time: You’re all staying for dinner? We’ll make it stretch. And there’s a feast, with soup to start and after-dinner mints to finish. That’s not just a gum-nut – it is endless craft making possibilities. I cannot recall the amount of bits and pieces, odds and ends Nan would keep because there must be “something we can do with that”.

But what I love the most about that memory is my Nan’s honesty.

Nan taught me so much but her biggest lesson was truthfulness and honesty. It doesn’t have to be hurtful, mean-spirited or unkind. It can be as simple and gentle as giving an honest opinion about a pretty poor painting of a raccoon.

I can never thank her enough for that.