Monday, 4 February 2013

Random memories of my grandmother

My last grandparent died today. I'm not going to go on about it because one person's grief is pretty much the same as everybody else's so you can probably work out how I'm feeling. But I will say a few things about my grandmother because nobody else has ever mentioned her on the internet before and she'd probably have got a kick out of it.

So here goes with a few random memories. If she sounds like a stereotypical Irish grandma, that's because she was. She started sentences with 'Sure…'. Tea was available in copious quantities in celebration, stress and every event in between. She did indeed frequently say 'Sure you'll have a cup of tea' long before Mrs Doyle was invented and eventually acquired the nickname to her enormous pleasure. Her other catchphrases included 'Ah you will' (again, Mrs Doyle), 'Ah no', 'Mother of God' and 'Ah g'wan with you'.

I once answered the phone for her to find it was one of her sisters. 'Tell her I'm dead', was the reply. And now she is. Alanis Morissette would call that ironic. Wrongly. She once ended a phone call by gushingly telling me I was her favourite grandchild (of 14). The effect was ever so slightly ruined when she used my brother's name as she said goodbye. All that effort, wasted!

My grandfather, for all his many good points, was a blustering, powerful man who sucked the oxygen out of a room: she coped with him by disappearing for a round of golf, mixing ever stronger gins and tonic (easy on the tonic), and slipping in the occasional subtle dig, accompanied with a pantomime-standard eye-roll for the audience.

I only discovered in my 20s that her name wasn't Nancy, but Felicity. She hated it: I don't know where Nancy came from, but she stuck with it determinedly: got to admire anyone who'll reinvent themselves and stick with it. She always had a dash of glamour: she told me once that a former beau phoned her hotel room on her wedding day, dramatically announcing that he was in the hotel next door, waiting for her in case she changed her mind. He supposedly became a rather famous and powerful judge in Ireland and I wouldn't mind betting that the story got an airing whenever she fell out with my grandfather!

Coming from a massive family, I didn't often see her on my own, but I remember staying with her in 1996 and escorting her to the cinema when she was a mere stripling in her late 70s. It wasn't something we did very often, but she was determined to see, of all things, The Rock. Pretty quickly, I realised why: the whole film was punctuated by her gripping my arm and cheering on Sean Connery: 'G'wan Sean… he's a fine fella… a fine figure of a man…ah would you look at him'. Still, at least she had the good taste to completely ignore Nicholas Cage over-acting his way through another role. We also saw, to our mutual horror, Far and Away, which was indeed far and away the worst film we'd seen in years. Compared with Cruise and Kidman, Michael J. Fox's turn as Marty McFly's great-grandfather 'Mardy McFloy' in Back to the Future III was straight out of the Method Acting school.

So, grandmother. Gin, golf, gossip and Sean Connery. Not a bad way to manage your declining years. None of it would have been possible without my mother, uncles and aunts, but in particular my uncle Peter, who gave up his career and his independence to care for her with total, fierce determination to keep her at home and give her the easiest, most comfortable existence possible. However ill, forgetful, random, worried and upset she sometimes was, whether she recognised him or not, he patiently, happily did whatever had to be done. Her life didn't become constricted to the house, nor to a narrow range of pointless, demeaning activities. Without his patience and devotion, a dignified and happy last few years would have been much, much harder. He'd be horrified by the attention, but I know that most of us will be lucky to get that kind of love and care when it's our turn.

So that's the last of the grandparents gone. The females of the family are clearly blessed: one made it to 98, the other to her early 90s. The men are less lucky: 72 and around 80. But then, neither of them drank gin.


Derek Harding said...

I lived with my Gran for a lot of my childhood. She was a big woman in a wrap-around pinny (is that right spelling? It is now!) who carried the smell of fresh baked bread around with her. She was great. I liked Grandad too.

N. said...

Sorry to hear about your loss. It seems a great lady left today. Gossip, gin and Sean Connery. Not a bad way to live.

Well written, A.