Friday, 6 February 2015

In Praise of Grandparents



The last couple of days it has been on my mind to go visit my grandparents, who are, in their own way, an inspiration to me, so I have decided to share with you a piece with my thoughts on them. I hope you enjoy. 

In Praise of Grandparents

Perhaps you have noticed it, perhaps its impossible not to. Libraries full of books about love stories- Protagonists saving damsels; winning battles and reveling in their strength and shrewdness; or the nubile, impossibly beautiful women that have fallen in love with heroic men- the women with lustrous hair and wide, amazing eyes. Innumerable stories on every bookcase of men of valor, and women of quiet strength- Yet so few books write about the 'happily ever after' part. In our determination to hear tales of these young women and men, we have overlooked the stories of the love of old men and women, and why so few songs are sung of the stalwart determination of the aged, the commitment and trials it takes to build a happily ever after. The vicissitude​s of life- bills, hard work, family dramas and the ever watchful tax man all erode the magic of young love, yet unexpected heroes are forged by the constant adversarial nature of life, so that a real, true love can emerge. My Nan and Pop shared this love together and they gave me many memories of my childhood. No, not many stories are told about the love of grandparents, so here is mine to paint for you:

A light zephyr breeze touched our faces as we sat underneath the shadecloth, on the grass outside my grandmothers house. Surrounded by the familiar fuchsia bushes, magnolia and feijoa trees which bordered the cement slab where so many christmases of late where we had set up the tables and chairs.

Much of Nan's garden formed a patchwork of memories during my childhood. The vegetable garden, at the east side of her house, not always flourishing, but always providing a pea, or some berries or something interesting for little hands to grab, the ramshackle old cottage at the back of Nan's property where the gate ends, which became a source of imagination for me; with it's broken floorboards and secret corners containing various treasures made of wood and rusty steel- a place which now my own children enjoy; and the walk down the hill to see the unusual farm machinery we used to imagine the uses of, perhaps in retrospect because the reality was not near as interesting as what we could make up in our heads.

Past the gates enclosing the cows stands a shed, which now contains wood, but once kept the billy cart we used with our cousins. . The memories of racing down the steep hill outside, kicking up the dust and pebbles were all part of this rich tapestry. I also remember the satisfying 'pop' of the fuchsias when we would grab at them, and looking at the velvety purple interior- It was a place where little fingers and imaginations were free to explore and imagine, and best of all, a place where our little mouths were fed.

My grandmother used to make amazing milkshakes from a retro looking shiny milkshake maker. I remember the taste of chocolate and raspberry, or getting into nan's cupboards surreptitiously and eating the saccharine she kept in the plastic orange containers- or making a beeline to the little ornamental container sitting on the mantlepiece- a small shiny jar in the shape of an apple which opened to reveal any number of different lollies.
A few adult steps from the brown 70's carpet onto the Lino of the kitchen, we would sit at the table, which we always have- a table just like the owners - stalwart, reliable and predictable. The small kitchen too, contained the big cottage style combustion oven that formed the heart of the house growing up, and which now as an adult, I envy. Many meat-and three-vegetables dishes were served up on that table growing up, served with raw milk in sparkly cone shaped tumblers. It was a place where cousins, aunties and uncles would gather and even if they were too busy, there was always Christmas Day or Boxing Day.

Nan was a diminutive, wiry lady who was always polite, and always knew more than she let on. Grace was said before every meal and she was one of the leaders of the temperance union. She was gentle with family and between her and Pop, seemed to know everyone in the small farming town she was part of. She never pushed the Bible on anyone, but remained faithful. It is hard to say how much she knew God, but regardless, she had a silent strength that seemed to come from beyond herself. She served, too. Not like a kept woman, or an obligated slave, but as a woman who served as a choice, and out of love. Afternoon tea was always served at three, or thereabouts, when "the menfolk" as she would call them- my cousin and Pop; had come back from working in the fields around their house. She knew what biscuits and slices Pop loved, and us as grandchildren eagerly devoured them, only learning the politeness of hesitation as we became older and wiser. She also loved Pop, and Pop loved her- knowing and appreciating her humility and little quirks more as they got older together.

Pop was hardworking and always wore the same blue business shirts around the farm. So much of my childhood was spent hearing of in-jokes between my dad and his brother, and Pop. Sometimes they were hilarious, but usually they were lame puns and dad jokes, which I have only come to truly appreciate the magic of, having my own children to annoy with them. Pop was sun bronzed and  strong, and knew about everything practical- Diesel engines, the life cycle of cows, pump filtration rates, nature itself and how it all worked. He talked slowly, and kindly, and laughed at the same jokes. He called the radio "The wireless", he hardly watched TV and played Scrabble with Nan often.

Un-bigoted. Uncomplicated. Some might say quaint, yet strong and seemingly ageless. Perhaps Nan and Pop don't look like the fairytale couple anymore, and perhaps they never did, but they are heroes in their own right, and stand as statues of virtue in a world that desperately wants happily ever after, but it is dressed in overalls and looks like damn hard work.

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