|Me and my Grandma, about 10 years ago on|
one of the rare occasions she visited Cardiff.
In the novel Hey Nostradamus by Douglas Coupland one of the characters says this: “...you spend a much larger part of your life being old, not young. Rules change along the way. The first things to go are those things you thought were eternal.”
That idea has come home to me in these past few days because in a sense, Grandma, like Granddad before her, was one of those pillars in my life that was always there. Something, which as a child, I assumed would be eternal, and then as an adult I came to realise would not be.
It would be a mistake to think that my Grandma spent a larger part of her life being old. In her heart she wasn’t. She didn’t dress like an old lady. She was interested in the world and the future, even though she often talked to us about the past.
Our relationship changed as I grew up and learned more about who my Grandma was. I know she was embarrassed that my Granddad had commandeered an army truck as her wedding day transport – as there was nothing else that could get through the snow.
I thought that story was romantic – my Granddad risking serious trouble by borrowing a vehicle and its driver – to make sure he married his beloved bride. That’s a great story, but my Grandma didn’t think a huge truck was the proper delivery vehicle for a bride on her wedding day.
Snow was a common problem in the Faroes where Grandma grew up and also a frequent occurrence in Bryn Celyn in Southsea where they moved in 1958. There was also thick snow on the ground when Grandma flew out to visit our family in the Gambia – she left the airport here in six feet of snow, well wrapped up against the cold.
I remember going with my Mum and Dad (and Dave) to pick Grandma up from Banjul airport, where she was actively shedding layers of clothing in the heat of the African night. She couldn’t believe Dave and I were wearing jumpers, as she was so hot. We had adjusted to the African temperatures. It was chilly. She told Mum off for trying to parboil us.
I only found out last year how upset Grandma had been that Mum and Dad were taking her grandsons away to Africa. It’s testament to her faith that she accepted that Mum and Dad felt called to Africa, although she really didn’t want us to go.
She got enough exposure to her grandsons when we came back from the Gambia in 1983 and we lived with her and Granddad for nine months. There were a few issues, like the time I fell out of the top bunk bed, or the time David mistook the airing cupboard on the landing for the toilet when he needed a midnight wee. But Grandma never held those mis-steps against us.
As I said earlier, Grandma had an active faith. A couple of years after our family had moved from Bryn Celyn to Shrewsbury, we went one Sunday to a special service where both Grandma and Granddad were baptised. That made a real impression on me.
A few years later, when I was baptised, she gave me a Bible concordance and wrote the verse John 13. 34-35 in it: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” That remains a watchword for me in my faith; it’s the only token to assess how well we are living out our call as disciples.
Last year, on one occasion when we visited, Grandma talked about how she imagined dying. She said it would be like being on a boat and pulling in to harbour, and those who had gone before would be waiting to welcome you on the quayside. Grandma said she was looking forward to meeting her mother for the first time, as she’d died shortly after Grandma was born. And of course, seeing Elwyn again.
Just over two weeks ago I got a phone call from David and he said I really had to decide whether to travel up from Cardiff that night or not say goodbye. Three hours later we were in Wrexham.
Grandma was very poorly and struggling to breathe. I’m not sure how aware she was that we were there, but I kissed her forehead and held her hand and after a short while I said, “Omma, it’s time to get on the boat.”
And a few minutes later, she did.
It won’t have been a turbulent crossing, which is just as well, as for a Scandinavian, Grandma used to get remarkably sea-sick. It won’t have been a long crossing. Somewhere nearby, yet so far away, a boat has docked, next to a thronged quayside of people waiting to welcome her home. I hope it is everything that she imagined.