Friday, 13 September 2019

Grandma's Birthday

My Grandma was the oldest person in my family that I grew up knowing. She was born in 1890. I found myself thinking of her and Grandpa when pushing Struan in his swing at the park. He's a rather large child for his age and it was tiring work. I found myself calculating the age of my grandparents when I came along. Grandma would have been 66. Mind, I was a very small baby, being premature and all, and she will have had regular work outs with my weekly visits. 

Grandma was largely senile by the time I was 12, with only bits of her real personality peeking out here and there. I feel somewhat cheated at not having more time with the person my cousin calls his 'favourite auntie'. 

Grandma & me, c. 1957

What I have learned in searching out the records of my Dad's adoption is that the story is much different than I would have guessed. I grew up believing that Grandpa was disappointed I wasn't a boy, as his surname ended with my Dad. I would have guessed that Grandpa would have been keen to have adopted a boy. On the contrary, it was Grandma who filled out all the adoption papers and she asked for a little girl. It just turned out that my Dad was what was immediately on offer at the time and they snatched him up. 

I'm not sure Grandma was any better at raising children than my other Grandmother was at owning dogs (see yesterday's post). My dad wasn't exactly neurotic but he was spoiled rotten. Very much the opposite to many of the stories that came from children who were fostered out of the same orphanage as his records show. As it happened, he never actually went to that state school but was adopted from the maternity home where his birth mother left him, aged 11 months. It is an altogether odd and very sad story that none of us ever knew. 

Grandma and Grandpa did their best to claim my Dad as their very own and they nearly got away with it, but for a woman who snapped an illicit photo of the orphanage register and sent that photo to me. One of my life's stranger turns.

All that aside, Grandma and Grandpa were excellent grandparents and I count myself lucky to have had them.

Thursday, 12 September 2019

Rita's Birthday

Today should have been my Aunt Rita's 75th birthday. As it was, she died in 2007, not long after her 63rd. I'm conscious that I have now outlived Rita as well as my Uncle Bernard (57) and my maternal grandfather (56). I hope to live a few more decades, but I'm beginning to feel I've about had my share of life. Many early deaths are tragic and unfair whereas mine probably couldn't be considered so. Of course I say that about my demise with the detachment of relative health.

Bill and I were noting recently how easily my hands and arms are marked with bleeding under the skin. Any little knock or scratch will do it: pushing my arm through a backpack strap or a light scrape with the corner of a cereal box and I look like a victim of domestic abuse. I don't know what this condition is called, no doubt something beginning with 'senile', but my mom also had it.

Rita in the 1970s.

I was telling Bill about Grandmother's crazy, stupid German Shepherd dog, Duke. He was neurotic and undisciplined, like all of Grandmother's dogs, but because of his size he presented a real hazard in a house with two frail old women. At the end he was also ugly and in pain from a tumour that had stretched his skin to hang off the side of his head; a nightmare for all of us. Worse, he would jump on the couch with Mom, barking in her face. Her best defence was to spray him with hair spray to make him go away. Her arms were constantly marked with bruises from these encounters. This was in the days before pet health care insurance and their vet didn't do house calls, although I think he must have eventually.

Rita is part of this story because she lived closest to Mom and was often called out to do battle. The vet finally provided tranquilizers that were supposed to help get Duke in the car to bring him in. Instead they made him angry and even more unpredictable. I think the vet must have come out to put the dog down. Of course Grandmother insisted Duke be buried in the back garden with a small concrete angel to mark his grave. 

I remember Rita as unflinchingly brave and practical, always available to step up and deal with problems. She was fiercely loyal to her family and we were blessed to have had her. I think of her every time I sit down to sew.

Tuesday, 10 September 2019

Grandpa's Birthday

We had a great time with Sarah, Bill's youngest, her husband and their toddler, Struan, this past weekend. I get the name 'Grandma Shelley', which is indeed an honour. I tried to tell Bill what contentment I got from Struan's reaching out to hold hands as he walks - still a bit unsteady - and from pushing him in his swing at the park. Bill doesn't seem to differentiate being my getting to be a grandma - which I'm not - and my getting to do Grandma things, which is how I see it. It was great fun. Never mind about all that, Gareth was still able to pretend he's interested in the story about my Dad's adoption and I found myself explaining why I could believe he was adopted: Grandma and Grandpa were the only normal people in my family, so of course it makes sense we aren't genetically related.

I was thinking of Grandpa earlier last week when I donned an old flannel shirt to go out blackberry picking, or 'brambling' as some folks call it. The shirt belonged to a previous husband and gets dragged out for hair colouring, house painting and other rough work, which is not to say I don't value the fabric. If I didn't it would have been burned long ago. Oxford shoes, woollen trousers and checked flannel shirts were Grandpa's winter uniform.

Grandpa's careful thrift, his endless patience and his tidy ways are still ideals to which I strive (when I'm not trying to channel my Mom's artistry or Grandmother's outspokenness). Also, it turns out, his super-strength - I must have exhausted him and Grandma when I came along! Bill and I slept most of the next two days after they returned to Edinburgh.

Back of photo: "Jack at Idlewild"