My dad’s cousin lost his wife yesterday. She wasn’t an elderly lady and had no underlying health issues but she’s gone all the same, just a few months after having become a grandmother.
I think that’s what upsets me most about the situation – that the baby will grow up without knowing G-. My own nan was my absolute hero – throughout the time I knew her, she carried herself with quiet dignity and wicked sense of humour – and I hate to think of anyone else being denied the kind of relationship I had with her, and that I know G- would have cultivated with her own grandchild. Both women will be known now as a series of anecdotes and scattered photographs which I find absolutely heartbreaking. No matter how good a writer you are, words can’t recreate two people so vibrant, kind and dignified.
I found my wedding card from G- and her husband and it’s odd to think that the handwriting on it can never now be replicated. Death creates scarcity, rarity, from the knowledge that the will which made these things can never come again. The things I think of as Nan’s, my children will think of as mine, the papers she wrote on will be lost and the anecdotes forgotten through the generations until she is no more than a trail of bureaucracy. Three certificates – birth, marriage and death – seem ill-suited to chronicle the life of such an extraordinary woman.
I think of my own mother – of her slightly off-kilter style and brilliant wit – and L-, S-’s mum – a knowing, self assured matriarch with expertly placed barbed comments and equally well-timed hugs. I think of our fathers – very different men who happen to share a birthday – and hope that my children will enjoy V-’s childish antics and my dad’s fortitude. I have been as blessed with my in-laws as I was with my own parents and desperately want any future generations to not only meet but also remember these incredible people who came before them.
Life is precious, short, and unpredictable. I may not change the world, but if I can make just one generation feel as loved and cherished as my predecessors have for me, then I will have done enough.
I once tried to express this thought in a story and have pasted it below. I hope it’s more succinct than the above ramble.
A stitch in time…
I can still hear your words in my head, every time I pick up the needles. Your ever patient voice always makes me smile, and makes this sometimes arduous task into a joy. It’s when I feel closest to you, when I can really feel that once you were there, beside me on the sofa. I have few happy memories from when I was that young but this one little snippet of a recollection makes up for all the bad ones.
It was Christmas – or rather a few days afterwards, when the novelty of all of our new toys had worn off – and you sat with a half finished glove swinging like a pendulum between your knitting needles. Mum and Dad were out trawling the January Sales and David was pushing a toy car between Grandad’s feet as he slept. An American Tale was on Television for the first time.
I clambered up onto the sofa and sat beside you, watching those needles twitch as your hands fed them a continuous length of yarn. I could only have been watching you for five minutes before you reached down to the flower-patterned bag at your side and pulled out two little pink needles and some wonderfully garish turquoise wool. In what seemed like seconds, you had cast on and pulled me into your lap. You held my hands as I made my first stitch and quietly recited instructions to me for each one which followed. Even when I knit now, all these years on, I still hear those slow, loving words.
Over the following two weeks I must have dropped as many stitches as I made but you found all of them somewhere in the mess of what I would later declare was Grandad’s Motorbike scarf. It barely fit around his neck but I’d run out of turquoise wool by that point so you cast off for me and we presented it to him, both of us proud of what we’d done.
It was only the other day, coming back from the service, that I realised little had changed in all those years. In my mind, you still sit beside me in case I drop yet another stitch – and I know I will always hear your serene instructions. I wonder, though, whose careful directions you followed as gloves, hats and tea cosies fell from your needles. Was it your mother, or hers? Had Grandad’s mum, the magnificently named Flora McGregor-Fleming, taught you how to knit one purl one, as you as you had taught your own daughter-in-law?
And who had taught them? Did each of them hold these little treasured memories of learning to knit? And who were all these other women? I know of you, Evelyn – your mother – and the Annies – your Nans. But then, who came before them?
Realisation dawns as I finish a row in the tasteful blue scarf that I’m making for the man who will be Grandad when I am Nan. All that is left of these women who came before me are their stitches. And as suddenly as realisation comes so does a happy little laugh – with each stitch I make I am closer to you, and you your teacher, right back to the first person who sat with two sticks and thought Somehow, I’ve got to make a cloth from this because I can’t afford a loom.
A stitch in time saves more than nine, it saves all the billions which came before it.