Reading the lovely Viola Blue’s blog post earlier today, “Reading Between the Lines” set me to reminiscing about my own grandparents, or more specifically, my maternal grandparents. Like Viola’s own grandfather, they came from a time where affection was not handed out with ease, and they had their indoor clothes, and their outdoor clothes – my grandfather never once left the house without a tie, even if he was just popping to the shop at the end of the road for his newspaper.
Growing up, I never felt that I really knew my grandmother. She was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis before I was born, and for as far back as I remember, this had affected both her speech and her mobility, meaning that when we visited, she was stuck in an armchair, and I can honestly say that I don’t remember us ever having a proper conversation. She died when I was 17 and I barely knew her at all.
My grandfather was a stern-looking Welshman – a think accent and ill-fitting false teeth meant that as a child, I had almost as much trouble understanding him as I would have if he had been speaking an alien language. He had been my grandmother’s carer for so long that he was completely lost after she died, not that he would have ever admitted this to anyone. He had his routine, which he stuck to rigidly, and God help anyone who got in the way of it. He was a dear sweet man under the surface though, and often saved special treats for visitors, although on occasion this, and his failing eyesight, did mean that we were forced to eat out of date Quality Streets (other chocolates are available) or gone off beer to avoid upsetting him. In one memorable occasion, in his efforts to help me ease the travel sickness I always suffered on the way to visit, he fetched me a glass of water in what turned out to be a cut glass vase, and which didn’t appear to have been washed after it’s last occupants had been thrown out. Once again, eager not to offend, I felt I had to drink the water. Still, here I am, alive and kicking, so no harm done.
It was only after my grandfather died, and we were clearing his house, that I really felt that I got to know both my grandparents. It turns out that my grandfather was something of a hoarder – among other things we discovered were £80 of coppers and his spare glass eye (remind me to tell you that story one day!). As well as these unusual finds, we also discovered that he had an impressive collection of photographs, although some of these he appeared to have been using as coasters! It was a labour of love scanning and restoring these to make up albums for my mum and her brother and sisters. As I studied each photograph, it really felt that I was discovering what their true personalities were before age and ill health got in the way.
Among the family photographs, there was a stash of letters and photos that a variety of servicemen had sent to my grandmother during the Second World War. It turns out that, at 17 years old, my grandmother had lied about her age to join the Navy, and had thoroughly enjoyed herself. From all accounts, she was one of those people that thrived during the war. Looking through the photographs of her with her friends, she is so full of vitality and fun that it is hard to marry this to the version of her that I knew. That said, the letters that I now treasure gave me such a strong sense of who she was, that wartime Doris is how I now choose to remember her. I think, had I known her back then, we would have been great friends.
The letters and their accompanying photographs now reside safely in a folder to be passed down through the generations. I may not have known the men who wrote them, but they meant something to someone (not least my grandmother), and as such are to be treasured. One day I hope to be able to at least reunite the correct letter with the correct photograph. I would love to be able to find out if they made it back to their loved ones, but I wouldn’t know where to start. If anyone has any suggestions, I would love to hear them.
Thank you Viola Blue for inspiring this trip down memory lane. Maybe next time I will introduce everyone to my paternal grandparents who were a very different kettle of fish indeed!