life

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Contents - Libby Raynolds

YES­TER­DAY I lis­tened to a ra­dio pro­gram. Peo­ple rang in with mem­o­ries of their grand­moth­ers. I was sur­prised, and a lit­tle dis­ap­pointed, by the way the mem­o­ries seemed to be pre­dom­i­nantly about food. Of­ten, the mem­ory of the grand­mother was equiv­a­lent to the mem­ory of ap­ple pie or sponge cake. Surely their grand­mother meant more to them than that? What about their grand­mother’s favourite mu­sic or book? What did she laugh about? More im­por­tant, how did she make them feel?

I wanted to ring up, but felt I couldn’t do my grand­mother jus­tice by ex­plain­ing in a few words what she meant to me. Even though I am 65, I think about her ev­ery day. Of­ten in a tricky sit­u­a­tion I’ll ask my­self what she might have done. She doesn’t let me down.

Born into a large fam­ily at the end of the 19th cen­tury, El­iz­a­beth grew up on a farm in Eng­land’s Lake Dis­trict. When her fa­ther died young, her mother was left to run the farm and to some­how feed and clothe her chil­dren. Af­ter a lim­ited ed­u­ca­tion, the boys worked along­side their mother. The girls were sent out to do­mes­tic ser­vice.

Noth­ing about her life had been easy. Yet she had the ca­pac­ity to en­joy the sim­plest plea­sures. Cream added to her tea gave her ‘‘ nec­tar of the gods’’. A new bloom on a plant, a let­ter in the mail, but­ter on new pota­toes, a favourite song on the wire­less, a poem, a story, all gave her in­fi­nite de­light. Hu­mour could be found in or­di­nary events. Some of my favourite mem­o­ries are of Grandma and me shak­ing with laugh­ter over some­thing, al­most to the point of col­lapse.

My grand­mother had plenty of spunk. At the same time she was the essence of warmth and kind­ness. Ev­ery­one who came to her door was wel­comed. To her fam­ily she was un­fail­ingly de­voted and loyal, and she helped them in ev­ery sit­u­a­tion. She could find the right phrase for a home­work com­po­si­tion, pick straw­ber­ries to fund a trip to Lon­don, be the ex­tra in a card game, com­fort a cry­ing child and me­di­ate wisely in any house­hold dis­pute. When my mother’s mar­riage failed, we were taken in. The best years of my childhood were spent in my grand­par­ents’ home.

I’d love to be able to re­port that she had the end­ing of her life that she de­served. It wasn’t so. Af­ter my grand­fa­ther died, she suf­fered a se­ries of strokes. The last years of her life were spent in a nurs­ing home, away from places and peo­ple she knew. My grand­mother was well cared for, but I knew she longed to go to sleep and not wake up. When she died, I im­me­di­ately had a strong sense of her pres­ence. The fam­ily in Eng­land sent me her en­gage­ment ring. What a priv­i­lege to wear it.

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