The Things We Do For Love

A grandad is re­mem­bered fondly in this en­dear­ing com­plete story by Eva Jor­dan.

The People's Friend Special - - CONTENTS -

A poignant story by Eva Jor­dan

GRANDAD BERT was a big man, tall with broad shoul­ders and a loud voice. He loved me, I know, and not just be­cause he called me Quee­nie and gave me money for the ice-cream van. Reach­ing well above six feet when stand­ing to at­ten­tion like the drill sergeant he’d once been, he tow­ered above mere mor­tals.

A gi­ant amongst men, just like the ones I dis­cov­ered in the richly il­lus­trated books of fairy tales and mythol­ogy of my wide-eyed, imag­i­na­tive child­hood.

How­ever, un­like the gi­ant at the top of Jack’s beanstalk or David’s Go­liath, Grandad, although for­mi­da­ble at times, was more akin to Robin Hood’s Lit­tle John – a gen­tle gi­ant with a rau­cous laugh, close by when needed and solid as a rock.

Bert came from a strange place, though, and one I strug­gled to un­der­stand at times. He came from the past, a coun­try as for­eign to me as any ex­otic-sound­ing realm or king­dom my small fin­gers would stab at when we stud­ied his dog-eared at­las to­gether.

Nes­tled upon his knee, his large but coarse work-wearied hands hold­ing me safe, I lis­tened in awe, trans­fixed as he de­scribed some of the far-flung places his Army ca­reer had car­ried him to.

“I’ve been to places you wouldn’t be­lieve, our Quee­nie,” he’d say.

Quee­nie wasn’t my real name. My real name was Louise – or Lou to my mum and Louie to my friends – but I was al­ways Quee­nie to Grandad Bert.

“I’ve seen the pyra­mids in Egypt and trav­elled by camel across the Sa­hara desert, and I’ve even seen that great wall of China.

“Did yar know yar can see that wall from space, Quee­nie?” he’d say. “Space, though,” he re­peated, look­ing up thought­fully, “that’s one place I haven’t bin to.” His shoul­ders heaved up and down as he laughed.

He spoke of vis­it­ing the Kykkos Monastery, si­t­u­ated high among the Troo­dos Moun­tains in Cyprus, where pur­ple-robed monks wan­dered amongst mo­saic walls of ex­plod­ing colour.

And, when de­ployed in Ger­many, he de­scribed be­ing present dur­ing the con­struc­tion of the Ber­lin Wall, or “Ber­liner Mauer” as he would some­times shout out in a comedic Ger­man ac­cent.

“You weren’t even a twin­kle in yer ol’ dad’s eye when that mon­stros­ity went up,” he’d say, shak­ing his head.

I never asked Grandad to ex­plain, be­cause the tone of that big laugh of his as­sumed I knew, but I never re­ally un­der­stood how or why I must have even­tu­ally made my dad’s eyes twin­kle.

“Ter­ri­ble, it was,” Grandad Bert con­tin­ued. “Fam­i­lies sep­a­rated, torn apart overnight by that thing of seg­re­ga­tion.”

Then he’d sigh heav­ily and stare straight ahead and I knew just for a few sec­onds I’d dis­ap­peared from Grandad’s view and he was look­ing at life through his sad eyes again.

EVEN­TU­ALLY the watery glaze that had cor­rupted his sight would lift. “I dunno, our Quee­nie, the things peo­ple do to one another, eh?” Then he’d look at me and smile. I knew bet­ter than to ask what he meant.

I sat with Grandad in Novem­ber 1989 and watched as the fall of that con­crete bar­rier was tele­vised across the world. As sledge­ham­mer­ing and chisel-chip­ping in­di­vid­u­als hacked into that ever-de­creas­ing bar­ri­cade, Grandad looked on and smiled.

On very rare oc­ca­sions, Grandad Bert talked about his chums from the in­fa­mous Changi prison in Sin­ga­pore.

He jested and laughed about failed es­cape plans with friends that had strange names like Freddy the Frog­man, Dan­ger­ous Dave or Eddy the Egg Man.

His craggy face al­ways cracked a huge smile when­ever he re­called some small mo­ment of vic­tory, usu­ally won through the cun­ning and guile of both him­self and his cap­tured com­rades.

How­ever, although his mouth al­ways smiled when he re­canted these sto­ries, I no­ticed that his eyes never did – his eyes were al­ways sad.

It was only when I was much older that I fi­nally un­der­stood Changi was not the adult play­ground Grandad Bert had made it seem for my child­ish ears, and the pain and suf­fer­ing I had glimpsed from time to time be­hind those soft brown eyes was in­deed very real.

Grandad Bert was also a proud man – a man’s man – much to my mother’s an­noy­ance at times.

He was pop­u­lar and al­ways more at ease with other men. He came from a land where men and women had clearly de­fined roles.

“House­work is women’s work,” I’d of­ten hear him re­mark, or “A woman’s place is in the home” was another favourite, which I’m sure he said just to in­duce that suck­ing-on­le­mons, pursed-lip ex­pres­sion such state­ments al­ways pro­voked in my mother.

Mum hailed from a place called the Swing­ing Six­ties, a place that founded the Bea­tles and the Rolling Stones, the mini skirt and the con­tra­cep­tive pill, but also the place where the women’s lib­er­a­tion move­ment was ar­guably at its most pow­er­ful.

Inas­much as Grandad’s past was alien to me, so, too, the new world his daugh­ter be­came a part of was to him.

The women’s lib­er­a­tion move­ment was as for­eign to Grandad Bert as it is to my own daugh­ter, who is one of a gen­er­a­tion now reap­ing its re­wards.

Grandad Bert be­lieved in mov­ing for­ward, and although he said we must al­ways learn from the past, he said we should re­spect it as well.

So, although Grandad Bert and Nana Pat came from a place that was dif­fer­ent from the one I knew, I un­der­stood it worked for them.

Grandad kept the gar­den whilst Nana Pat kept the house, and when Nana cooked her fa­mous Sun­day roasts or brewed tea in their tired but homely kitchen, Grandad cooked his in­fa­mous home brew in his shed at the bot­tom of the gar­den.

Grandad played darts; Nana knit­ted. Grandad wore whiskers and Nana wore make-up, and as far as Grandad Bert was con­cerned the only men that had any­thing to do with make-up were stage ac­tors.

Real men, in Grandad’s opin­ion, had no place mess­ing about with make-up.

Imag­ine, then, my sur­prise, when vis­it­ing Nana and Grandad one af­ter­noon, to see Grandad bent over Nana’s feet, del­i­cately paint­ing her toe­nails.

Mum and I had stopped by on an im­promptu visit to give Nana a bunch of flow­ers “to cheer her up”, Mum had said.

I was some­what con­fused be­cause Nana didn’t seem sad. She al­ways had a lovely smile for me when­ever I saw her.

My grand­fa­ther had very strict ideas about

men’s and women’s roles in the world. But some­times peo­ple can

sur­prise you . . .

I did no­tice she had lost a lot of weight quite sud­denly, though, and she also seemed to have trou­ble bending over.

Her smi­ley face of­ten con­torted into what I was pretty sure re­sem­bled pain when­ever she tried.

NANA also seemed to sud­denly start hav­ing more visi­tors than usual. Adults wear­ing glassy eyes and big, false smiles would breeze in, some with gifts, oth­ers with funny sto­ries, and all would sit with her for a while.

When they felt they had out­stayed their welcome they’d get up to leave, still smil­ing, promis­ing to come again soon.

But be­fore they reached the front door and were out of Nana’s sight their smiles would van­ish. They would talk in hushed voices to Mum and Dad and shake their heads gravely.

I’ll never for­get that af­ter­noon, f ind­ing Grandad sit­ting with Nana, just the two of them, and Grandad paint­ing Nana’s toe­nails.

Nana was sit­ting up­right, her head propped against cush­ions and pil­lows, her legs stretched out across a worn and faded leather sofa.

It was a warm af­ter­noon and a lone breeze gen­tly lifted the net cur­tains of an open win­dow.

Grandad Bert sat at the other end of the sofa hold­ing one of Nana’s tiny feet in his big hands.

He wore an ex­pres­sion of in­tense con­cen­tra­tion as one hand held the heel of Nana’s foot while the other one bal­anced a tiny brush be­tween his large thumb and foref inger.

Mum and I stood for a mo­ment, fas­ci­nated, silently star­ing. They hadn’t heard us come in and Nana Pat and Grandad Bert were laugh­ing to­gether.

Then Grandad caught sight of us, turn­ing his head in our di­rec­tion as know­ing eyes peered over read­ing glasses bal­anc­ing on his large nose.

He seemed flus­tered for a mo­ment, his weather-beaten, lined face sud­denly slightly ruddy in ap­pear­ance.

“Roses!” Nana ex­claimed as I passed her the bou­quet of flow­ers Mum had pur­chased. “Beau­ti­ful red roses to match my red lip­stick and toe­nails.”

Mum bent down and kissed Nana’s fore­head be­fore ven­tur­ing down to the other end of the sofa to look at Grandad’s hand­i­work. She raised her eyes and seemed to smirk at Grandad. “Nice work, Dad,” Mum praised. Grandad coughed to clear a throat that didn’t need clear­ing.

“Yeah, well,” Grandad Bert be­gan in a voice that sud­denly seemed much deeper than usual, “make yersel’ use­ful and make us a cuppa.”

As Mum and I bus­ied our­selves in the kitchen mak­ing tea and bis­cuits, I no­ticed Mum wore a pleased look of both tri­umph and sur­prise.

IT wasn’t too long af­ter that day that Nana passed away, then Grandad fol­lowed her a few years later. That day al­ways stayed with me, though.

I knew, de­spite the things Grandad had en­dured dur­ing his life, it took a lot for him to paint Nana’s nails.

He was a proud man, but Grandad Bert also knew Nana was a proud woman who took a great deal of pride in her ap­pear­ance.

I told my hus­band about the time Mum and I caught Grandad paint­ing Nana’s toe­nails, so imag­ine my sur­prise one day, when I was heav­ily preg­nant, un­able to bend down and feel­ing par­tic­u­larly unglam­orous, when Richie, my hus­band, painted my toe­nails to cheer me up.

“I dunno,” he joked. “The things we do for love.”

The End.

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