Putting the “Grand” in to “Grandparents”

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I’m incredibly lucky with my family – as life goes on, I become more and more aware of this. I have a pretty large family, and we’re all very close even to this day.

I grew up with my Grandparents playing a huge part of my life – My mums mum lived nearest to us (“Donut Gran”)- my Grandad on this side passed away before I ever got to meet him – so for as long as I knew her, my Gran lived alone. On my Dads side, I have my Gran (“Poppas Gran”), and my Grandad, who sadly passed away when I was maybe 12 or 13. Thankfully, I do have memories of him.

I think my earliest memory of my Grandparents stems back to our family trips to the beach in the summer. We’d all bundle in the car (I have 3 older brothers, so it was always a squeeze) – and head to Waxham or Lowestoft for a day on the beach. It’d be packed, but the family would always manage to find each other and set up a mega camp of windbreaks, blankets, chairs, and the customary cricket pitch on the hard sand. I remember us driving home once and my Grandad clipping his wing mirror on the bridge at Coltishall [1] – he was *not* impressed! I think he had a red montego at the time.

It’s funny isn’t it – because I can vividly remember my Grandad – to us, the grandchildren, he was the best. We all wanted to sit with Poppa, and he had all the time in the world for us. I never saw it, but he had a grumpy side. I’m quite glad I never saw it (or at least, I don’t remember it). In all fairness, I have nothing but fond memories of all my Grandparents up until the more recent times – when I guess I’ve become more aware of, well, life. I’ll touch on this in a bit.

My Grandad passed away whilst watching TV (I think it was Coronation street, in his chair). I was only 12 / 13, so I don’t remember the details. I think he had a heart attack whilst sleeping – it certainly wasn’t an illness. I remember my mum and dad calling us in to their bedroom the next morning to tell us all. Even at that age, it’s a shock. It’s my first memory of someone close dying – I’ll never forget it.

I spent a lot of time at Donut Grans house – as she lived closer than Poppas Gran, I could bike round (back then, I biked everywhere). She was a keen gardener, and created a bit of her garden for “the boys” to be in charge of. Pretty much every weekend, we’d bike over, and get stuck in to some huge landscaping project in our little plot (new steps up the hill, levelling off the soil, re-routing the small path, you know the stuff!)

“Donut Gran”, my mum, and my nephew

Donut Gran would always find a job that we could do to “help” her out – the reward of course was a bit of money. Cutting the grass or the hedge – pulling up potatoes or carrots – turning the compost, painting the garage door. There was always something. I’m pretty sure that on more than one occasion, she’d cut the grass in the morning, and then pay us to cut it again in the afternoon when we went around. She knew it didn’t need doing, but she knew we liked it. And like all Grandparents do, if the grandchildren like it, you do it.

Poppas Gran was just the same – she’d save up the jobs for us, the hedge especially. She’d cut the bits she could, and leave the rest for us to do when we went round. Not so much with the grass, though. This was Poppas pride and joy, and when he passed away, Gran kept it to the expected standard. We’d have family gatherings and play tennis or cricket in her garden, and whilst she’d love watching us play, you could see, deep down, that she was keeping an eye on the playing surface so we didn’t damage it 😉

“Poppas Gran” and Grayson

In my teens, I had a paper round (well, 2 or 3). They took me close to Donut Grans house – and at weekends (or any day if it was school holidays), I’d stop in when I’d finished my paper round. I didn’t let her know I’d be coming around – she was always up at the crack of dawn, and the kettle was always boiled. Amazingly, she’d always have croissants, or crunchy nut cornflakes, and a glass of orange juice at the ready – and I was always welcomed with a warm cup of tea. In the winter, she’d often knit me new gloves – it was a challenge for her to create the best “paperboy” gloves – fingerless so I could grip the papers, but with fold down finger bits so I could keep my hands warm when cycling.

In some strange event – both my Grans had falls at pretty much the same time. I was at College at the time, so I made a point of popping to the hospital to check up on them as it was just across the road from the main College buildings.

Poppas Grans house was close to college, so I’d stop in and check things were ok, water any plants, get her post, then go and visit her. I don’t know how many times I went in, but it was enough to make a difference (I hope).

No one wants to be stuck in hospital alone.

I think the first fall for Donut Gran was the start of her downturn – she was fiercely independent, but relied on public transport to get around. As her confidence took a knock, so did her ability to get out and about. She was a keen swimmer. She’d take us to St Augustine’s [2] every week, and would go nearly every day by herself. Even when it closed, she joined a local private gym and pool, and would get the bus, then walk to the pool. She later had another fall which put an end to this. I think, as a family, we are all swimmers – we’d all go to Mangreen Pool (a private pool near Poringland way, ish), with my cousins, Grandparents etc. I don’t overly remember this, but I know that this, along with all the trips to St Augustine’s, are the reason that I enjoy swimming so much.

Poppas Gran had a car (up until only last year, well in to her 90’s), so whilst her fall stopped her driving for a while, she never lost the confidence to get out and about – to the Golf Club or in to the City.

It wasn’t until I reached my 30’s that I really realised just how incredible my Grandparents are / were. Donut Gran started to lose her memory, and her eyesight was getting worse and worse. She’d had a couple more falls, and lost her confidence totally. It was an incredibly sad thing to witness – my Grand parents were losing their “Grand” (I mean, they weren’t, but you know what I mean). These people who I had looked up to, admired, who had cared for me and been there when I didn’t want to talk to my parents – were slowly leaving us. Both my Grans were incredibly supportive when I was away at University, sending letters, with money slipped inside for a coffee, and news paper cuttings to get a bit of norfolk-life over to Wales.

Donut Gran passed away a couple of years ago – my Mum basically became her full time carer along with my uncle – and her memory loss was exceptionally sad. It’s like someone took her brain and pressed rewind on it. I remember going to visit her in the care home (something I struggled to bring myself to do, emotionally). She would sit there and talk to us, but you could tell she didn’t overly understand what was going on. I remember telling her that me and Ashleigh would be driving back up to Liverpool later, and she asked if they still put sawdust on the roads, for the horses. Even remembering this now really upsets me. Thankfully, she made up for it as we left the care home, I heard her say to the lady sitting next to her;

“It’s always nice when the grandchildren come to visit”

I said a few words at Donut Grans funeral [3] – it was the least I could do for her. I wish I could have said more, but there’s only so many words you can muster up in such an emotional environment – and I certainly couldn’t list off all the amazing things she’d done for us all over the years – we didn’t have that much time.

“Donut Gran” was also called “Teapot Nan” – When she passed away, I kept this from her house, pride of place on my work desk now.

As I write this, Poppas Gran is now in a care home. She’s doing well – she had a mishap before Christmas where my uncle found her in the bath, and she had no idea why she was there. We don’t know how long she’d been there – but we knew it was the end of her time living alone in her house. My Dad and Uncle organised a carer to go in and stay with her – but I think deep down we all knew that she needed to be in a home where she was looked after.

She moved in to a care home before Christmas – I think she’s now accepted that it’s her home. Her memory is fading – she’s in her 90’s, it’s to be expected. I went to visit her last week with Grayson, and you could see that she loved seeing him (and me, maybe!). Conversation was repetitive – she has very poor hearing so struggles, and she forgets what she’s already asked. Our lunch-time arrival did nothing to stop her eating her rice pudding, either!

As we left, she said “Bye Mark”, and then quickly apologised. She knew it was me, but I think she thought she’d said the wrong name. Little things like that get to me, I guess. She watched us leave and waved from her window. My parents went to visit a few days later, and she said “Mark and Grayson came to visit, and I saw Marks new car from the window”. Just hearing that she’d remembered made me happy – she may have lost her independence, but the lights are still on.

I’m lucky that the “Grand” in Grandparents, for me, truly meant that they were / are Grand (magnificent) people. People who are always there, and lets be honest, a soft touch when it comes to Grand Children.

Since becoming a parent – I see things from another angle now. I’d already witnessed my parents become Grandparents a long time ago, but since Grayson arrived, I’ve witnessed my parents become *his* Grandparents. I’ve also witnessed Ashleighs parents become Grandparents for the first time. It’s just an unconditional love. Grayson adores all his Grandparents, and already you can see that he’s going to grow up having a similar relationship to them as I do / did have with mine.

Every time we ask Grayson what he wants to do, it’s a “See Nanny Grandad, See Granny Grandad” response. “See Grandad Trains”. “Play with Nanny”. He’s too young to really know how Grand they’ll be – but if it’s anything to go by, he’s got them wrapped around his little finger already ;-). I hope he can build the memories and relationships with all his Grandparents as I did with mine – and truly understand why they’re so Grand.

[1] : Coltishall is a small village in Norfolk – with the River Bure running through it. We’d hire our pedalloes and canoes here in the summer

[2] : St. Augistines was a council-run swimming pool in Norwich. It was a no-fuss swimming pool. Huge, deep, and some lanes. It had a diving board the scared the living daylight out of me, as did the massive drop in the depth of the pool to allow for diving. I was like Nemo at the”Drop off” – I’d swim up to it, but you’d be hard pushed to get me to swim over it.

Image: Evening News
Image: Evening News

[3] : My Gran passing away was the first death in my family that I truly understood – she was in her 90’s, as is my other Gran – and I’d never really had to handle it before. So I wanted to say a few words at her funeral (see below), just because she really was Grand. All my Grandparents are / were the best I could have ever have hoped for, and I hope Grayson experiences that level of compassion from him – I have no doubt he will.

I thought I’d say a few words about the memories I have of Gran, which I’m sure are fondly echoed by many in this room:

A gran who seemed to have a permanently boiled kettle, providing a never ending supply of tea. 

A gran who certainly knew how to get the most from her Eastern Counties bus pass, and was single handedly keeping St.Augustines swimming pool in business.

A gran who would have warm croissants, Crunchy nut cornflakes (mixed with normal corn flakes), and orange juice, ready for the cold winter mornings when I’d stop in after doing my paper round.

A gran who was obsessed with sports, who took us all to see Norwich play at some point, and one who would sit and watch any football match that happened to be on TV.  

A gran who mastered “Video Plus” long before anyone else really knew what it was.

A gran who would sit and play chequers, draughts and snap for hours, and, I can confirm, managed to do so for many many years without loosing any of the pieces.

A gran who would happily have the grass and hedge cut by each of us (probably on the same day without us knowing) so we could earn some pocket money

A gran who would send me a copy of the Norwich newspaper, the “Pink’un” each week, whilst I was at University, and inside each copy was a scrap of paper with her match review, best wishes, and a £5 note, so I could get a coffee whilst I was reading the paper.

A gran who taught us all valuable life lessons. Of how to remain strong, positive, and confident. 

A gran who would take me to my dentist appointments whilst I had braces, knowing I was dreading it, who would remind me each time before I went in, words that I remember saying to her in recent years after her falls…..when she was concerned about what the doctors would do
 “It’s 5 short minutes, in a very, very long life”

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