I normally try to keep my life into compartments: home life, work life, blogging… but Friday was the funeral of my grandmother, who died back on 20th January. At one level, when thinking abstractly, I absolutely recognise that the last twelve months were not easy for her: forced to leave her home into a carehome, numerous falls and injuries, losing memory and increasing fears; but seeing her coffin coming into the crematorium was still such a visceral shock and her death has left a real sense of emptiness.
When I think of her now, my memories are very sensory:
- the softness of her skin when, as a kid I was compelled to kiss her cheek and, as an adult, I chose to;
- the smell of porridge simmering – a smell I love but a taste and texture I hate! – and that brings with it memories of warmth and cinnamon and comfort – that comfort brought by eating warming food whilst the house is cold around you; memories of childhood weekends spent with her, most Sunday nights for the first ten years of my life, staying on her farm;
- the warmth of a hot water bottle, warming a tiny patch of the bed frigid and cold around it;
- the scent of her washing in an ancient twin tub washing machine, pocking and prodding with a stick;
- her home baking, a traditional I am proud to be continuing (I’ve not bought cakes or biscuits for years!) and hope to be passing on to my daughter: the butter crispness of her viennese fingers, dipped in melted chocolate; the shortness of her mince pie pastry – and the sparseness of her mincemeat filling!
- the thickness of the cream in the milk delivered to the breakfast table, still warm from the cow, unpasteurized, rich, hearty;
- the sound of her churning milk into butter in an old re-purposed sweet jar rescued from the trash years previously;
- Sunday dinners, accompanied by the smell of sage and onion;
- her larder – a feature of the home I’ve always tried to recreate;
- sitting on her knee as she spelled out words on the margins of the newspaper, trying to guess the words before she finished writing it;
- the prickling of hay on skin, as my brother and I ran around and climbed over the rickety bales of hay in the hayshed, probably horrifying my own parents;
- the feel of vegetables from the garden, testing them for ripeness between fingers;
- the sweetness of raspberries and strawberries, stolen when she wasn’t looking – or in hindsight, taken as she watched a dozen times more indulgent with us than with her children;
- the feel and weight of the soil digging and hoeing; the effort of lifting hay bales; the strain in the shoulders and determination at the age of twelve that I could do it myself;
- the whisper-weight of wild mushrooms, cushioned between fingers as we eased them from the earth;
- the sucking weight of mud on wellington boots, trudging around the farm, herding cows and bullocks and horses from field to field at the age of eight;
- The heady warm scents of the cow sheds – still comforting and familiar when, driving past local farms, the scent wafts into the car making others turn up their noses – even after numerous splatterings from the cows being milked;
- the scent of leather and leather polish, saddles and horse tack – a scent my own wife brings home too;
- the weight of a shotgun in my arms, a burden I chose not to shoulder;
- her intense aversion to waste: the re-used jam jars lining my cupboard and the range of things not thrown out because I might be able to use them for something are a testament to her;
- the unsentimental attitude to meat, quite happy to give us a calf as a present year on year, letting us mix their milk, feed them, feel their heads butting us as they sucked from the bottles, then delivering a freezer full of meat the next year;
- the indulgent smile as I lay on the sofa with a book, asking whether I was really poorly or just wanted to finish reading my book;
- her poetry;
- the humility of a woman who claimed to have had such a dull life that no one would be able to remember anything worth celebrating;
- the glint of total pride in her eye when she made the effort to visit me in London whilst I was training for the bar and took her to Lincoln’s Inn Dining Hall for lunch – salmon on a bed of spinach if I remember rightly;
- Her joy in and wonder at holding and seeing her great grandchildren.
And, granny, your greatest legacy is the little six-year old now who loves to bake and play with water and is was at her ease at your funeral and memorial.
Many thanks for every lesson you taught, whether you realised you were teaching or not!