15 October 2010


Wedding Day

For some reason I thought of my grandmother today.

Nana Grace was my dad's mother, a legend in her own time. A real Kiwi battler.
So many of my childhood memories are linked in to my grandmother's large backyard and tiny kitchen...

Pre-war canvas tent flapping in the breeze as cousins lay on ancient camp stretchers telling tall tales into the night.
Climbing laden fruit trees, chins dripping with plum juice. Munching furry golden peaches tasting of Summer.
Christmases crammed in her tiny living room, a feast of sherry trifle and roast chicken, golden potatoes.

Rolling down the steep bank, playing hide n seek.
The dusty scent of cobwebbed ancient tools stashed in her garage. Skeletons of abandoned bikes hanging from the ceiling.
Passionfruit vines, silverbeet and award-winning flower beds.

Toby jugs arranged on vinyl doilies. Photographs of long ago smiling down on us.
The ancient Morris Oxford she kept polished and shined.
Knitting, knitting, her arthritic hands always busy. A cardigan a year for each grandchild. Balls of Mauve acrylic.

Staying up to watch TV late into the night. Getting to see Goodnight Kiwi at Closedown, what a treat.
Watching Nana roll her ciggies. Her flowered aprons, her arthritic hands, her magnified eyes peering from behind thick lenses.

Steaming scalding dishwater too hot to touch. Help with the dishes or pull weeds in the garden. And make sure you eat up your silverbeet.

Tea poured from a pot, strong and hot with just a dash of Milk, specked with floating tea leaves. So strong a teaspoon could stand up in it, we joked to Nana. She mocked us for our cups of milky not-tea.
Ginger gems melting in our mouths. Apple shortcake, the best in the world.

Cats. Cats. Cats. A house full of moggies. Oh how Nana loved her cats, her dearest friends.
And the stories. If I could steer her away from the cat stories, what a treasure trove of tales she could tell.

Nana grew up in the sticks, down Taumaranui way. She was a Thompson. She ran barefoot and milked cows early, riding a horse through the bush to school.

Nana escaped the farm and headed to the big city to train as a nurse. Nana was an adventurer. She and her friends would escape the strictness of Matron's gaze and climb out windows to go dancing.

She met my grandad and fell in love. They married and life became more serious. No more climbing out of windows or dancing now. It was time to have babies and build a house. Nana and Grandad worked and worked to save money for their home. Three jobs my nana worked, often taking my baby Uncle with her.
Once she told me, she and grandad got a night out at the movies. But grandad was so worried if Uncle Hugh was OK, that he couldn't relax. So they walked home, and that was that. No more outings for them.

After saving and scrimping the house was built. A square brick two bedroomed house in Papatoetoe. The home of my memories. My dad was born in the middle of the baby boom. The hospital was bursting with new life and nana had to give birth on boards laid across a bath, so the story goes.

In all my nana had five children, my dad right in the middle. Nana could work miracles in making a meal stretch to accommodate not only her own brood, but all their friends for a meal. Legend has it that she made a stew out of one chop to feed an army. I remember being amazed that she did all her grocery shopping for $2. That's inflation for you. My grandad died suddenly of a heart attack in 1968, right before my dad met my mum, leaving Nana a widow. His portrait smiled down at us from above the TV throughout my childhood.

Nana was a battler, house proud and garden perfect. My young cousin was once given the job of mowing her lawns, when her arthritis became too bad, and one time he failed to turn up. Nana could not bear the thought of scruffy lawns so she pushed her ancient hand-mower down on her knees, until her lawns were up to scratch. Apparently, it took her all day. But that's the kind of person she was.

When I first moved to Auckland I went to stay with Nana quite a bit. We would sit and drink tea (hers strong, mine milky) and she would talk and talk. I remember saying to myself, I should really bring a tape recorder and record all these great stories about her life. But I never did. Life got busier and my visits out to Nana got fewer and further apart as I didn't drive and she lived far away from me.

In 1997 I finally got around to getting my drivers license. My first thought was, Now I can visit Nana more often! And off I went to her house. Which was locked up tight. In shock, I tried to find out where Nana could be. She was in hospital, had been taken poorly and never returned to live in her family home. I was too late. Nana passed away later that year. The family home was sold to developers and nana's prize gardens desecrated to make way for progress. I can't bear to drive past there now.

Why am I thinking about all these things?
My husband's grandad passed away just last week, at the age of 85. Thankfully we got to introduce him to his great-grandchildren last year. He was on the other side of the world in England. And now his stories are gone. The things he must have seen! And I never got to meet Mr G's legendary Grandma, Mary. She died while we were on Honeymoon. I wish I could have known her.

When my husband's father was diagnosed with cancer two years ago I meant to take my handicam up to the hospital and record footage of him with the kids. I meant to take my camera and take photos of them with him, for posterity. But he faded too fast, and I missed my chance.  After he moved to live in our city I never pulled the camera out when he would visit, because we saw him regularly. I never dreamed he'd be gone so soon. I have so few photos of him. So little for my kids to remember Brown Grandad by. I wish I'd realised that he wouldn't be around forever.

And my parents. I can't pretend they are in great health, though they are relatively young. Dad had a triple bypass last year, and Mum is often taken into hospital with her heart out of rhythm.

I don't want to think about mortality. Who does? But I want to make the most of what I have now. While our parents are around, I want to appreciate what we have. Spoil them, let them know how valuable they are to me, to us. Take photos of them, capture them on video. Capture moments in time for the future when (God forbid) they may not be around. Let my kids see and know that they have been loved by other generations.

That's what I'm thinking about today. Capturing moments. And valuing what we have before It's Gone.

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Catching the Magic said...

Amazing generation of people in that era. My Nana's husband died just after her 7th child was born and she brought them all up brilliantly in a little terraced house in Liverpool. Toilet in the backyard. Bath once a week in a tin tub in the kitchen. Three children sharing a bed. Amazing. All of them grew up into the most wonderful adults. All are married to their first mate and all have had 2 or 3 children - so I have alot of cousins and now second cousins, as they've gone on to have their own families! My Nana was an amazing seamstress and knitter. We have it so easy these days!

Leonie said...

oh wow Simone, this post is speaking volumes to me. I am worrying about my parents health at the moment and thats why, hopefully, in January we will move back to NZ. I don't want my children to miss out on the precious time with them (and vice versa). I love seeing all your pictures of grandparents etc, they are so precious to have. I have been lucky to have a great grandmother who lived to 101 years and it was amazing to visit and talk to her - they lived through some really tough times.
Getting out the video as need to capture more 'action' of my kids than I currently do.

count it all joy said...

This is a beautiful post Simoney. What precious memories you have and what an amazing legacy of grace they have left. My dear Dad passed away nine years ago this month and he had the most amazing stories and depth of knowledge that is now forever lost. I can really relate to what you were saying about "I meant to take more photos. I should have been recording it".

Thanks again for your transparency and generosity. Meredy xo.

Meghan Maloney Photography said...

Beautiful, vivid memories. I also had cause to think of all the special memories of my gran this week (Gee Gee to the kids)as she was down visiting last weekend, and even did a post on it too. Great minds...

I know what you mean about forgetting to capture the moments. It is so hard to find a balance between taking a Japanese tourist approach with the camera and taking enough to make sure the memories are captured!

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