Without you, I wouldn’t be the person I’ve become. Without you, I would have a very different view of the world. Perhaps I would not be so kind, or so fond of Nature. Perhaps I would have grown up selfish, as opposed to selfless. Financially I would definitely be richer had I never witnessed kindness and compassion such as yours, but my life would have been so much poorer for not having that warmth of heart and the kindness of soul that you taught me to own and use.
I may be forty now – still so very young by your standards, I know – but I still remember the Sunday afternoons preparing mountains of allotment vegetables for storage or dinner. Shelling peas and stripping runner beans as we chatted was one of my favourite things to do. You showed me that it’s the very simplest of things that can bring the most pleasure. I didn’t need expensive toys; all I needed to be happy was a big earthenware bowl, a cake tin – and you.
You fuelled and encouraged the love for books that my mother had instilled in me from a very early age. I remember our evenings in the sitting room, where I’d read The Famous Five and always have my dictionary to hand in case I stumbled across a word I hadn’t seen before. I remember deciding to run away – as many children do in their fantasy worlds – and packing a suitcase. You pretended to encourage me before checking my suitcase – and laughed because it was packed to bursting with every book I could lay my hands on. Nothing else; just books. How you giggled!
I can coax ailing plants back to health, and it was you who taught me how to do it. Your Tradascantia is so many different plants now; it began to break under its own weight and so I pruned it and put each segment into pots. I still refer to it as “Nan’s plant” and I have four of them in the house now, with many others given away. My sister-in-law calls hers The Triffid, because it won’t stop growing.
Your compassion for all things living knew no bounds. From bee to bird to dog, you were kind to them all; you taught me much of what I know about birds, and the conservation of this planet we call home. Six years ago I carried a fatally injured blackbird the mile home so that it could die in a safe warm box in the garage; it’s what you would have done, and what you would want me to do. You were still alive then, and you loved the bouquets I used to have sent to you.
I used to look forward to our lunchtime meetings on my days off, before I left town. Always the same cafe – we might as well have bought shares in it! – and you always had the mushroom omelette. The staff knew us so well that we never had to pay for a cup of tea when we went in together (I remember that you preferred coffee, and the staff found it odd that I take my tea black). We’d catch up with each others’ news and would then proceed to setting the world to rights. I shall never forget your fight with the council to have your Council Tax lowered – they were terrified of you, and quite rightly so! You may have been tiny, but those bright blue eyes betrayed a steely determination; I knew you were going to win that battle, just as you had won so many others.
When you weren’t frightening people in authority (I get that from you too!) your eyes held a merry twinkle to go with your mischievous grin. We laughed long and often. I know that I must have been far from the perfect Granddaughter, but you loved me unreservedly and without judgement regardless. All four of us mattered to you, and I remember that you took great pleasure in your three great-Grandchildren.
You were 93 when you decided to close your eyes for the last time and say goodbye to us all. You were so tired, and your life hadn’t been all wine and roses. I hope you know that you left your mark though; you helped people all your life (starting at aged nine, when you found a man in a field bleeding from an artery and saved his life using pure instinct). You were loved by so very many – my old schoolfriends still remember you fondly.
Most importantly, you taught my sister and I to be the good people we are today, and we thank you for that.
There is a robin guarding you at the cemetary; I’ve seen it each time I’ve come to visit. I always say hello to it and send up a little prayer of thanks, because if the robin is there I know you’re not alone.
Here’s to you, Nan, on your 98th birthday. Always loved, always remembered and always missed. You were an amazing, inspirational lady, and your legacy lives on in my sister and I, and all the lives we touch.
I love you always.