Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Mind how you go

One of the strongest phrases uttered by my grandfather that still stays with me (aside from "Oh, choogs", which was his version of "Oh, shit", "Hit me with a bottle", which meant basically "Bloody hell" and "Your blood's worth bottling", which meant you were very highly commendable) is

Mind how you go

I hadn't thought about it in years until today, when I went to call out to the LGBB to be careful as she ran ahead. I realised I do an awful lot of "Be carefuls" or "Watch outs" and I always kick myself afterwards - it's a natural reaction, of course, because you do want them to be careful and look out, but I also know that there's a fair bit of fear in these phrases that I would rather not inflict on her.

So I was thinking how "mind how you go" was such a gentle way of saying "take care and be careful" without actually taking away any of that ownership for the child. Beautiful! Another gift from my grandfather, delivered long ago but only realised now. I haven't a clue where my grandfather got it from - whether it was a phrase he heard as a boy himself that stayed with him or whether he made it up - but I think it's so lovely and care-taking without over-'smothering'.

And this, dear reader, is where this post was going to end, until I was dragged out of bed at 2am, unable to think past my thoughts about Granddad. He's around. Surprisingly prominent at the moment, or perhaps not so surprising, considering I have been steeped in thoughts of my grandmother this past week - more on that another loooooong-post time *blush* - as he was always her protector in life. So perhaps things don't change so much after you're gone, after all??? Who knows.

Anyway, here is the rest of it. Written bright and early (oh my god, it's almost 4am), just for... well, me, I guess. But please! Take a read!


My Granddad was a gentle, encouraging, exceedingly kind man. He was the main guiding light for me in a childhood that was at different times scary, confusing, downright frightening and lonely.

I think that the children of this world who face torment and struggle of any kind - that is, they don't have a stable home life for whatever reason, be that abuse, family upheaval, etc. - will always come through the other side and into adulthood with a bright future, as long as they have an elder who represents that torch-bearing quality. For some, it is a parent. For others, maybe an aunt or uncle. Or a teacher, perhaps.

For me, it was Granddad.

His name was Tom. Grandma and his mates would often call him Tom the Pom. He was born and raised in a little village called Padiham, in that northern England region of Lancashire/Blackburn. On our honeymoon in 1999, a mere four years after he died, Steve and I had the great and honorable pleasure of visiting the house he grew up in. Tom had a younger brother, Jim - neither of them were Thomas or James, it was Tom and Jim.... something Granddad attributed to his father who, from my recollection of Granddad's accounts, was not a kind or giving man (so, therefore, couldn't even "give" them the long versions of these names when filling out their birth certificates, as Granddad used to tell the story) - and they lived with their parents in this house.

When he was about 19, at the time of the Jarrow Marches, Tom left Padiham to find work in London.

Tom's mother, Alice, whom he often spoke of - affectionately and with a great amount of tenderness in his voice - was afflicted by asthma. So much so that young Tom left school at age 14 to help look after her. While he was away, Alice died from an attack from which she did not recover. All these details only came to light slowly for me as I sat in Tom's niece's home in Burnley when we stayed with them during our '99 trip. I'm still a bit fuzzy about when Granddad actually began serving in the army (whether it was before or after his mum's death). At any rate, I was so saddened to read letters in my Granddad's handwriting - a young man's hand - that he had written to his mum while he was away. And in the same shoebox his niece possessed were the clippings about Alice's passing and funeral. More letters from Tom to his family, expressing his feelings of loss.

Granddad at some point joined the army. He served in World War II. To hear him tell the story (he was always FULL of high tales), he saw a lot of action. Of course, he never actually did. But he wouldn't let that minor detail get in the way of an eye-widening fable, would he? Noooh. He had me believing that he was a runner in the war. One day, when Grandma overheard him feeding me this story, she barked at him that the only running he'd ever done in the army was in track and field. She was right. His bellowing laughter that time gave him away, as always.

When he was 29 or 30, he met my Grandma Ruby (I made a brief post a while ago about my poignant connection to her, here). They were working in a pub together after the war. Ruby already had a son aged around 3 - my Dad! isn't it funny to think of your parents being so little - but from all accounts, Tom took to him like a duck to water. I don't doubt. Granddad was a-maaazing with little children. By the time my father was 6, Tom had adopted him officially.

And this is where my kindred links to my grandparents begin to entwine. If you've read the story of Ruby in that link above (oh, here's a different link, one that I actually really recommend reading if you want to learn more about me), you will know that she did not bear any more children after giving birth to my father. Tom and Ruby had several miscarriages - I can't be sure how many nor their exact gestation, but I do know that there were at least two in the second trimester, the final of which was almost catastrophic for Grandma.

After this, Tom applied to take his bride and son to Canada to live and work there. It is apparent now that the decision was possibly two-fold: one, to provide my father with the best possible education and opportunity in this younger country and, two, on perhaps a less expressed note, it was a chance to leave behind the devastation at not being able to bear a family together.

Two weeks shy of their big adventure, away from the country they both loved, Tom became quite ill. It was not until after he died (an elderly man aged 78) that we understood just how ailing he had been our entire lives. From the time he was a young man, he had problems with his kidneys - he survived on some crazy-insane amount of medication til the day he died, to make up for his lack of kidney function (I can't recall now if he had one removed... but he never had dialysis so I guess not???) - and it was this that prevented him from entering Canada. They missed their boat. Literally. SO... the next best option was Australia.

Yep, we were apparently the second luckiest country (to them).

When they arrived here, they lived in temporary huts in Mitcham (Victoria), both finding jobs and putting in solid hours their entire working lives. Tom found work as a night watchman at the old SEC building in the city, while Ruby managed an office somewhere out in the suburbs. They saved enough to buy a block of land and build a house, where they lived with my Dad for 40 and 45 years, respectively, until their deaths. The house looks exactly the same today (on the outside, anyway).

When his grandchildren came along, Tom wasted no time and set about giving us all of his affection and attention. Whenever we visited, we were held on pedestals - individually, I think we were all told we were his favourite but "shhhhh don't tell the others" - and he played with us tirelessly. I would serve him cups of tea for hours on end in our cramped cubby house (which he would fold his tall lean frame into, creating a parody out of bumping his head on the pitched ceilings and putting on a posh voice). When he was sitting watching his soaps - for reasons that still elude me, he loved The Young And The Restless and Days of our Lives!? - we would crawl up behind him as he sat on the couch and we'd tickle what little hair he had left on his head. He would oblige by muttering something about a "pesky fly" and swat the air, until (I'm gathering now) he got sick of us interrupting and turn around to catch us out in a fit of giggles. Granddad could create games out of anything. 

The amount of love that Granddad poured into us, his four grandchildren, is not lost on me. Particularly as I became more and more aware of both their struggles to conceive (which ended in a hysterectomy and very lengthy hospital stay for Grandma), but also as I saw just how much these two soldiered on, despite what they had faced. Like all good eggs of the time, they got on with it.

We were never, EVER a bother or nuisance to him. He had all the time in the world for each of us. When you made friends with Tom, it seemed you had made a friend for life. At his funeral, a young man from their street stood up and spoke - we had an open, Quaker-style gathering, where anyone from the congregation could stand up and speak if they felt moved to do so - and he was reduced to tears as he said that he felt that Tom, our kind grandfather, had been the only person who ever really believed in him.  He had made good in his life and it was largely to do with the belief that Tom had had in him.

I learned a huge lesson listening to this young bloke, for I knew that Granddad had also said in private moments to us that "Johnathon from down the street is a bit of a no-hoper" - did this mean, then, that my Granddad had not been all he had seemed all this time? Was I (shock-horror), in fact, not his most favourite grandchild?? Were there others!? Of course there were. It simply meant that Granddad could both hold his own opinion of a situation and share a bit of compassion and goodwill, regardless of his personal beliefs on another's way of life. And the fact that Johnathon was a "no-hoper" did not also prevent Tom from giving that boy a boost up for a good ten years of his adolescence - it remains a shining example to me of the good and decent act of simply passing the time of day with your neighbour, for that was honestly all Granddad ever did with this boy as he passed by their house on his way home. I think I'd love a neighbour who was genuinely encouraging and demonstrative and interested in my wellbeing.

Sometimes, I forget just how much I whinge, compared to my grandparents - both of them - and I would do well to remember the path of their lives more often.

Thank you for coming on this journey with me, if you have made it to the end. Oh, and....

Mind how you go, you lot.

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