Dad and I drove to Winton yesterday to visit my grandmother and great aunt. It was a heavy day — my heart was heavy, and the sky too, with mist and cloud and pent-up rain that didn’t break until we hit Milton on the way home. Aunty Nan was bright, particularly when we got onto politics and family history, and took her for a walk around her garden. But Granny was sleepy, her head drooping like a small child’s and her hands turning together in her lap. I held my cheek against hers and stroked her hands, and I hope that somehow she knew I was there.
When we were children, we often stayed with Granny on the farm. She had a beautiful house and a beautiful garden, with a berry cage and a glasshouse and a tyre swing in a big tree. The garden had stone walls and wooden gates, with secret hiding places and a lawn we played croquet on at Christmastime. Papa died when I was little, and Granny kept all this up on her own, although I know she missed him very much. But we were too young for that for a long time, so we picked berries and collected pine cones and swept leaves and snuck into sheds and stole grapes happily.
Granny woke early, and she always got to the kitchen first. She’d check the traps for mice (which ended up, unceremoniously, in the compost bucket — I shiver at it still), light the Rayburn, make a pot of tea. She’d make the rounds of our beds with the tea tray, give us each a cup, and a slice of bread with butter and sugar on it. It was a lovely way to start the day, lovely too when I managed to get up in time to help with the ritual. Granny would be dressed, always neat and trim, but Mum would be soft and warm in her dressing gown, and I loved them both, loved the order of my grandmother and the sleepy arms of my mother.
Christmas was a big deal at Granny’s house. All the aunts and uncles and cousins came, and the cooking started early and the dishes stretched forever. We were allowed our stockings before breakfast, and my sister and I opened our presents to each other. But everything else had to wait until after church. Then the other families arrived, and the feasting began. The uncles put all the leaves in the table, and we used the best crockery and cutlery. We got most of the fruit and vegetables from the garden — teams of children sent out to forage, pod, pick, scrub — and I guess the lamb came from one of the farms. The luckiest adults got the ruby-red glasses that Papa brought back from Florence, and I’d watch them carefully, wondering when it would be my turn.
I was never allowed to read as much as I wanted to at the farm — children needed fresh air and activity — but on a cold day, Granny would light the fire and then I could curl up beside her chair, its leather worn, cracked, and she’d stroke my hair, her fingers curved, the bones tender against the nape of my neck. She understood balance, the weighting of exercise with rest, work with play, talk with silence. And maybe that is why it’s hard to see her now, to see her quiet and still, without the counterweight of activity and independence and work. She drew life from hospitality and conversation and making a home; without that, she is frail, unmoored.
And in that unmooring, I lose myself too. So many of my lines to the past are traced through these women — mother, grandmother, great-aunt. Their talk gave me my history, and it is their arms I returned to again and again in that vaguely tortured sorting out of self that our teens and twenties so often demand. So now that they are gone, or going, I feel unsteadied, unsure on the shaky ground of my middle years. I reach out to them, stroke a hand or gently kiss a cheek, and my touch comforts myself as much as them; it comforts me, and I fear its breaking.
This post is part of a brave blogging link-up that’s part of Liv Lane’s How To Build a Blog You Truly Love ecourse. As a participant, I was challenged to step outside my comfort zone and share something with you that felt especially brave.