The more I age, the more relative age becomes. Today would have been Dad’s 78th birthday. Happy Birthday Dad.
I remember when I was 12, my maternal grandfather turned 78, and I thought that was really impressive. Wow! Granddad (and he always insisted it was spelt that way) was 78. That was so old. I don’t know why 78 stuck in my mind as being an impressive age to live to, and actually he lived until just short of his 90th birthday.
Granddad was a kind-hearted, but outwardly seeming austere man. Well that’s how he seemed to me and that might have been that because of geographical distance I didn’t see him that often. I was a little scared of him. He wasn’t scary. It’s just that even at my young age I somehow thought I wouldn’t be good enough for him. I find that sad now because I think I missed out on a wonderful person, simply by not being confident to be myself around him when I had that opportunity.
There are three unrelated things that stick out in my mind about Granddad. Firstly, he smoked a pipe. The little girl, who would eventually take up smoking cigarettes herself, loved that he smoked a pipe. I think it suggested to me a little bit of rebellion from the ‘nice’, Christian lifestyle led by most of the family. I loved the smell. I loved watching him prepare, and smoke his pipe. Actually it seemed like so much work for a few moments of smoke, but it was Granddad. He always has his pipe and tobacco.
My grandfather was a Chartered Accountant by profession, and through that he was on the Christchurch Transport Board when the electric trams in the city were finally stopped (and replaced by buses). He was given one of two old tram bells in 1954, as a commemoration of this event. As a child, we would stay at his house when visiting Christchurch on holiday and it was tradition that the tram bell would be rung to signal meal times. It was so exciting to be allowed to ring the bell. I loved it.
When Granddad died in 1989 he left me the tram bell, because he knew how much I loved it. It remains one of my most treasured possessions. To anyone else it is probably just an old bell stuck to a bit of oak, but to me it reminds me every day of the great man who I was lucky to have in my life. Actually it hangs on the wall just above my computer.
The third thing that comes to mind when I think of Granddad is what he taught me about love. My grandmother, his wife, had Alzheimer’s Disease . In time, caring for her was too much for Granddad, and she was moved to a geriatric hospital. For 13 years, my grandfather drove across the city to go and visit her every day. Eventually she no longer recognised people, and there was no conversation was possible. Granddad always suspected she knew it was him, when he visited, but there was no certainty of that, and really not much in his visits for him. The woman he had known was gone. But he kept going anyway. His day was structured around going to visit, simply to be there with her.
For my young mind I admit I wondered why he bothered. It appeared that she wouldn’t know whether he had been there or not. What could possibly be the point? With age I have learnt that love was the point. He never stopped loving her, and he continues to be an inspiration to me in loving through the hard times.
Both my grandparents died a long time ago now. A few years ago I became friends with someone who was a carer in the hospital where my grandmother had lived. One day we worked out that she had actually cared for my grandmother regularly. Again it was years ago, but the thing my friend remembered was how much my grandfather loved my grandmother, and how he came to visit anyway, regardless of his visit not even being acknowledged.
At 13, my family came to Christchurch for a gathering to celebrate my grandparents 50th wedding anniversary. Wow! 50 years! My grandmother was living in the hospital by then, and she certainly had little idea of who I, or any of her grandchildren, were but she came out to their home for the day.
That was actually one of my final memories of my grandmother. Granddad wanted his grandchildren to remember her as the woman she had been when she was healthy, and not the shell she deteriorated to, so while she lived for another 12 or so years, he didn’t want us to visit her in the hospital. I visited her a few times after that but largely we respected his wishes and didn’t go. I still am not sure whether I agree with what he wanted, but I respect it, and know that now, most of my memories of her are of the very capable, good woman she had been.
As a teenager all this was almost a bit much for my mind. I didn’t really understand the extent of my grandfather’s love, let alone what had happened to the grandmother I had previously known. Today, my Dad would have been that ripe old age of 78, and I realise that I am well over half way to 78 myself. Suddenly 78 just doesn’t seem that old anymore. Of course I still think I’m 28, like I’m stuck at that age permanently, but that’s okay.
There’s not much point to regret, but I do wish that I’d had a closer relationship with Granddad. I wish I has been able to tell him how much I loved, and respected him, and how much he taught me. When I think about what love means, I always think of Granddad. He showed me by his life, what love was about.
I was fortunate that I had a good relationship with my Dad, and apart from some hard times at the time of his death, he knew how much he meant to me. But one thing I have learnt is to say the things I need to say to the people I love when I have the time, because we never know if that time will come again.
“There is a certain part of all of us that lives outside of time. Perhaps we become aware of our age only at exceptional moments and most of the time we are ageless.”
― Milan Kundera