I was fortunate to have two Grannies when I was small. In fact I had two until I was nearly 16 but unhappily one succumbed to dementia and was in a nursing home for nearly 8 years before her life extinguished. So, at the time, half of mine was spent with her vibrant, outspoken and faintly outrageous personality, full of bell-like tinkling laughter chiming through her house replete with rather exotic and eminently touchable artifacts and half with a shrinking, fading somewhat pathetic reminder of whom she had been. I remember being vaguely scared of her when we went to visit as she evaporated slowly away. She was withered and bent and painfully thin with skin parched and almost transparent through which the vessels carrying her aged blood were defiantly visible. Dessiccating. She had the faint odour of care home and often didn’t utter a sound except the thinnest of hints of breath in and out. When she did speak she had a habit of rambling in guttural spitty Arabic having lived in Egypt in the 1920s and 30s during the up-market tourist boom of that era when my grandpapa was chief accountant for Thomas Cook. Sadly it was a relief to be sent outside to play with the nursing home dog – an unfeasibly large pyreneen mountain dog called Uggles who resembled Nana in Peter Pan and was similarly hard-wired to nurse-maiding children. When she died at the age of almost 92 there were few left to mourn her so her funeral was tiny – eight of us including my cousins, my elder brother and I. So feeble were our collective voices that the crematorium put a cassette tape of the Kings College Choir singing our chosen hymns to bolster us up. Outside it was cold and damp and I realised my father was crying. I realised my father was a son. I realised my father was a feeling, emotional creature just like me. It was a seminal moment.
As I’ve grown older I miss her even though I barely had opportunity to acquaint with her and I wish I’d had the moment to know her better. I’m told I’m like her. I take it as the greatest compliment – she lost an arm in the First World War when nursing in France. Gangrene. Not carelessness, just caring for others in greater need. When we were small children she used to swing one armed into a string hammock and then pull us all in with her, one at a time and read us stories under the lilac trees. She also had a wonderful and positively enormous cat called Kim who resembled an overstuffed fur cushion. She was, therefore Granny Kim.
This lady sitting in les Jardins de Luxembourg hijacks me, reverses time and delivers me to a presentday now past and long forgotten yet seamlessly evoked. A time I wish I had noticed when the then was now. She knows nothing of her curious power of course as she casually soaks in the sunshine. Behind her the children play, the lovers drift hand in hand, friends gossip on benches. Every one of us growing older as time relentlessly moves us forward. Carpe diem.
I post the picture in response to The Daily Press Weekly Photo Challenge entitled ‘Time’ – you can see all the other, far worthier interpretations here
PS: The title is from one of the most touching and bittersweet poems I know ….
When You Are Old