There was a time when my grandmother was a vivacious and romantic young schoolteacher who loved the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam and quoted the poetry of Tennyson. She was funny and mischievous well into old age. One day, says my father, he was courting my mother on the front veranda of my grandmother’s house. His fiancée’s younger sister, Janet, hovered around them and did her purposeful best to ensure that the young couple were not left alone. Finally, in a fit of frustrated amour, my father reached out and smacked the teenager’s leg. She raced tearfully and angrily into the house. A pause ensured and my grandmother’s voice came from inside, “Bobby, did you just hit Janet?”
My father, still annoyed but also a little embarrassed answered curtly, “Yes, I did!”
There was another pause and then my grandmother’s voice, calmly and emphatically, returned with, “Good.”
When my mother was a teenager, my grandmother would take great delight in foraging through rubbish bins while they waited for the bus, much to the mortification of her daughter. Then she would giggle about it all the way home.
Once, when I was just a small boy, she found me laughing at something on the television, something suspiciously like sexual innuendo. “And what are you laughing about, young man?” asked my Grandmother. I explained in my confused, uncertain way. She looked at me sternly and then said with mock disdain, “I believe, sir, that you have a polluted mind!” But I heard her loudly guffaw seconds later.
By the time she was sixty, however, she had become completely and painfully crippled by rheumatoid arthritis. Letters to my mother were written over many days as it became increasingly difficult to hold her pen and her mind began to wander. One day she wrote, “Now that the years have past, there is something that I need to tell you, something I should have told you many years ago. Now that you are a woman you will understand and there is no need for this secret to exist between us anymore.” My mother turned the page with a sense of dread and expectation. What she found was a new date and a new set of agonisingly etched lines that began, “I can’t remember what I was writing about before. The weather here has been delightful lately although not good for the garden…”
Despite my mother’s elaborate and extended entreaties, no further information was ever forthcoming and the secret, whatever it was, has long ago gone with my grandmother to the grave. I don’t know about the afterlife, what it looks like or where it is, but I suspect that there is someone there reciting poetry and chuckling.