Pop My father used to call him Pop – the Americanism learned in wartime and a joke, for there were only a few years between them and Harry, my mother’s father, was a boyish figure half his size. He was a small man, my Grandad, with a bald head and a nut-brown outdoors face. He wore collarless shirts with the sleeves rolled up to his elbows and braces. He’d be out on his vegetable patch or pouring over the horse-racing pages, his yellow-stained fingers constantly rolling his own with Rizlas and Golden Virginia.
He was my pal, my flirt, always up for long leaping squealing games of volleyball over the washing-line, teaching me tenderly about his plants, telling jokes and riddles, teasing and laughing. A countryman from the Midlands, he fought overseas as a youngster in World War One and never spoke of it, then learned horses and gardens as groom and gardener on a large estate. He married Flo, who was the cook there, and they left for London where he worked as a labourer on the railways. Living in rented rooms with three small children, they qualified for one of the first council houses, ugly grey stucco but spacious with a large back garden. They stayed there through the Second War, the Blitz, with nights in the metal Anderson shelter that still in the 1960s squatted half-buried next to his runner beans and cabbages.
After thirty years in London, they still seemed country people, he and my plump rosy Gran, as short as him but twice as wide, her eternal respectable hats firmly anchored with a huge pin. Over their broad voices lay a soft measured primness quite unlike their city neighbours, learned, I suppose, from the land-owning family with whom they’d been ‘in service’.
He died, my playmate and my history, when I was eleven from lung cancer – glum and scared and losing interest in his garden, his bright blue eyes growing paler and paler. Dying eyes, once seen never forgotten. I didn’t attend his funeral. Sparing me this was kindly meant, but wasn’t kind. I wish my last memory wasn’t his scared dying eyes, that I’d kissed his bald head and seen that he was gone and cried - but tears, we used to say, were for crocodiles. It still makes me sad, forty years later. I was glad, then, to read this.
¶ 8:16 pm
This brought tears to my eyes, thanks for this lovely post.
It's strange what adults do to "spare" children sometimes. I was made to take a valium before my brother's funeral and so my experience of it was as though through a mind blurred by vaseline.
Jean, This is a beautiful portrait of your grandfather. How sad that you weren't able to be at the funeral. Children need that type of closure just as much as adults do. Although there never really is "closure" about the loss of a loved one. They live on in our hearts forever. However, it is a way of bidding farewell in a way that binds us together.
You sound as if you hold Pop within you forever ... with great love.
Jean, I love this post. I think you've made a really important point. I blogged on a similar subject ages ago here http://realefun.blogspot.com/2004/09/dont-tell-children.html if you're interested. I'm glad you have so many good memories of your Pop as well as the sad last ones.
Zinnia, you wrote that before I discovered you, so it was new to me. I've just read it, and couldn't agree more. As qB said in her post that inspired mine, the traditional British way with this has been unfortunate, as many of us can testify. This affected me again with my Dad, who died when I was a student and out of the country - we weren't speaking when he died; I returned for the funeral but never saw his body (there was absolutely no question of it). For years and years it was as though he wasn't dead, but had disappeared from my life as a result of my anger with him. I think this is something that's definitely changing for the better, but slowly.
At my mother's funeral this past summer, my youngest brother (47) was the only one of the three of us who cried. He did it openly and helplessly, and we put our arms around him, glad that one of us had been able to do it. It's so important. I do it some, but I need to learn how to do it more and better.