When I was little I would start fights with my sister, and when she started to fight back I’d immediately run to the landline and dial my grandparent’s number. That was one of the only phone numbers I knew, and they’d always pick up. At the time I thought they also always took my side. In hindsight, they probably just listened to me babble for as long as I wanted to.
As you get older, you start to formulate a sense of who your family members are as individuals, not just in their roles in your life. When I think of my grandparents, there are two stories that perfectly encapsulate the people I witnessed them to be.
For my grandmother, it’s a story about food. This is fitting because food was something she was known for. She could make cakes and puddings as well as she could make full-blown meals. She was responsible for a lot of our more popular lunch boxes. When she couldn’t really walk that well anymore she had to stop cooking. It must have upset her but she never seemed to dwell on it too much. She’d ask us if we remembered the cakes she used to make and of course we did, she taught us how to make them.
When she was really sick in the hospital she had to wear an oxygen mask but she would regularly take it off to talk to people. Never for time-sensitive emergencies, just for chats. One of the things she lifted her oxygen mask off to say in her last few days was a reminder to put sugar in her tea.
She was a diabetic and regularly got yelled at her for her poor management of the illness. But she’d been told she could have sugar in her tea and she wasn’t going to let that slide. She would never let her circumstances get to her. The smallest things were all she needed to make her happy, just sugar in her tea. Everyone thought she didn’t realize how sick she really was. If she did know, then she’s a lot braver than I thought possible. Truly nothing could get her down. Not sickness, not a hospital visit, not even having trouble breathing.
While my grandmother carried the scent of freshly baked cake and the sunny disposition of someone who loved all the world and knew the value of a good meal, my grandfather was the clacking of typewriter keys, shuffling of slippers, and Lacto Calamine lotion.
Once he was in his eighties, my grandfather, for all intents and purposes, was bald. The top of his head was no-hairs-land, aside from a few stragglers. After I started university, I’d see them every couple of months on holidays when I came back home, and each time there seemed to be more hair on his head.
At first, I put it down to me misremembering what his head looked like between trips. But after a while it was undeniable, he had a full head of white hair. More than, or equal to the amount he had when I was younger. It blew my mind but no one else, who saw him more often, seemed to have noticed.
To make things even more mysterious, every time I questioned him about it he’d just smile secretly to himself and deny doing anything to prompt it. He was over 85 at this point and there he was, full head of hair and not revealing how it got there. The rest of the family took it casually, the hair had grown gradually, right before their very eyes so it wasn’t as dramatic as it was to me. I was completely distracted by it, I would talk about it constantly to anyone who would listen and finally, he told me.
“I massage baby oil into my head every day.”
That was the big reveal, and that was my grandfather. He could reverse balding. I wouldn’t have been surprised if he made it happen with the sheer force of his own will.
My grandparents left us last year. I went to university and it felt like they had both just disappeared when I came back. They’ve left us with a lot of memories and a vacuum where their endless pride, blind faith, and love went for over twenty years.
During the few key events that have happened without my grandparents, there’s always a – “they would’ve been so proud to see that, it would have made them so happy” moment. But honestly, while I do agree that it would make them proud and happy, that was their constant state of being when it came to us. There is no way I can imagine my grandparents being proud-er or happier with their grandkids. It was as if they reached the zenith of pride and happiness when we were born and never came down from there.
That’s my theory anyway, I can’t think of any other explanation for it. There was really no plausible reason for them to think so highly of us.
These two stories capture who they were as people to me. As grandparents, they were straight out of a book, and I will always aspire to be half as great as they already believed I was from day one.