My grandmother is 94 today. I tried calling her but she didn’t answer the phone. She could well have been trying to make her way to the phone and did not get there in time before it ran out, twice. At 94 she’s pretty good, she has a range of ‘old age’ health problems. She’s slow, she has an aching hip, she can’t see well, she can’t hear well and one day she’ll probably fall over and that will be it.
She’s been wanting to fall over for about 10 years now. Each birthday she says something like ‘I might not be here next year’, with hope and defeat in her voice. About 7 years ago she asked me what things of hers I wanted when she died. The labels with people’s names on them are probably coming off now, but they are there. Pick any ornament up, or look on the back of the painting and you’ll see a name. My dad gets her entire wall plate collection. About 25 plates with lovely pictures of horses and farm scenes. He’s winning.
I try not to feel guilty about not ever visiting her, or not visiting her often. She’s really hard work. Her world is very small and has too much time to think, any bits of information about family or if a leaf blew off the tree at 5am in the morning is important to her. The thing that makes it hard is that she is so negative, this isn’t something that has necessarily come with age, but it’s certainly gotten worse. When I go and see her I have to be prepared for the way she will pick and criticise my mother and the way all the male family members, will be long suffering and disadvantaged in some way because, my grandmother, she is no feminist she’s actually an incredible misogynist.
She doesn’t hold back in telling me I’m getting fat, or that my mother is getting fat and she’ll probably relate it to being something to do with the amount of times we go out to lunch, because, heaven forbid we had a nice time, we should be saving our money…so we can buy a new couch which we never sit on because it’s too ‘good’.
Now, all of this probably sounds terribly horrible and I am being terribly horrible, but she is hard work …now, she wasn’t always. She is a really cool woman too. She was one of many children who were all terrorised and abused by my great grandfather. My great grandmother and great grandfather literally having a shot gun wedding after my great grandmother gave birth.
Apparently her brothers had gone out into the fields and dragged the man in to marry my great grandmother in the hospital. I am not sure if this is true, but I like it, so I’ll stick with it. My grandmother was one of the first white Canberrans and grew up in Ainslie. She met my grandfather when she was 14 at the mulberry tree. Which mulberry tree I don’t know and when they got married I don’t know. My grandfather was the love of her life, he died in 1987 (I think) and with every kind of anniversary they shared she is alway sad. Some time back some bastard broke into her house, or I should say crept into her house, while she was out tending the garden and stole her wedding rings from her bedroom. It was heartbreaking, the sentimental value of the rings her greatest possession.
In her life she worked full time, not a common thing for a woman in the 50s and 60s to do. She was in charge of several shops in her time and helped grow the business of her employer. She was always fiercely proud of all her children and grandchildren, to a point where it has been hard for any of us to have a partner who would ‘measure up’ and be good enough.
After my grandfather died she learnt how to garden, before that it was his domain, like many things she did, she was soon producing enough vegetables to feed the third world. At 94 she still gardens a bit, I had two pumpkins delivered to me recently. She’s also knitted enough knee rugs for a whole suburb. At one point she was knitting tiny baby bonnets which she sent away to a hospital somewhere or another, they were for babies who had passed away before birth or soon after and were used in helping the parents grieve and heal.
When I came out as same sex attracted I put off telling my grandmother, I wasn’t sure how she would be about it. Also, she was pretty old and she might die soon and really did she need to know? But, I’m pretty crap with secrets so I built up the courage to tell her. She was fine, in fact she was great, although she did look at me and say ‘It’s about the sex’ to which I did not respond, I didn’t want to talk to my (then) 83 year old grandmother about sex… and clearly she didn’t die ‘soon’.
I see a lot of myself in my grandmother and it’s not always the good stuff. I hope though that I can continue to learn from her as long as she’s around, because she can be pretty damn cool as well as a pain in the arse, like all of us, really.