Dear Nan

I find myself thinking of you a lot of late so I thought I would drop you a little note.  I keep remembering all the times we spent together, all the funny things you did and the little adventures we got up to.  I thought I’d jog your memory as I thought it might make you smile.

My earliest memories of you are spending time with you on a Sunday morning and afternoon in your flat in Penge.  You lived on the middle floor, entry by a main door, up the concrete steps and your front door was on the right.  I loved your flat.  The long hallway which if I remember rightly, as it has been so many years, widened at the end by the bedrooms and bathroom.

You had what I call an old fashioned carpet, wild colours and patterns.  Your little kitchen where, along with Jennifer, I made crackers and butter, although sadly I had picked up the lard instead of the butter.  It still makes me cringe now when I remember biting into it.  Even you probably wouldn’t have liked it, even though you loved anything fatty!

I remember sitting on the couch on many a Sunday afternoon, begging you to let me do your crossword books that you so loved.  You used to let me do all the puzzles you weren’t interested in, especially the word searches.  You taught me that it is easier to find the longer words than the shorter and it is so true.  I am sure my love of all things crossword comes from you.

I remember we used to walk Precious the little Yorkshire Terrier over to the park that was right outside.  We used to take absolutely ages to do one circuit because you seemed to know everyone.  The same thing happened when we went to the shops, you used to stop at every other person and share the gossip.  I would be tugging at your sleeve saying ‘come on Nan’. 

Do you remember when we thought we had lost Precious one day?  We searched the park and the streets outside, only to come back hours later, weary with all the walking to find him curled up by the side of your armchair.  He had been there the whole time.

I also remember you searching for your glasses, eventually asking me to help you find them, only for me to notice they were on your head the whole time.  I think Mum gets her ditzy moments from you as she is always doing things like that.

One memory I really like is you taking me with you to the off licence on the corner to return your empty bottles.  It had to be Guinness bottles as you loved your Guinness.  You used to let me sip the froth on the top but I never liked it then and I still don’t now!  It was always a good opportunity for me because you would always get me some sweets in there.

I know you smoked but it never bothered me as a child, I can vividly picture you sitting in your armchair, Guinness one side and a fag burning in the other.  Whilst I was in and out of your wardrobe trying on all your shoes.  I used to plead for time to pass so that my feet were big enough to wear your shoes.  I have to laugh because now I have outgrown that foot size by two sizes.

You sometimes used to let me play out the front but I didn’t like it.  I wasn’t really a street type of kid and the flats to the side of yours used to scare me, as did the kids that played out.  I was never out for long.  But you would watch me from the balcony with Precious and Tiggy and Wilam the two stray cats you adopted over the years.

You soon moved to the suburbs and lived in a little house in Surrey.  I still used to come and stay with you.  I remember that house and the really long garden and how you used to love wandering up and down it, taking in the aroma of the flowers.  We’d always have a delicious home cooked stew when at your house and used to snuggle up in the evenings to watch television.  We never sat in the front room, always the back room, off of the kitchen.  It was cosy and always hot because you loved being warm. 

I used to sleep in the back bedroom and you had your bedroom at the front.  Once, do you remember, Tiggy got on my bed during the day and sprayed his scent.  It was putrid but I still slept in there.

After a while you moved to sheltered housing.  I loved your upstairs flat and I would stay for weekends.  We used to do exactly the same, have nice meals and settle down to watch television.  But we did sometimes enjoy bingo!

We would head off for the Saturday afternoon game and spend hours marking off our numbers.  In the interval you liked to play the slot machines.  Always a little gambler at heart.  We didn’t just play at your bingo hall, once you came and stayed with us in Essex and we went every day for a week didn’t we?  Sometimes we went twice a day.  Mum and Dad were away and on the day they got back, we should have been greeting them but we were restless and soon Dad gave us some money to go one last time.  We were off up the road like spring lambs!

We never won big but we enjoyed ourselves.

You were so excited when I had Luke.  You idolised him.  Your ‘little man’ you called him.  But you were always telling me off for one thing or another.  It was hard not to get cross because so much had changed since your day of raising your five.  How you coped with five I don’t know.  But in hindsight some of your ways were actually better than the ones being rammed down new mum’s necks today.

Then you got poorly and were told you had heart damage.  Only part of your heart was working and you seemed to go downhill.  You still loved going out but over the next few years you were less and less able to walk far and you ended up using a wheelchair when you went to the shops.  It was so sad to see you like that because you were always so active.  I love watching the video of Jennifer, Linda, You and I, skipping across the common at Frensham Pond.  It is sad to see how much you went downhill from what you were.

When you had a ‘funny turn’ in the Wimpy it was scary but I like to think you were proud of me.  I calmed Mum and Linda down and managed to get you into the recovery position, much to your disgust.  It wasn’t until afterwards when you had gone into hospital for the night that the shock hit me and I was really sick. 

I went on to have Joe who was really poorly at birth.  You wanted to come and see him in hospital but I didn’t want you to.  At the time we didn’t know if he would live or die and I didn’t want you to meet him in case he didn’t make it.  I felt it would have been easier for you to deal with if he didn’t make it and you hadn’t seen him.  But thank God, Joe made it and you idolised him as much as Luke. 

You were so happy when we moved to Surrey for a few years.  You got to see the boys a lot and although under my strict instructions not to, you were always feeding Joe chocolate and basically spoiling the boys far too much.

When we moved back to Essex, you were really sad and I was sad to leave you too but we still came back to see you as much as we could. 

It was when I moved back to Essex that I decided to find out where your camp had been during the war.  We had talked about it in the past but I had never made a real effort to find it for you.  But this time, I put an appeal in the local paper and I got so many phone calls offering help and advice.  Finally, a man and his mum were the ones who called with everything we needed to know.  They took us to your camp.  Obviously it wasn’t a camp anymore but you could still see the old bunkers protruding from the ground.  You worked the AKAK Guns during the war and this is where you were based.

You always told us that your camp was between the pub and the church but back then there were hardly any buildings so we could never work it out.  But when we found where it was, we realised you were spot on.  And you were excited because you had arranged to come to Essex to see the camp. 

But then we got a call to say you had cancer.  We were devastated by the news but you were no different.  You didn’t appear to be any more poorly than you were with the symptoms your poorly heart exhibited.

Until one day we got a call to say you had been taken ill and were in hospital.  Mum and I rushed down from Essex to Surrey.  We came to the hospital and I remember you lying in the bed not looking too bad.  You chatted to me briefly, asking me where the boys were.  But you always seemed to be looking at someone behind me, even though no one was there.  Linda and Kath stayed with you that night whilst Mum and I went back to Linda’s.  We wanted to stay but we weren’t allowed to.  The Nurse had told us you were fine and nothing would happen over night.

At 1am we were woken and told to get back to the hospital immediately as you were having problems.  I can’t remember exactly what was said.  We were ready in minutes.  But in that time, we got another call to say we were too late.  I had to tell my Mum that you were gone.  I had to be strong for my Mum and John because they were devastated. 

We came into the hospital and you were lying in the bed much the same way you had been earlier.  But you may have looked asleep but sadly you were gone.  You had left this world quickly.  No long drawn out battle with cancer, it seemed your heart just gave up that night.

I am so glad I got to see you one last time and to kiss you goodbye before you passed away.  And I like to think that when I kissed you in that hospital bed in the middle of the night that you heard me and felt me say goodbye.  I also like to think that when I felt you were looking behind me, that it was your already passed over relatives who were standing there waiting for you because they knew.

I managed to hold it together until the next day.  I just broke down then Nan, pretty much what I am doing now as I write this.  I think what makes it worse is that you didn’t want to die.  You wanted to stay around as long as you could to see everyone.

Life goes on, of course it does, but I do think of you Nan and I do remember all the times we spent together and all that we did. 

I’m thankful that I got to spend so much time with you.  And I’m glad my kids got to meet their Granny.

I sometimes think you visit me.  Whenever I see a white feather, I feel like it is you, just checking up on me.  I wish I had managed to get you to Essex to see your camp before you passed away and I am sorry I didn’t.  It has taught me a lesson, not to put things off as you never know when it might be too late.

Wherever you are now, I am sure you are supping on a Guinness and puffing on a woodbines.   

I miss you.