You may remember earlier this year, my grandfather, Poppy, passed away aged 91. My grandmother, Nanny, passed away in September 2008, she was 86. They had been married for 66 years – they wed in 1941, in the middle of World War Two.
Their wedding photo is above. Isn’t it beautiful? The simplicity. The formality of the army uniform. The tiny posy my Nanny held. And the strength of the way they held each other’s hand. Their love looked urgent. Can you imagine spending almost your whole life together – participating in a world war, raising two children and being a grandparent and great grandparent to five more children, moving countries and seeing so much change? They did. I wish I knew more about the change they’ve seen, I wish I’d listened more.
Sadly, they lived without each other for almost four years after Nanny died. Poppy didn’t speak of Nanny much after her death, but when he did, he spoke of her quietly, and with affection. He chose one of his own poems to print on the bookmark for her funeral. The poem, titled This Is Ours, symbolises the partnership he and Nanny had, and how she would be forever remembered after her death. Reading his poetry is again an insight into a man I didn’t know. The last stanza reads:
“Never believe that when
You die, you will forever
Die, for when you are
Gone from this Earth to
The darkest earth, one
Of the night’s stars
Shining with brilliance
And lasting forever”
~ NE Findlay, 1970
Three months ago my Dad picked up my grandparents’ ashes from the funeral home. Four years on and they’re together again. Dad posted the ashes by seamail back to England, their homeland. My Aunty will collect them at the other end.
When I went home for Poppy’s funeral, I found it incomprehensible that my grandparents lived so long and had experienced lot in their lives, yet the amount of possessions they had only filled my parents’ spare bedroom. Some suitcases, a lot of filing boxes filled with history of military service by my grandparents, great grandfather and great great grandfather, Poppy’s poetry and Nanny’s photo albums, and tins filled with precious mementoes – my Nanny’s jewellery, too good for her to wear each day, a pen from Buckingham Palace and war medals from three wars. And now them, strength in unity, as tight as that hand hold in their wedding photo, weigh a mere three kilos, albeit in a plastic container. It’s hard to believe that two lives over 90 years can amount to such little stuff.
Last week the ashes were returned to my Dad. They’d been to Amsterdam on a boat, and back to Australia again. They didn’t make it to England. My grandparents moved to Australia in 1987 for the warm sunny weather. I joked to my parents they realised the weather in England was perpetually gloomy and so they wanted to rest in Australia.
Dad went to the mail centre to talk to Australia Post about the returned ashes. He said his parents needed to get back home after all these years. Australia Post didn’t charge Dad for the second journey. Nanny and Poppy would be chuffed at a free trip! Free! They’re now on an aeroplane, express to England. Home to rest.
My grandparents lived a frugal life. But they saved enough to go on a holiday almost every year. Here in Australia they would go to Mount Beauty, enjoying the countryside and the sunshine and the company of their hosts and other aged people. I think they travelled overseas from England to Europe a little too. At my Poppy’s funeral, I held my Dad’s hand and saw his eyes well up as the celebrant talked about how my grandparents worked hard to afford my Dad and his sister a holiday to Scarborough each year when they were young. I imagined the family by the sepia-toned seaside (I had only ever seen sepia photos), children with buckets and spades, and parents sunning themselves, calling it a day with treats of icecream and bottles (or “bockles, as my Dad pronounces it!) of lemonade. I think they were happy times.
My grandparents will reach England in around seven days, their final trip to their favourite holiday destination, Scarborough. I imagine they’ll be arguing the whole flight, like they always have done, Nanny nagging at Poppy to move his cup away from the edge of the table, and Poppy saying “shutup Joan”, in his quick tongued midland accent. They’ll be wearing their best for the trip, they always got dressed up to go out, Poppy even wore a tie to the shops. Nanny will be writing letters home – to her two homes – England and Australia, and she’ll be scoffing a second helping of dessert, just like me. As they arrive in England, Nanny will do the Royal Wave for pomp and ceremony, like she did to punctuate many 20 minute car journeys. My Aunty will collect them from Telford, and she’ll scatter them in Scarborough someday.
I do hope they’ll still be holding each other’s hand tightly until they reach the sea.