I was lucky enough to meet both of my great grandmothers. Although I was born on my father’s grandmother’s birthday, I didn’t see her often enough that I have more than a feeling of a memory about her – a sort of peripheral flash of scent, of the scratch of blue polyester house dress, of certain items seen in her home, and of her back garden and the surrounding countryside, and my red wellies exploring them. Nanny Kitty, my mother’s grandmother, I actually remember relatively well.
I consider myself lucky to have a handful of momentos of Nanny Kitty, nothing of enormous value, but of great sentimentality from my perspective. I have the forget-me-not pin which was the symbol of a local club of which she was a member. I have a beautiful garnet ring. And I have an old, battered, leather jewellery box.
This box is my treasure chest, used to hold those momentos and nostalgic items with no monetary value, but great personal importance. In amongst the trinkets, old coins, bits of paper and cheap tourist tat lie memories too personal to discard. These include three handwritten letters, stamped, sealed and delivered to my Gran in and around the war years, whilst Granddad was away. Every single time I read them they make me cry.
Although they feel far too personal to reveal in detail, nothing is really said through these flimsy sheets of paper. No stories are told, no secrets shared. They simply reveal powerful passion and love in the face of fear and desperation. They tell me that my Grandfather was a gentle man, loving and affectionate, and not afraid of his feelings. He was happy to commit to paper his innermost emotions, unafraid of being considered romantic or soft. Indeed, there were more important things to be afraid of at this time, and I suppose there was no questioning the “manliness” of a soldier at war. These boys were forced to prove daily what it was to be brave, to be “a man”.
I have none of the return letters written by my grandmother, but these three little envelopes tell me all I ever need know about her. They tell me without doubt that she was the light of someone’s life, that she got someone through rough days and tough nights, and gave them something to look forward to, to eventually come home to. I think we always risk seeing our grandparents only in the light of later years, battered and bruised by life’s disappointments – it can be difficult to see through the shrouded mists of time to what lies at the centre. Their accumulated insecurities can cloud the truth, showing us half of the picture only – and usually the half they dwell upon.
These love letters spell out the truth to me, that regardless of how I know she often felt, my Grandmother was truly, madly, deeply loved.