“Gan Gan,” cries out little Rose as she races towards me on the beach.
“Daddy and I have drawn a mermaid.”
They have too!
“Daddy did a dinosaur for me,” chants George, keen not to be outdone.
It’s memories like this which make a childhood, don’t you think? Back in March when my grandchildren and I could only wave through the window at each other, mermaids on the beach seemed impossible.
Even now I am constantly aware that there might be another lockdown so I am determined to treasure all these memories even more tightly – as well as making new ones.
Which is why I am having a walk with my daughter. As my regular readers know, we are lucky enough to be by the sea. It wasn’t always like this. I grew up outside London and and my first husband and I brought up our children not far from there. But when I married again twelve years ago, my second husband and I moved to the sea. To my delight, my daughter and her husband came down too which is why I am able to see my grandchildren every day.
But it can be all too easy to forget your own children when you’re helping out with their little ones and working at the same time! So this morning, I’ve I put my writing to one side so she and I can have a lovely stroll. My son-in-law has been playing with the children on the beach so we go down to say hello.
“Shall I show you my secret rock pool?” asks my granddaughter, yanking me by the hand.
“Me too,” says George.
It reminds me of the secret passage which my grandmother told me about along the side of our house. We lived with her until I was twelve. I was born ten years after the war ended when money was tight for many young couples so we shared her home. My grandmother was a young widow when I was born. My sister and I had to call her by her first name – Doris – as she said “granny” made her feel too old!
The secret passage was in fact no more than a very narrow strip of land between the side of our house and the neighbour’s fence. but to us, it was magic. I can see now that Doris played the same imaginative games with me as I do with my grandchildren.
“Can you spot a mermaid?” I ask Rose as we peer into the little pool of water behind a rock.
“Not really,” she frowns. “Maybe she’s hiding and will come out later!”
There’s here’s nothing like a touch of imagination to distract us while the world is so uncertain.
Humour helps too. “Shall I paint your toenails?” I suggested to Rose over the weekend. (That was another treat my grandmother and I would share.)
“Yes, please,” she trilled.
Her little nails were so tiny that it was quite difficult.
“Look, Gan Gan,” she giggled. “You’ve gone over the edges.”
So I have!
Meanwhile, blackberries are beginning to come out around here. Not far from our house, I rent an allotment with a rundown shed. You can hardly open the door because brambles are growing on it from the previous occupants’ tenancy. But I haven’t liked to cut them back because they were in flower. Now they’re coming out and forming berries. “Can we pick them?” asks Rose when we pay a visit to see how the scarecrow and my gladioli are getting on.
Immediately my mind shoots back to when I was small. My mother and grandmother (her mother-in-law) didn’t always see eye to eye. I can still recall my father muttering darkly about two women sharing a kitchen. But the one time when I do remember them laughing and joking together was when we picked blackberries. In fact, I distinctly recall cringing one hot summer when they both stripped down to their bras while we collected fruit! (I’m presuming no-one else was around!)
“How embarrassing,” says my daughter when I share this memory. It was, but now I think it’s funny.
I also remember that magic thrill when I helped my grandmother and mother strain the blackberry juice through muslin tied round the legs of an upside down stool to make blackberry jelly. To this day I’ve never eaten anything quite so delicious!
My grandmother also gave me a little patch of the garden all of my own. How exciting! “These are Sweet Williams,” she would tell me, sprinkling the seeds into my hand. “If we plant them now they will turn into flowers with wonderful colours and smells.”
It’s a good sixty years since then but I can see it as clear as day. Sometimes I find them these memories creeping into my novels too.
My 97-year-old father still has memories of his own grandmother. “I used to go down on the train from London to see her in Eastbourne,” he says with misty eyes. “We would walk along the downs.”
All this makes me wonder what kind of memories my grandchildren will remember from 2020. Will it be the rainbow poster I made for them during lockdown? Or perhaps the local camping trips which they are now embarking on after buying a bargain tent on eBay.
In fact, they’re just off on another now. “You will be careful, won’t you?” I say.
“Of course we will, Mum.”
That’s another golden grandparent rule I’ve just broken. Never let your children think you doubt their capabilities. Of course I don’t but I’ve always been a bit of a worrier. And now I’m a granny it’s got worse. I know that some of you feel that too from your lovely emails.
Part of me would love to go along too to lend a hand. But I also know they need some time to themselves. That’s another thing about an almost on the spot gran. “You’re always welcome,” says my kind son-in-law. But perhaps because I still remember some tenser moments when we lived with my grandmother about whose space was whose, I’m aware I need to make sure I don’t constantly turn up. They need their privacy.
But what if lockdown comes again? Some of my grandparent friends are already making contingency plans to be nearer their grandchildren or have them to live with them. “Thanks, Mum,” says my daughter, but we’ve got all our things here.
She’s right. My husband who has never had children likes his own things to be in a certain place too.
I’ll just have to keep saying my prayers and my fingers crossed that it doesn’t happen. Meanwhile, I’m going to carry on making as many memories as possible. As I write this, the children are now on a scooter ride in the park. They’re going to drop in on the way back. But the dog is has got up from the desk where I am writing and making little “let’s meet the”’ noises.
Then the phone rings…
It’s my own sister. She’s six years younger than me so our memories aren’t all the same. But it seems she’s been doing some thinking too. “I’ve just been blackberrying,” she says. “Do you remember that time when Doris and Mummy stripped off…”
“Yes,” I say. “I do.”
We both laugh out loud. And for a minute, we forget this strange in-between world we are in.
Memories can do that.
Next week, I’ve decided, I’m going to make blackberry jelly from Mummy’s old recipe. And I’m hoping that two little helpers will join me…
Do you have childhood memories of doing things with your grandparents? I’d love to know. Please email me at email@example.com
Jane Corry is the author of the bestselling I Made A Mistake about a daughter-in-law and her much-loved mother-in-law. Published by Penguin, £6.99 in paperback and also available as an e-book and audio, narrated by Emilia Fox. http://bit.ly/IMadeaMistake OR https://www.hive.co.uk/Product/Jane-Corry/I-Made-a-Mistake/24376830