WRITTEN BY DELLA GALTON
The snowy forest is full of memories of my much-missed Gramps, but it’s time to look to the future too…
I love the smell of pine forests and snow. As I walk further down the track I see a lacework of frost on every branch, sparkling like some delicate silver filigree. Beneath the trees the covering is thinner, like a light dusting of icing sugar.
I’ve loved this forest at the back of my grandparents’ house since I was a child, but today, cloaked in the full majesty of winter white, it is heartbreakingly beautiful. I swallow an ache of sadness.
I’m feeling a little emotional – an understatement. So much has happened over this last year. This was our first Christmas without Gramps. It was always going to be sad.
We lost Gramps last July. He was eighty-six and he died peacefully in his sleep, but it was still a shock. We’ve always been a very close-knit family. Me, my parents and Gran and Gramps.
It didn’t matter how many clichés we came out with like, “he had a good innings” and “it was a great way to go”. The fact was, we didn’t want him to go. None of us were ready.
My gran has this saying, “There’s never a right time to get pregnant and there’s never a right time to die”. Such massive events are always a shock.
I don’t think I’ll ever forget that last goodbye. Our whole family were in the chapel of rest, lined up for one last kiss. Gramps looked so peaceful – just as though he were dozing and would wake up, but when it was my turn, his forehead felt cool to my lips. A winter kiss.
We survived Christmas. We all came to Gran’s to celebrate and now we’re back again. It’s now February, and I’ve just popped out for a lunchtime walk while my dad fixes a couple of things at the house. Mum and Gran are at the sales.
I hesitate beneath the trees and listen to the sounds of the forest. There’s a certain kind of silence with snow. It muffles everything, creates a blanketing effect but I can hear the drip-drip of ice melting, the snap of twigs under the unaccustomed weight of whiteness, and the occasional splat as a shelf of snow slides along a branch and falls off.
They said there’d be a thaw today. It’s still cold though. My breath clouds out and the tip of my nose feels numb.
I keep walking along the track. I love the creaking sound of my boots pressing into the virgin snow.
Gran and Gramps brought me for picnics in these woods when I was small. I remember cheese and pickle sandwiches wrapped in silver foil and hard-boiled eggs and cress grown on Gran’s windowsill.
I feel a tear slide down my cheek and I wonder whether it will turn to ice. It doesn’t. Too salty, I guess.
It’s not just swirling emotions. It’s swirling hormones too.
I’m fifteen weeks pregnant, you see. I’m hardly showing, and I haven’t told my family. But that’s because Aaron is a sergeant in the RAF, and he’s been posted abroad for the last eight weeks. He’ll be back in about two hours, and we’ve decided to tell Mum, Dad and Gran together, face to face.
It’s been so hard to keep it a secret until now. But we didn’t want to jinx things by telling anyone before the twelve-week scan.
Even Aaron doesn’t know what gender our baby is – but I do. Another secret that has been hard to keep.
I turn at the next fork and head for home. Aaron and I decided a while back that if we had a boy, we would call him Jonathan after Gramps.
The timing is perfect. I get back just as Mum and Gran arrive home with the car, and then Dad and I pick up Aaron from the train station. As soon as I have a second alone with my husband I whisper my plans into his ear, and as usual we’re on exactly the same wavelength.
We’re now sitting around Gran’s old kitchen table which has witnessed many happy events across the years. The perfect place to make our announcement.
We’re eating warm mince pies and drinking tea when I feel Aaron’s hand slip into mine.
“We have some news,” Aaron announces a little shyly.
I smile. “We’ve been dying to tell you.”
Mum’s eyes sharpen. She doesn’t miss much. Gran looks expectant – no pun intended.
“We’re having a baby,” I say, touching my tummy.
There’s a cheer from Dad, and Mum claps her hands in excitement.
“We’d planned to call a boy Jonathan,” Aaron says with a glance at Gran, “After lovely Gramps.”
“But then I remembered Gramps had a middle name,” I say, squeezing Aaron’s hand. “So, we’ve decided to call our little girl Georgie.”
As I meet Gran’s eyes I see that they’re sparkling brighter than snowflakes, brighter than stars and I swallow another ache in my throat – but this time it’s a happy ache.