We’ve started the first of the family farewell runs. Last weekend was Wagga Wagga, my home town, to stay with my parents and have lunch with my 91 year old grandmother. My aunt brought fondue and rosti, my cousin a strawberry Swiss roll, and since we’ll be so close to Italy we all drank prosecco.
I have been so fortunate as to know all my grandparents, and I have memories of four great-grandparents. Although an unquestioned part of my life, something I took for granted, I realise now it’s a luxury my girl may not have. Watching the delight of our own folks becoming grandparents has given me a new perspective on this relationship (and indeed parents, although that’s another story for another day).
The first words Grandma Noller said to me after Adelaide was born were ‘and how is your bottom?’. Apart from not having spoken to her in a while, we aren’t a particularly open family at the best of times and much less so about bodily functions. Partly due to the shell shock of recent labour, partly because she had been a midwife for years, and partly because she caught me completely off guard I told her in detail how said bottom was (over the phone, in my local pub). Fear not, that story shall never be repeated, either here or anywhere else.
A piece of family nomenclature, if you’ll indulge me: Grandma’s mother, who we knew as Grandy, was named Irene. She married a German immigrant farm worker who thought the name Irene was the most beautiful in the world, and together they had four daughters and a son. Each of the daughters was given the name Irene somewhere in their names (the son was named Ron). My grandmother is Irma Irene, and the family tradition has continued as it also my sister’s middle name, and is the planned middle name of the future niece I may have.
Like any grandchild, my thoughts of Grandma are a mixture of memories and relayed facts, often peripheral to her person; more of the ‘Grandma Noller Experience’. There’s the colourful popcorn chains we would make whenever we had Christmas at her house; her gorgeous blooming gardens with all manner of flowers; Spot, the paper dog she’s had in her apartment for years for reasons of which I was never sure; a bacon and tomato dish and handcut egg noodles that she made especially well. There are also her stories – just this weekend, she spoke about her mother nailing the dress of one of the Irenes to the floor so she would not crawl into the open fire while Grandy went to get more wood. She has a motorised scooter to take her into town which she has named Dobbin, and for as long as I can remember she has signed all personal correspondence with a five petalled, scrawled daisy.
I’ve been wondering how to speak about my grandparents to the girl when she’s older. There will be stories like the above, of course, historical snippets and ‘when we were little’ tales. But I’ll also tell her how taken my grandmother was with her. How she couldn’t take her eyes off my girl, clumsily crawling across her carpet. How she laughed in delight when Adelaide giggled, and how she asked multiple times (thanks to both a slightly faulty memory and my girl being on unusually good behaviour) whether she ever cried. How she’s only ever met my girl twice, and may not see her again, but the love she has for is blatant, obvious, unquestioned. How she didn’t think she’d have any more great-grandchildren, and now within months she has two new ones; and maybe now I’m starting to understand why that matters.
(I probably won’t mention that Adelaide’s best toy of the weekend was an unripe mandarin and that despite eating the peel and recoiling, she nonetheless persisted doing this all afternoon. Bless.)