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Thursday, March 22, 2012

Shifting Sands



I didn't know my maternal grandfather well, I left Scotland at the tender age of eight and he died less than a couple of years later. I have a vague recollection of a thin, bald headed man who would pat me on the head in greeting. I think he meant it as a sign of affection, but his version of a pat usually left me marginally concussed.

He often got my name wrong, but then he seldom addressed anyone  by name, he usually called me "Girl", as in , "Girl, come over here and put some more coal on the fire", or, "Girl, go play outside so as I can hear myself think."

My mother tended to tip-toe around him, it wasn't until later and as an adult that I realised how intimidated she was in his presence. In his younger days Peter had ruled his wife and children with a rod of iron, and despite the onset of age and infirmity, time didn't mellow him.

He married my grandmother when she was barely fifteen, and sired ten children with her. One, Joseph, died as a baby, a sad but common occurrence for those days. I know my grandfather had one main abiding passion, that of playing the bagpipes, and apparently he played them well. This elevated him to the respected position of being the Pipe Major in his Scottish regiment, The Gordons.

Always early to rise, he delighted in rousing the house around 5.30am to the stirring and deafening skirl of his favourite instrument. I've no doubt lesser wives would have cheerfully murdered him in his bed, but my grandmother, Alice, was a passive creature, used to doing as bid.

She died young, well before I was born, but for every week as far back as I can remember my mother took my siblings and myself off on a regular Sunday pilgrimage to tend to her grave.

We also paid a weekly visit to my grandfather's house, as did her three other sisters. They shared in his care, cleaning his house, shopping and generally keeping an eye out for him. Families did that sort of thing for each other in those days, it was never something in question.

I didn't mind going there, there was a huge overgrown jungle in his back yard where I spent many a happy hour stalking savage Indians or hiding from floods of blood-thirsty pirates. I also seem to recall camping out there on the odd occasion under a battered green, army-issue canvass tent. As I say, I didn't know him well, he barely really registered in my life.

That is, until the Summer of my seventh year.

My father wasn't happy, but my mother (unusually for her) stood her ground. After a bad fall, Grandad, complete with a full-length plaster cast welded to his leg, moved in to stay, and overnight our house became a far more interesting place to live. Grandad was a sly old fox, used to having his way, and he effortlessly soon had us all dancing in circles to his fine, merry tune. 

Easily bored, he loved making mischief.

I received quite an education that year, and despite all of his many flaws, I actually grew to love that cussed old man more than I'd ever imagined. We were partners in crime, often arch enemies, but most often we simply settled in to being two good friends, watching out for each other under what was often a chaotic and unpredictable existence.

I didn't chose to befriend him, I actively disliked him from the start. His bed was in our living room (we had no where else to put it) and he smelled. His table manners were disgusting, he drank tea from his saucer and belched over everything, but far worse than any of that, he was frequently the sole cause of preventing me from running outside in the sun to play with my friends.

Grandad discovered a love of board games, Ludo and Snakes and Ladders, as well as of cards - Three Card Rummy to be precise, where he would play for matchsticks.

No one wanted to partner him, so it usually fell to me. He was a sore loser, and a rotten, mean cheat, and no matter how many times I caught him out, he always furiously denied it.

Naturally, when he came to stay, his bagpipes came too.

He wanted to teach me how to play, but the thought of all of his spittle blocking up the mouthpiece simply turned my stomach, although I somehow always managed to come up with a distraction to save myself from this gut-wrenching prospect, I never quite relaxed when he picked them up.

I can relate many a tale of the months we spent together, he was a rogue and not always a good person, but he was also funny, often unexpectedly kind, and a brilliant musician (if you liked that kind of thing). 

I believe I got to know the man my mother never knew.

The odd thing is, that is exactly what my hubby recently said about the relationship his own father shared with our children. My husband has no memory of his father ever hugging him, or of him telling him that he loved him, and yet he seemed to get it so right the second time around. Our Children positively worshipped their grandad, as he did them.

Such complex creatures us Humans, eh?

61 comments:

Vince said...

I know it seems tragic. But I'm very uncertain if it's true. Leastwise if the intent to be distant between a father and son/daughter is there or if it's due to circumstance.
I do know that here in Ireland there are a lot of men that never thought that their lives would ever include the words stay-at-home-dad. Who are happy as pigs in shit to wipe snot, hoover muck and generally wrangle the product dubious Gran Reserva Tempranillo y Garnacha. Where the girl is the one arriving at seven pm to meet exhausted little people where she is mostly a nice guest in their lives.
And then you have the expectation within the couple. He of her and her of him, that quite simply track things in distinct directions through a virtually unionised demarcation of family labour.

Ms. A said...

He wasn't the only one to get it wrong as a father and right as a grandfather. Some DO learn!

Cloudia said...

a post as piercing and lovely as the pipes heard through evening mists!


Aloha from Honolulu
Comfort Spiral

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Tabor said...

This is a generous review of your family history. No wonder you are so interesting. You have painted the good and the bad and realize that we all have our foibles and are a reflection of our culture of the times. Now the old demanding patriarch only works if he holds all the money.

Anthony Duce said...

There are resemblances here with relationships and actions of my grandfather.
I enjoyed.

Bone said...

My sister and I see my mom starting to pull some of this same stuff with my nephew. I guess it's sort of like a second chance, whether to correct mistakes or just to be a little easier. I think it's nice. Life doesn't always offer second chances.

Also, this was a wonderfully told story. Made me think of my grandparents, and that's never a bad thing.

Kate said...

Loved this post, Shrinky. Grandparents...especially eccentric ones....make life more interesting. That's my story, anyway!!

Bijoux said...

That's a really sweet story, Shrinky. My maternal grandfather was quite a bit older (born in 1893), but I have fond memories of when he stayed at our house for extended periods.

Chris said...

Lovely post, I too appreciate that you portray people as they are, good and bad.

YELLOWDOG GRANNY said...

I just know that being a parent is hard work..and some times it's wonderful and some times it sucks.

Leslie: said...

I never really knew either of my grandfathers as one died when I was only 6 or 7 and the other when I was 14 (after years of dementia). Now I'm a grandmother, but I don't get to see my 2 little grandchildren often because my daughter is all but a single mother (another story). So she has to do all her "chores" on the weekends and doesn't have the time or energy to get together. *sigh*

Hilary said...

If only we could all remember the people in our lives through the magical eyes of a child and the tempered reason of an adult. Lovely tale, Shrinky.

Dave said...

I enjoyed this story too Carol. Family memories enrich our lives. - Dave

mythopolis said...

A fascinating read. It made me think of my own circumstances and my own grandparents...the world they lived in then and the world I live in now. It used to be the oldest person was most revered and wise since little changed from one generation to another, but now, the older you are the more obsolete you are since so much changes. My grandfather could have taught me how to hitch a mule to a plow but it would have been useless information since I mostly am concerned with how to hitch my wireless router to my computer, and so on.

Choco said...

How strange Shrinky. I wrote a post about a granddad too. And then I come here and read about yours... As always... Beautifully narrated.

MarkD60 said...

My Grandfather on my Mothers side was my favorite relative, I never knew my Fathers Father, he died when I was 1.

Furtheron said...

great story... sadly I never knew either of my grandfathers as they both died years before I was born. My Dad also sadly died before my children were born and so they never knew him.

One thing similar though was that I never had a great relationship with me Dad until he year he died. It was my last year in college and I was living at home, I'd therefore be home a lot studying for exams and finishing off the course work etc. I got to see inside my Dad a bit more then, he was a man of small ambitions but he was dedicated and loyal - perhaps over loyal, he'd worked in the dockyard for 42 years until they shut it down. I then realised that he really should probably have moved to another job years earlier as what he really loved doing they had stopped when I was a kid. I think he stayed out of loyalty to them and to us as a family so to provide for us and also not to uproot all of us in pursuing his dreams.

I wish he'd seen my kids - esp I wish he and Mum could see them now as they become adults themselves.

Shrinky said...

I'm not sure Vince, if it was being placed in the role of bread-winner, so much as men in that day and culture very much belived child-rearing was "women's work". That's not to say women didn't work, because they did. Economically, many needed to, but few earned the main wage a man could bring home. Times have changed, better or worse, and the expetations have shifted to men having a more active role in parenting their children. 'Course, it could also be argued, fewer kids are parented at all, since most households rely on a joint income to function.

Shrinky said...

Sadly Ms A, all we can do is our best, and hopefully to learn better as we go along.

Shrinky said...

Cloudia, as I recall, it was more gale force winds and six foot snowdrifts, rather than any gentle evening mists, that accompanied my grandad's bagpipes (wink)..

Shrinky said...

Aw Tabor, what a lovely comment! But I'm not sure the old demanding patriarch only works if he holds all the money, many can still successfully rule with guilt-trips and emotional blackmail too!

Shrinky said...

Thanks Anthony, it always pleases me if a post of mine relates back to something the reader recognises and empathises with.

Shrinky said...

Hi there Bone, yes, second chances are a precious thing indeed, I guess. I think we almost all get better with practise.

Shrinky said...

Oh Kate, I haven't yet touched on my eccentric grandparent - that would be my father's mother - she buried three husbands, and doubled for Barbara Cartland - floating on a perfumed cloud of chiffon and lace, as she did - now THERE was a character!

Shrinky said...

Hi Bijoux, it's sweet you have those fond memories stored of your grandad - my children also carry some lovely times of when their grandad stayed with us. It's sad they never knew my own parents, but Jack, my father-in-law, absolutely doted on them.

Shrinky said...

Chris, like everything, people are rarely all good or all bad - it's what's in the mix of the two that makes the difference, eh?

Shrinky said...

Jac, true words of wisdom, those, and don't I know it?

Shrinky said...

Oh Leslie, that is such a sadly familiar tale hon, the world over. My sis' virtually raised her grandchild as her daughter returned to study - now, married and qualified as a high school teacher, she and her family have settled miles away from her mother, and my poor sis' rarely sees her precious grandbaby at all.

Shrinky said...

What a beautiful summation, Hilary, I think I may quote you on that whenever I can!

Shrinky said...

Yes Dave, it's our roots that carve us into the people we are.

Shrinky said...

Hi Dan, actually, some skills do still endure - I am thinking of your woodworking, and of your gift for telling a tale - these treasures can and should be passed down through the generations, don't you think?

Shrinky said...

Goodness Choco, what a coincidence! Yet my tale, and your tale are so very different, aren't they? I found the story of your grandad a fascinating glimpse into a whole other culture, one quite alien, and (to me) far more romantic than the one in which I grew up in.

Shrinky said...

Hi Mark, it appears your maternal grandmother left quite a positive impression on your life?

Shrinky said...

Your comment moves me, Furtheron - it's good you saw your father through adult eyes in the year before he died, and came to appreciate the reasons behind the choices he had to make in life. My father also lived with us in his final year - but the children were too young to remember him, and my youngest wasn't born until two weeks after his funeral.

chewy said...

I wonder if it's a Scottish thing...the older Duncan men weren't overly showing with their affection. My Dad will pat children on the head... I still get a pat every now and then. It's up to us, his children and grandchildren to step up with the hugs and "I love you's".

I love a bagpipe tune, I think it's in my blood, but wouldn't want to live with one - or share spittle! - ick!

chewy said...

I was looking for the "like" button...then realize... this is not Facebook! hahahahaha

Shrinky said...

You make me laugh Chewy, you and your FaceBook (shove) - you know that stuff there scares the bejesus out of me!

Yeah, I DO think it's a Scots trait, tell me, do the elder guys in your family also need their foot nailed to the floor, in order to stop thumping beat to any music that happens to be playing? Every male relative of mine suffers that affliction, too!

A piper played at my father's funeral, at his graveside, and a bugle sounded the last stand, as he was lowered in his casket (according to my father's wish).

Akelamalu said...

Strange isn't it, the relationship between a grandparent and grandchild can be so different to a father/mother and their child. My mother didn't get on with her mother but I did.

I can't believe your grandmother was only 15 when she married - was it legal in Scotland?

Shrinky said...

It is still technically legal today, to marry at age 16, with the written consent of a parent (though I suspect very rare)! But yes, Ake, I guess going back over a hundred years ago, marrying that early was pretty commonplace.

sage said...

My great grandmother lived with us when I was young--and I remember my grandmother taking care of her grandfather (on the other side of the family). My memories were mostly good about being small and around the aged.

Skunkfeathers said...

Yes, people are interesting, complex, contrary...annoying and amazing, all at once. Great story!

#1Nana said...

I have very few memories of my grandparents. We left England when I was four and my paternal grandmother only visited us once. They were all gone before I ever got to travel back for a visit. PErhaps that is why I am so vigilant in visiting my granddaughters. It is a special relationship. I enjoyed reading your story.

steven may said...

That's a really sweet story,Great post !

Chantel said...

It's truly a shame, when the tender love we all seem to crave, skips out on a generation. I think it happens today as well, only in a different way. I see families so bent on being in every damn activity that the only time they spend together is in the car! I wonder if they will one day have time to sit and just....be.

I love the push and pull of your relationship with your grandfather--such honesty. I think I enjoy your writing so much because I trust you. A rather strange thing to say, I suppose. But you brilliantly tell the whole of a story, not just the highlights. Love that.

Shrinky said...

You obviously hail from a warm and loving family, Sage. I do think there is much to be gained when several generations merge under the one roof.

Shrinky said...

Aren't we just, Skunk? (Smile)

Shrinky said...

Hey there Nana, good to see you girl, where have you been so long, I hope all is well? Ah, gone are the days when whole families grew up and still lived in the same town as each other, eh? But travelling across to different continents is still quite an exception, it must have been a huge wrench for your parents to settle so far from home (although it obviously turned out well, methinks)?

Shrinky said...

Hi Steven, thanks for stopping by!

Shrinky said...

Goodness Chantel, your words pour a warm balm on my soul, what a beautiful statement to make, and it certainly means a great deal to me. I know you always keep it honest in your posts, it shines through every line - I do try to do the same with mine, though I don't always succeed.

Yes, I hear what you say about these busily crammed schedules many kids seem to keep. I feel exhausted just listening to all the activities some of my children's peers follow. My own brood only escaped by default (grin), since I have too many to be ferrying them in all different directions!

chewy said...

The elder two can barely hear. (giggle) They prefer the Irish music of their maternal side.

One of the younger two tried bagpipes BUT the group he joined were pushing the whole kit & kaboodle outfits for parades and such... which is unfortunate because it was an extravagant expenditure, so he quit. The group literally wanted dress-up drones (droning) to increase their numbers.

bill lisleman said...

I guess you could say he was a mixed bag. (sorry this stuff just pops out)
My father mellowed in his later years. I think there is a few things going on with older kinder males. Testosterone drop as you age, making up for bad times, waiting to leave a good legacy, etc.

Pearl said...

I wonder what it is, that makes people so cautious in fully loving their children but able to love their grandchildren?

Pearl

Brighid said...

Ahh, your grandda would have been in fine company with my paternal grandda.

Shrinky said...

Ha, I'd forgotten about that hard of hearing thing (grin). Oh Chewy, that is such a rotten tale about this bagpipe club your brother tried to learn the pipes from - talk about self-serving, sheesh! What a disgrace, just like learning any new instrument, you need to try it out for a month or so anyway, to see if it suits you - who the hell wants to invest a kings ransome on all the kit, if you're never going to wear it? I wonder how many other potential members this place has managed to chase off?

Shrinky said...

I think also, Bill, the balance of power naturally shifts, as the alpha male ages and steps aside, and the new young bulls step up - guess everyone HAS to mellow a little eventually, eh?

Shrinky said...

Well Pearl, I'm guessing, with my grandad, sheer exhaustion might have been a factor.. I mean, c'mon - TEN kids? Ack..!!

Shrinky said...

That so, Brighid? Ahh, 'tis a shame we'll never know, but it's a nice thought! (Wink)

~Babs said...

Aahhhhh yes, family dynamics and drama.
My Grandfather would often remove his artificial leg to try to scare us. It worked the first time.
Then he'd yell to Grandma: "old woman, get these kids some ice cream."
She'd just shake her head and mutter "old fool" under her breath.
We gleefully ran to the kitchen,,loving him for the ice cream part.
Sadly,,he drank his way through my Mom's childhood,,and she only knew the fear, not the ice cream.

Secret Agent Woman said...

I had a similar situation with my maternal grandfather - he was much more patient and kind with us grandchildren than he was with my mother.

Suldog said...

It's funny some folks reactions to older people. MY WIFE was similarly disgusted by some of the contact she had with her older relatives - bad smell, spittle, whatever. Me? I never was. If anything, I was fascinated by their wrinkly skin and such.

I hope my nieces and nephews find me fascinating instead of revolting :-)

Barbara Shallue said...

Oh, what a character! I wish I'd known him!