my nanna died in my first year in melbourne (2000). i had been back to wales to see her just the (northern hemisphere) winter before. i’d been travelling in europe, visiting family i hadn’t seen since i was 7. i was 25. i think. but when i got to glynnneath, i was very ill with a nasty cold. so i spent a lot of time lying on the couch talking to my nanna while she did the crossword. we spent a lot of time talking. talking about when she was young, when my dad (her son) was young, about my family, about her family, about the bits that were our family. the stories used to start with me saying “nan, how did you meet grandpa?” and she’d say “ah, shurrup girl” and i’d say “no, nan. tell me” and she’d say “no!” in her high welsh accent. and i’d say “you might as well, nan, i’m not going anywhere”. and then she would.
this photo is of my nan and grandpa when they were in the army, during WWII. he was irish and she was welsh. they called him Taffy and her … something (i’d have to look it up in my journal from then to remember), because he sounded welsh, while she sounded irish.
she told me she’d made one of those “this is the man i’m going to marry” statements. and we both laught, because it was funny. especially because That Man was in the kitchen, sulking over his newspaper at the time.
then she told me the courting story, which mostly consisted of her stalking this probably-thin, definitely-anal young irishman, who had a wonderfully light and beautiful tenor and wouldn’t eat in public.
she said that all the courting couples would sit in the grass, eating fish and chips. but he wouldn’t eat in public, so she would eat and he wouldn’t.
my nan was a big, gruff-but-affectionate woman, lots of freckles like my dad, dark roan, curly hair. i’m curly haired too, but my dad was a redhead and i’m not.
one day my nan went upstairs on the stair-chair thingy (she couldn’t climb the stairs because of the angina that killed her just a few months later), got her red photo album. then she showed me the scarf and tiny bottle of perfume my dad had bought her when he was a kid on a school trip. we laughed at the suggestive text on the scarf that that little boy-dad hadn’t understood. there was still perfume in the bottle.
we looked through the photos sitting on her bed. most of them were pasted in. some had been scribbled on. i poured over them for ages. i made her explain the stories over and over again.
later that year when my mum went back to the uk, before she died, she got copies of all the photos that came out of the book. the ones that were pasted in didn’t come out. she made copies for me and for my dad.
and this photo is one of my nan and my grandpa. rae and gerry.
now gerry is old and cranky and would never tell anyone he misses her. she was big and soft, but strong, and built like a footballer. and she leant on the kitchen sink just like my dad does. she made me new potatoes especially, so i could see just how wonderful potatoes could be.
once when i was about 10, she and i were swimming in our pool, doing freestyle (or australian crawl in her words), and the family exclaimed that we swam in exactly the same way. considering i learnt to swim in england, and then in fiji, and we were then swimming in our rural NSW pool, that was a fairly impressive demonstration of the strength of genetics.
i like to think of that, when i’m swimming.
i should swim more often.