Today I want to commemorate my maternal grandmother. She passed away four years ago on June 22nd, 2011. She was a beautiful soul.
Today is her birthday! This was originally scheduled to go up on June the 22nd but i was talking to my mother this evening and we got to talking about my Nan, and I thought, since it’s her birthday today, I might aswell speak about her on the day she was born.
She would have been 81 years old today.
My earliest memories of her were warm hugs, soft wrinkled cheek against mine, loving stories and piles of knitting. I used to stay at her house from the age of one, sleeping next to her on her bed. I remember tottering towers of books and magazines stacked around her room. Her mind was a vast cavern that was so filled with knowledge that it refused to echo. Knowledge and painful memories.
She had silky black hair that, over the course of my memories, grew silver as she aged. She used to wear a blue coat when she went out, and I used to accompany her to the vegetable markets, where all the sellers knew who she was. She talked to everybody, about anything. She was brimming with love.
Her house was filled with plants. Nurtured tenderly with each passing year. When she was at home, her garden bloomed with colour. She had roses and lavender and her window boxes were vibrant with pansies, petunias, geraniums, fuschias and busy lizzies. Nodding in the breeze, reflecting the glorious summer sunshine of England in July. Her back garden had some grapevines that were as old as my mother, because my grandmother planted them when she was pregnant with my mother. A large apricot tree grew proudly in the centre of her back garden, defying all weather odds. The apricots that she did get, every three years or so, were all gobbled up by the squirrels as soon as they formed.
“Naughty squirrels” she would say, “they’re taking all my apricots!”
When she left, the garden languished, and one by one the roses dropped and the plant pots vanished, leaving behind a sore greyness.
My grandmother was born in India, but migrated to Pakistan when the partition occurred in 1947. She was very young at the time, and told me some horrific stories. Her father was wealthy lawyer, so she always lived in a lavish house with many servants. She would always say the time she spent at home were the happiest of her life. Her father held a special place in her heart. She would always tell stories of his generosity and kindness. When he passed away she was already living in England, and her heart was broken.
My Nan didn’t lead the happiest of adult lives. She worked hard, and was not very well off, and her husband broke her heart so many times. So much so that thirty years after their divorce she would still break down in tears after talking about him. But she was a strong woman and made a beautiful home for her children, and brought them up single handedly. My mother says her mother was both a mother and a father to her children.
She was divorced during a time when divorce was looked down on in society, so a lot of people in her social circle shunned her. Despite her sadness, though, my grandmother spread joy wherever she went. Her door was always open to people, her cooking readily available to anybody who popped by.
When she passed away, she was very ill and in a lot of pain, but she was surrounded by all of her children and she said she was so happy. Her son stayed at the hospital with her night and day, and the nurses said how peaceful it felt in her room.
Despite her suffering she still had my mother and her two siblings at the forefront of her thoughts.
“Oh, don’t cook for me,” she would say to my mum, who’d been running up and down the stairs all day, “let me buy a takeaway.”
Everybody who knew her, loved her. She went around sprinkling a bit of happy into people’s lives. Once I told her about my English teacher who had the same name as one of my grandma’s dearest friends who was deceased. So my grandmother bought her a book and wrote her a small note. My English teacher was very touched. That’s just a small example of how Nan reached out to people. She always had a gift to give someone, a thought to tell them, a smile to put on their faces.
I don’t want to think about the sad things though, the pain she was in, the loneliness she often felt when her kids got married and moved away. I want to think about how happy she made everybody, how all my baby memories are peppered with Nan hugs and games and comfy blankets, how she had her favourite chair, her masses of books and magazines full of interesting subjects, her fascination with the Arabic language (which she did an MA in despite not being Arab!), the way she always had misri in her handbag to give out to the children, her flowers, and her never-ending kindness, generosity and love.
She told me a week before she passed that I was her “first baby”, being the oldest grandchild.
“What about me!” my mum exclaimed, her real ‘first baby’. My Nan just smiled and patted my hand.
We miss you, Nan. Terribly. The world is lacking without you.