Sunday, 12 February 2012

A born storyteller

Beautiful Nefyn bay, This was our view
Today I went to visit my grandfather, Papa. He lives in a home and has dementia and it breaks my heart.

When I was a child he seemed preternaturally strong despite his short stature; if I linked my hands around his forearms he could flex his arms and lift me right off the ground. He could lift two grandchildren at once. His appetite was legendary, plates piled sky-high to be masticated slowly and thoroughly before equally massive second helpings. And then pudding.

 As I grew older I realised we approached things from a very different direction. He was a small town business man with conservative views (big and small c) who enjoyed country sports and belonged to all those men-only clubs that small town business men belong to. I have only rarely seen him without a tie and tweed jacket. I was (am) a grungy, vegetarian, left wing feminist. But he was my Papa and I loved visiting him, especially at his summer home in Nefyn, on the Lleyn Peninsula, where we would eat macaroons, go for long mountain walks and play scrabble long into the evening. And he would talk.

My Papa was a born storyteller. He always told us that he married Nana because she dug a pit in the woods and wouldn't let him out until he agreed to marry her; as a gullible six year old I reported this story as fact in a school report. During those long nights in Nefyn, or at the family home in Lincolnshire, he would tell me ghost stories. All true, he insisted, he may have been a keen walker and naturalist but he had a real belief in the spiritual world. Thirty years younger and I am sure he'd have been on Most Haunted. Or he'd tell me about his youth, cycling from Lincolnshire to Nefyn, sleeping in haystacks on the way, his post-war days in Germany working in the army stores where he met a beautiful, auburn haired German girl (my Nana) who he promptly married and brought home to Wandsworth. Tales of a boyhood roaming the Lincolnshire countryside. He brought the past alive.

His real flair though was for storytelling. His bedtime stories were fantastic. My family moved to Kent when I was 13, my sister 12. It was the first time I hadn't lived in the same town as my grandparents and I missed them horribly so when they came to stay it was really special. And Papa told us bed time stories even when I was 16 and my sister 15, we wouldn't let him stop. Quite unashamed and unabashed we demanded the next instalment of his Romney Marsh saga that starred us, our cottage and our cats, stories that combined adventure, magic and heroism like all the best children's' stories do. I still love childrens' and YA literature, done well story telling at its best.

He never wrote them down. He wrote poems - rhyming, scanning doggerel, he painted pretty landscapes, he  answered every circular or invite with a letter like the gentleman he was, but he never wrote down his stories. And that's a shame and a real loss. Now he never will, dementia is a horrible, horrible thing.

4 comments:

Julia Broadbooks said...

It's sad that he never wrote them down, but how lovely that you have all those great memories of him. Hugs.

Alexandra said...

{{{hugs Jessica}}} So sorry to hear about your Papa's dementia. It is so sad to see our loved ones getting old and their independence and the essence that is them fading away.

My mum said that my Granda used to write letters home to his kids when he was in France in the war and these letters were in the form of a story. One of them was a raggedy Anne story, I gather. Mum said they loved getting these letters. Sadly, these letters were never kept.

But as Julia says we have the memories. My Granda used to be able to walk on his hands even when he was an old guy! Those were the days... halcyon and long gone...

Morton S Gray said...

Hi Jessica. Dementia is horrible and sad. Maybe you can write his stories and dedicate them to him. It sounds as if his life story alone would make a good book. Mx

Doris O'connor said...

Such precious memories. If you remember his stories, write them down. My gran used to tell the most fantastic stories.I often wish I'd written them down at the time. She always said she should write a book, and never did.

Hugs for the dementia. It must be so difficult to see him like that.