The original of this post was published on my Facebook feed a few days after my grandmother had died. My desire to say something quickly about how I was feeling meant that I captured some parts of what I wanted to say, but not all.
My Grandma, Kathleen Fenton, died last week, so I have been thinking of her and my Granddad, John Fenton, who passed away some years ago, and what I remember of them.
I remember visiting them as a child, the landmarks that would indicate that we were getting closer, the church spires, the Tescos where she worked, the sweep through the Kenyon Estate, and the right turn onto Carrfield Avenue, ending by the triangles of grass outside their house.
If we arrived on a Friday evening there might be a casserole cooking, nothing complex, an instruction perhaps given earlier in the day to put the oven on in good time or to make sure the carrots were peeled. Not always followed.
Setting the table for tea would mean pushing the living room furniture to the sides so the drop leaf table could be stretched as far as possible. Moving empty mugs, save for tea leaves at the bottom, and taking ashtrays off the arms of chairs. Picking up Embassy Cigarette cards.
Many people meant many chairs, with hoovers and ironing boards piled in the hall so extra seats could be dug out from the cupboard under the stairs, past coats and jackets.
I remember the extra plate being delivered to an elderly neighbour.
And a Friday always meant rice pudding.
I remember the constant talking, of catching up, the excited arrival of others, maybe a long travelled uncle or a cousin, and the kettle being almost constantly on the boil.
The discussions about who was sleeping where, and which brothers and uncles I’d be sharing a room with, or whether we’d be sleeping in the parlour.
I remember, sometimes, seeking permission to search the cupboards for toys, a yellow digger with caterpillar tracks, or something a cousin had left behind.
In the evenings I remember the gentle tapping of Grandma’s knitting needles and Grandad offering more tea and hot buttered toast for supper.
“Do you take sugar Matthew?“
I remember the family photos, snapshots of trips to Spain, portraits from graduations or the broad smiles of uniformed school children. I remember the picture of Grandad as an infant with his family around him. I remember the horse brasses and the books on the shelves.
I remember Grandad setting off for work before anyone else had arisen, breakfast with Grandma in the kitchen, seeing which cereal was in the cupboard, followed by toast and lime marmalade. I remember Gay Bryne on the radio.
These are a few of the happy memories I have. But they are not memories of events or occasions. A family this large has its share of events and celebrations; birthdays, weddings, wedding anniversaries, Christmas’, the birth of my brother. Marked in calendars, planned and recalled.
What I will remember is the comforting hubbub of family, the embrace of routines and experiences. This does not happen by accident nor by direct design. It happens through love, although I did not know this as a child.
I remember, as a child, having a nightmare, of unseen monsters hunting me down. And I remember that it was behind a settee at Grandma and Grandad’s that I, in my dream, sought refuge.