I have one grandparent left. Just one now. Life goes quickly, have you noticed? I wonder how much faster it will feel when my children have grown up and left home and are having children of their own. My nana turned 90 on the 2nd of October. That’s a pretty good achievement isn’t it? My grandparents, all four of them lived good long lives. My grandad was in his late 80’s I believe, and both my father’s parents reached their early 90’s. Nana is the oldest living person in her family so far. She has outlived them all.
I remember so much about her, and so much I just don’t. I don’t remember being two or three years old and jealous that my sister got to stay at her house, so jealous in fact, that I decided to take my little bare baby feet and walk to her house. I had to walk down a mountain, across two fairly main roads, and down a horrible seedy little street where very..hmm..interesting people lived. I did it all without being noticed, and barefoot. Mum got a call from Nana asking if she knew where I was! Even as a toddler I was trouble, right?
I do remember the nights when I would stay at her house. Sometimes with one of my cousins, sometimes just by myself. I remember the smell of her house, the way that you could play underneath a huge cloud of cigarette smoke that lingered from about, waist high up. Nana never smoked. I remember spending hours and hours playing snakes n’ ladders and colouring in with her. I remember playing outside in my grandad’s amazing garden. He had a huge plum tree up the back, and he built a platform on it. I remember when my Aunty Lee came back from Australia and my cousin Ben used to come over. He ate so much one day, he vomitted. And I can still remember creeping away from the purple vomit that was threatening to spill all over my shoes as we played up on that platform together.
I have very good memories of my Nana’s house. Of the way all her vegetables tasted, the salt, the extra cookedness of them, which I hated at the time, and absolutely miss right now. I remember my grandad eating lambs tongue out of a can. The way the jelly stuff used to make me think of dogs food, and how much he loved it, and how revolting it used to make me feel. I remember his warbling voice as he sung old tunes that he loved and remembered. I remember curling up in the warmth and dark of Nana’s bedroom, being scared of the things my cousin Jo told me, scaring each other senseless with ghost stories, I remember Nana coming to bed in the pitch black, the soft sound of her snoring in the bed next to mine, the way that her house was always home to us.
She was a big woman. She was big and soft and motherly. You could curl up in her. She was warm and kind and everything you’d imagine a grandmother to be. I always remember her as being bigger than life. Fat and cuddly. She smelled like a grandmother and she was always happy. At least, she always seemed to be happy, to me.
Over the years, after my grandfather passed away, 13 years ago now, Nana began to loose her bigness, her softness. Dementia has ravaged her mind. She would have the same conversation with us, 5 times in a half hour visit. She began to forget to eat, and lost weight. She became tiny, and birdlike, and old. She was always old, always the same..it seemed to me that she never aged. She just sort of existed. And then one day, I realised just how wrong I was, and how very much she was aging. She cannot take care of herself anymore, and is in a home where they make sure she has her meals every day and remembers to have a shower. She still knows who we are, most of the time, but she reverts back to being a teenager sometimes. Apparently, she doesn’t recognise the old lady looking back at her in the mirror anymore.
Sometimes when I see her now, I don’t recognise her either. She is so frail, and so tiny. We used to tell her all the time that she was shrinking. It seemed a joke at the time, but now, when I see her, it has become real. She is shrinking, she is becoming less. Less and less. And that makes me nostalgic. She is still my nana, she’s still the woman I grew up being loved and cared for by, who let me do things my parents wouldn’t, and never got angry at me. She’s the woman who would sit with me for hours in her living room and colour in countless pictures. I can still hear the click of her clock. I can still smell grandad’s cigarettes, I can still see everything as it was, in her house in Murphy Street. I have the two dog ornaments that spent their life in her house now. They remind me of how I was never told off for touching anything in her china cabinet. For wanting to touch things that were special and breakable.
Like my Nana. Who at 90 years old, seem so special and so breakable that I cannot quite fathom how fast the years have gone. I don’t see her often enough anymore. Our trips to Nelson are short, and we run out of time, and I am always riddled with guilt. I am ashamed to admit, that it hurts me to see her so frail, so old, and so lost in a world of dementia. It’s easier sometimes, not to see the people you have spent your life looking up to, being cared for by and loved by grow old and frail. I miss her terribly though. Her and my grandfather, whom I had such a tempestuous relationship with, and whom I loved fiercely.
Nana, on your 90th birthday, I thought about you all day. I’m sorry I wasn’t able to be there, but I know you were in good hands. I can see, just how good those hands are in this photo. I hope you remember it. I love you very much.