Thursday, June 7, 2012
This morning, I spent some time mourning the loss of Ray Bradbury. His Zen in the Art of Writing is one of my all-time favourite books on the craft.
Then I learnt that my own grandfather had died, just a few days short of his ninety-fourth birthday, in a hospital not far from my auntie's house in London.
His last words were, "I'm not talking any more".
This from a man who was never short of a wry one-liner or a war-time song. Or a lilting "There's lovely". Or a game of gin rummy. Accompanied by a "brew", a cup of tea, strong with a dash of milk. Which also just happens to be the way I like it.
Apparently, the day before the day he died, he had been speaking Greek for much of the day. My grandfather didn't speak Greek. He was Welsh.
He did marry a Greek woman, though. He met her at the end of the Second World War, in Greece. The little I know of their courtship is a story reminiscent of Captain Corelli's Mandolin.
Their life together was not.
My grandfather, as I have said, did not speak Greek. My grandmother did not speak English. They communicated through their own idiosyncratic hybrid language, then through their children, then hardly at all.
My grandmother died two years ago.
If it hadn't been for the Second World War, my grandparents would never have met. My grandfather would never have taken his chance and left the coalmines, where his father had worked, and his father before that... and so on, and so on.
He wanted to see the world. As far as I know, he did. He fought in Egypt, Palestine, Greece. He fought in Dunkirk. He never made it to Australia.
My grandfather didn't finish school. Some years ago, my auntie found his old school reports up in the attic. They were glowing. His teachers had wanted him to stay on and matriculate.
When the war was over, my grandfather brought his Greek bride back to Wales and worked in a factory. I think he may have been a foreman. He worked shifts. My Dad told me that, regardless of the hour that he returned from work (even if it was the wee hours of the morning), he would stay up to drive his son to his exams.
My grandfather's son ended up gaining a scholarship to study at Oxford, and eventually became a celebrated university professor.
And that university professor, regardless of the hour he finished his own work (even if it was the wee hours of the morning), he would stay up to drive his daughter to and from the airport, when her job required her to travel.
When I told this to my grandfather, he was greatly intrigued. And quietly delighted that that was the legacy he had passed on.
The picture above was taken the last time I saw my grandfather. It was eight years ago, not long after my thirtieth birthday. My sister and I had been holidaying in Paris, and we stopping in to Wales to visit my grandparents.
This was the last time I saw him.
I wish I had taken my daughter to meet him. Last time my parents visited him, he sent back a "party frock" for her. It's the most exquisite thing, delightful flowers with tulle and all. She has not yet had the occasion to wear it, but he was adamant that it be a frock.
Once or twice, before he went into hibernation, we talked via skype. He got to see my daughter then, but she was understandably shy. When we looked at the computer screen, all we could see was one of the lenses of his glasses, he was leaning in that close so he could get a view of her.
While he was in hospital, my cousin's ex-girlfriend went to visit him. He kept asking her where the baby was. Perplexed (and possibly exasperated), my auntie asked, "Which baby, Dad?". Bella, he whispered. Bella.
He had taken my cousin's ex-girlfriend for me. Which is a little strange and a tiny bit funny, as she is Chinese. And I'm not.
The picture above is how I remember him. From what my parents tell me, I mightn't have recognised him, had I visited him in hospital.
When I look at myself in this picture, all I see is my sister.
Rest well, Papoulaki mou. And thank you for loving us.
We loved you back, even though it wasn't always obvious.
I hope it was enough for you, even though you deserved more.