My Grandad is turning 90 today, but he’s not too bothered about it. As long as he reaches the 100 year anniversary of the end of WW1 then he’s happy.
We call him Action Grandbob because despite being up until today an octogenarian, he enjoys the occasional zip wire or trip up the Amazon river in a raft. This year we’re going up Snowdon – I’m pleased to say he’s allowing himself to take the train.
I never knew any of my other grandparents properly for various reasons. Patricia Haines passed away the night after Grandbob’s birthday over 15 years ago, so celebrations haven’t quite been the same since. She was a mother, a nurse and putter-upper of perpetual DIY chaos. My father tells an anecdote of when Grandbob put homemade bottles of wine all around the kitchen, which all proceeded to explode in a blitz of blackberry over Patricia’s head.
When I was a toddler he would chase me up the stairs and pinch my ankles. To this day I get nervous whenever someone follows me up a flight. I don’t resent that, it was always hilarious. My siblings and I would go to his house for dinner and he would feed us a 10-course masterpiece of tuck shop tapas. I’ll take a Pringles course over a fish course any day. We would always try and sneak into the kitchen to see what was next, and he would chase us away proclaiming ‘terrors’ and ‘rascals’.
The Haines men possess a remarkable gentleness; to this day I’ve never seen him lose his temper. Forever kind and witty, Grandbob never quite made it to ‘grumpy old sod’. I wonder if his obsession with chopping wood is a form of emotional management or just something to pass the time. Either way, we have a lot of chopped wood. I’ve never known anyone else to remain by the side of a bonfire until it burns out, like he’s loyally soothing the embers in their dying moments. A man of his generation never takes a service for granted.
I once sat with him in a pitch black living room, listening to his stories of army days in India. After those days he spent many years building bridges, some of which are still standing on Southern British motorways. He constantly sneaks in and completes my mother’s crossword, to the point where she’s tried and failed to hide it.
You’re probably wondering where I’m going with this, I’m wondering too, but I don’t really have a purpose here. It’s easy for me to swell with emotion and say I’m proud to be his grandaughter, this is true, though no one needs me to tell them that. Grandbob has been fortunate enough to keep his wits and he uses them as best he can, doing odd jobs and tending to the garden. Today he showed me his plans to cultivate wild strawberries in the car park, and I realised this is where my father gets his love of wild flowers from.
Old men don’t talk about their feelings much, though we all know they have them. Experience has gifted Grandbob a resilience to his pains, but his generous heart has always been clear to me. I’ve never understood our mocking of the elderly for telling long-winded stories when stories offer us so much. The oldest generation have memorial insights that will soon be lost forever, yet that doesn’t seem to bother most people. On today of all days, my primary thought is to listen and encourage others to listen. When you lose your blood, you have lost the opportunity to understand a part of yourself and your history. That’s what I fear now, and the only positive that comes from fear is the push to not take anyone or anything for granted.