Some time ago I was reading an article by Simona Tache – “My Grandparents’ Love Story” (in Romanian) and the many comments filled with nostalgic love stories from half a century ago…I then lovingly remembered my grandparents and a thought stuck with me that I needed to write their love-story some day, just as I heard it hundreds of times from my grandmother when I was a child.
Granny was an incurable romantic. I’d know she was in a good mood as soon as I entered the door because I heard her humming an old love song from the time when people would spend peaceful summer afternoons eating pies and listening to an orchestra in the Public Garden. For a few days now this song, from back then, has been playing in my mind…
Today I went to the cemetery and lit a candle by my grandparents grave. I also did something that, custom says, should not be done – I played this song in the silence of the cemetery. It was my gift for them. So is this story.
It is said that if you truly want to understand and befriend your past, the history which brought you to this point in your life, then you should go back to your very first memory. Is it a happy one or not? Who is in it?
My oldest memory dates back to when I was about 2 or 3, when I used to pretend I was a circus acrobat and would put on a huge show with all my toys as personal assistants in front of an enthusiastic audience made up of … my grandmother.
I perfectly remember the whole “routine” – me hiding behind the wardrobe and granny, as I affectionately called her all throughout her life, would play host and solemnly announced the beginning of a new, fabulous show. At the right time I would enter the “stage” with all my stuffed Teddy Bears, with my favourite doll, Oana, and all the other toys I could “recruit” for a new representation. In my imagination I was some kind of hybrid between a gymnast, an acrobat and an animal trainer and the toys would be the animals whose mission was to execute masterful tricks in front of the fascinated eyes of my granny who, with every break between “numbers”, would carefully put another bite of food in my mouth. So I would eat my lunches and never realise it.
From this very first memory springs a web of emotions, stories and a host of other memories. Granny was a central character in my childhood and adolescence – my partner in play when I was small and later the most faithful, patient and nonjudgemental confidante, who never failed to listen to all my teenage tribulations. She taught me that kindness is above ego and that a true friend is one who can keep other people’s secrets. From her I learnt that some people are embittered by suffering while others become better and kinder precisely because of suffering. I never met anybody else with a higher capacity for empathy than her – she would suffer for others up to the point of becoming ill herself.
Grandmother also gave me the most valuable lessons about love. Her love story with my grandfather, whom I didn’t have the chance to meet but, because of her stories, I feel very close to, is alive and unfolds like a golden string across my childhood, alongside stories with princes and princesses that would enflame my imagination. Sometimes I felt I had lived alongside them, that I could still feel the love that united them and that made granny remember, even 60 years later:
“We needed nothing, we just wanted to be together. There was war, we had nothing and felt no need for any possessions – we were enough for each other. Sometimes we would say that the only thing we wished for was a donkey, to carry us on the long journey from the town centre to the remote neighbourhood where we lived. The two of us and a donkey – nothing else.”
They got married at the end of the War.
He was a great lover of parties and travels and, as grandmother would describe him many years later: “a bit too much in love with life. It was as if he knew, poor thing, that he didn’t have much time on Earth”.
Grandfather loved life with all it had to offer. He lived each moment with a fervor that grandmother often couldn’t understand.
She was his oposite – serious, responsible, happy to spend as much time as possible at home while he would have wandered around incessantly if he could. He didn’t want children. She was made to be a mother. When, years after they got married, a baby girl finally arrived – my mother – granny felt her life was complete. Grandfather needed months to come to terms with his new role as a father.
Later on he would wonder out loud why it had taken him so long to discover such a wonder. In her childhood my mother would accompany him everywhere and he would be as proud to show her off to the world as he had been adamant that he wasn’t made to be a father, before her birth.
Grandfather lived his life in high speed and left the world just like that, at an age when other men still enjoy seeing their children grow.
As he lived his final days my grandmother would spend her time between his hospital bed and the church, where she begged God on her knees to swap places – give him back his life and take hers instead. She felt, she later told me, that death couldn’t be as bad as losing him. She felt she could never survive it.
During his final moments grandfather whispered, as he had in the beginning of their life together, that she was the love of his life and, if he could start it all over again, he would still want to spend his life with her.
I don’t think my grandmother ever wanted to prove to anybody that love for a lifetime truly exists but, after his passing, no other man could find a place in her heart. She raised her daughter on her own, with a devotion worthy of a heroine and later she poured all the love she was capable of onto myself and my sister – and, believe me, granny was capable of a whole lot of love! Many years passed and she kept a sort of sadness about her, a nostalgia and a longing she didn’t even need to talk about – I could feel it. Often I wondered, in awe of her, what it must be like to love so much…
As a child she would take me with her to the cemetery to visit grandfather. She took care of his resting place almost religiously – always keeping it clean and neat, always bringing him fresh flowers and lighting candles. Grandmother seemed to be at peace with the idea of dying more than any other person I ever met. To her the Grand Passing was nothing but the moment when the two of them would finally be together again. She knew, she was certain, that she would see him again on the Other Side. Surprisingly or not, a few days before her passing, 35 years after he had left, granny dreamed of him. She told us he was waiting for her. And so it was.
Because of her, up to this day, I have no fear of cemeteries whatsoever – somehow, in my consciousness, resting places are inextricably tied to love tories that never die.
We all have people in our lives who inspired us, shaped us, whom we owe much of what we are. To me granny is that person.
She taught me about generosity, kindness, honesty, sensitivity and femininity. Much of my fundamental values have been influenced by her presence in my life.
Grandmother had this gift of seeing what was good and beautiful in me and would allow me to make mistakes without judging me. As a child I’d sometimes upset her with my antics. I don’t remember her ever punishing me. But I do remember her forgiving me every single time, no matter what I did or how much I had angered her. On top of that, she’d always come to our defence when our parents patience, more limited than hers, would come to an end. “She’s only a child” was the magical phrase that pulled me out of trouble so many times.
From grandmother I learnt the concept of “un-disappointable”. There are people in our lives, few and precious, whom we cannot disappoint no matter what we do. They love us unconditionally and have that rare capacity not to judge. They are capable of giving us the gift of forgiveness and of perpetual presumption of innocence.
I believe more such people are needed in this world – people who can give others the gift of kindness and understanding without judgement and I also believe most of us are simply hungry for unconditional acceptance and love. In front of granny I always allowed myself to be myself. She offered me the very first, and perhaps most precious, lesson in authenticity. When you’re not afraid you might disappoint you allow yourself to be the authentic, imperfect you, right?
There are so many emotions, memories and lessons woven in the stories of our grandparents. This post is an homage to my grandparents and to all the grandparents in this world.
What did you learn from your own grandparents?