If you’ve ever met me (and even if you haven’t) you’ll likely have heard me mention my Granny – an amazing woman with a great knack for telling stories. I learned a lot from her. Sadly, she passed away in early February this year, having made it almost (but not quite) to 94. I can hear her now: “I’ve had a good run”.
I knew that I wanted to say something at the funeral, even though it would be hard to. I wanted to face that difficulty and show I could do it, to make her proud, to make mum proud. For mum, I did everything in rhyming couplets, figuring that if I concentrated on the rhythm and rhyme I would get through it okay (and I did, except for when I friend burst into tears in the first row, and my voice caught as I remembered her mum had died the year before).
But what could I do for Granny? How could I sum up all the she meant to me, all of her strength, and wonder, and kindness and love in just four minutes, the slot I had been given? I didn’t want to get all soppy, she even tried to make me promise not to grieve for her (the best I could manage was to promise to try not to!), but how could I convey all her energy and spirit, and even raise a smile?
It came to me as I was walking home, reciting the “When I am an old woman, I shall wear purple” poem by Jenny Joseph and changing the words for Granny. And here is the result. Sleep well Granny, you’ll never be forgotten.
When I was little, ‘granny’ was just that, my granny.
I’d mind my Ps and Qs and be on best behaviour around her. Back then, with the naivety of youth, I assumed that she had always been a granny – that she was somehow born as granny – because all the time I had known her, that’s what she was.
Over the years we cooked and crafted and roamed the beach, but I didn’t know her fully as a person. I knew her as a granny.
When we lost mum, and then grampa, it was a hard time for the family, but somehow we propped each other up through the sad times – and – if anything good can have come from losing mum, it’s that I got to see ‘granny the person’.
Granny the storyteller, the teacher, the wit. Granny the parent, the brave, the mischievous. Granny the vulnerable, the fun, and the humble. Granny…the great gift to all of us.
Some years back granny had a bad fall and broke her wrist. I called to see how she’d got on at the hospital with her new cast. “Well” she said, full of surprise, “they said I could choose the colour!… I could have green, blue, yellow, orange, purple, or white”.
Naturally I assumed she would have opted for the traditional white, but she continued with glee….”So I chose purple“.
“When I am an old woman I shall wear purple, with a red hat that doesn’t go” starts the poem…a firm favourite of mum’s, and apparently granny also… and when I asked how it felt to be an old woman, wearing purple, she answered simply:
“It makes me feel a little less old, and a trifle more naughty!”
So I thought, rather than tell you how much I will miss her, and reiterate what a high bar she has set for us, I’d write a special version of that poem. Let’s call it “the granny edition”.
When I am an old woman, I shall wear purple.
I shall tell great stories – of smuggling carpets from Belgium, or being flown to Wales while heavily pregnant,
I will remember fondly my days of teaching, of confiscating things being passed round assembly,
And how it’s impossible to scold children whose notes read “‘ooray ‘ooray for Mrs Gray”
I shall be down to Earth, with a sense of humour and a twinkle in my eye,
And I shall patiently listen to everyone – whether they’re talking about space, cruises, or the history of bricks
I shall be a tower of strength and a font of wisdom and support,
And every now and then, if the occasion calls for it, I shall lower my voice to a comical growl and just say “bugger it!”
I shall re-find old friends, and re-live my school days, chattering and gossiping as though no time had passed,
We shall coo about ‘that lovely blonde boy’ from Germany on the League of Nations trip to Geneva, with his ‘bright blue eyes’ and the fitness programme he talked about….
“It’s only now we realise he meant the Hitler youth”
I shall hand-make my Christmas cards, starting in September, and put all the young ones to shame with the number of cards that I receive.
I shall keep reading books, and re-enjoy the ones I’ve enjoyed before…..and when I write myself, it will be in tiny, neat little letters
I shall be a devoted wife and companion to dear John. Proud mother, loving grannie and great-grannie
I shall learn how to text and use Skype to stay in touch when the family goes travelling – and live vicariously through their adventures when I’m done having my own.
I shall boast that “I’m nearly 90, and I’ve got a friend in space”, and beam with joy and delight at firework-like birthday candles,
I’ll wrap string around my wedding ring, to stop it flying off if I gesture too wildly,
And I shall enjoy custard slices and have a glass of sherry to say “cheers”.
I shall be naughty and check the local paper to see who I’ve outlived, and still be able to finish the crossword at 93.
I shall tell you “you mustn’t grieve”, that “I’ve had my time”
And I’ll stay with you in your memories, for as long as you have me.
When *I* am an old woman, I want to be like my granny.
Listen to Granny read the poem “When I am old I shall wear purple” – it’s great!