I am in that moment of wakefulness just before the dream has left forever. I am warm and can feel the sun coming through the curtains, I have yet to open my eyes and yet I am aware of the coming day, The dream lingers, I can see people I have not seen for many years, they are fading fast and a part of me wants to rush back, there are things yet to say, and even as I am thinking this I understand that it is never going to be possible,
Holding tight to the feelings I think back to the dream. I am in my childhood bedroom, I can see the walls that will later hold pictures of David Cassidy and Marc Bolan, but today they are bare. I know that there is a dolls house in the corner of the room and that my toys are all arranged around the room. My favourite stuffed dog is, as ever, close to my bed and the feeling of safety and familiarity is overwhelming.
In the dream I was with Nina, my strong and somewhat bossy maternal Grandma, who was a major focus for me in those early years. Nina was sitting on my bed and talking to me, telling me a story. The bedding is cosy and I can see the trace of pulled threads snaking down the counterpane that covers my bed. I remember that my ambition was to create a river from top to tail, a maze to be followed in the dusty pink candlewick fabric. Mum was never happy with my wanton destruction of the bedding, I kidded myself often that she wouldn’t notice.
I am losing the dream and becoming more focussed on the day ahead. As I open my eyes I am still rooted in the feelings of memory. I am aware that my body is no longer young and it is letting me know the results of a lifetime of use. The aches and pains are a daily reminder of growing older and are somewhat frustrating. As I get up and start the routines of the morning I am still drawn to the memories of the past.
I remember waiting for the bus to arrive, standing outside a post office, and Nina explaining it would be a green bus. A blue bus arrived followed by a yellow bus, at last the green bus came and on we got. It was just Nina and me, and she was telling me tales all the way. Talking of family who are long gone, and of memories she had of a childhood visiting family in North Wales. At the end of the bus journey we are in a seaside town and we walk hand in hand from the bus stop towards the beach. There are donkeys waiting to take children for a ride and ice cream sellers along the shore. We walk onto the beach and Nina waits as I start to make a sand castle. Later we will have ice cream and I will be allowed to ride on the donkey, before we walk back together to the bus stop and the journey home.
I have no idea why this day stands strong in my memory. It has always been a fixed point whenever I think of Nina, this is the day that comes to mind. I have visited this town many times since and have on occasions seen, from the corner of my eye, the ghostly figures of an elderly lady and a little girl with ice cream and smiles, it is all inside my head but it always made me happy.
Today I am heading out to our caravan in Wales and as I drive down the wide road hugging the coastline I am remembering the tales Nina told of her childhood. She was born over 100 years ago on the island of Anglesey and before she was a year old her world changed with the news of her father’s death.
Last Autumn I went to find the street where Nina was born, it is very close to the ferry port and although the houses all gone and modern flats now holding other people’s lives, we couldn’t help but wonder what life was like for her and her Mum, all alone. Extended family were scattered around, some on Anglesey and some back on the mainland. Transport was scarce and I guess money was short. It must have been a very hard start in life.
Each time I travel within North Wales I feel the generations of my family I never knew close by. As we drive towards Anglesey before we head through tunnels in the rock we pass the town Nina’s Mother, my Great Grandma called home. The town is marked by scaffolding and machinery taking slate and stone from the quarries down the hillside to the jetty and then onto boats. This connection between the hills and the sea is fixed in the North Wales geography, and is also a link for me with my ancestors.
Eventually Nina’s Mum remarried and moved from the island to Liverpool where she would have another three children. Nina was fiercely Welsh, in a way that I have since seen in others who find themselves living away from the country of their birth. She had a black cat ornament that was always in her living room and for some reason this is always associated with Wales in my mind. From her humble beginnings Nina married the love of her life who was a successful business man and her married life saw her in comfort for the rest of her days.
Throughout my childhood and teenage years I was always aware of the life she had before, of her connections to Wales and the family we never met. Where were those family members, the cousins and aunts and uncles, and why did we never get taken to meet them? Was the remarried Mum afraid to bring the past into the future? Perhaps I will never know, but I like to think that Nina would be glad of my new links to the country of her birth, I certainly feel closer to her than I ever did before.
Dreams are dreams, they invade our sleep and they offer a mixture of emotions. Even now, days after the dream I can still feel, deep inside, the safety and comfort gained from a Nina who loved me and a childhood that was full of happy times.