on being stopped in my tracks

you would think that brushing my teeth in the morning was a fairly safe sort of activity.  Such a routine chore this is something I do every day without much thought at all.  Today, in the middle of brushing, I was stopped in my tracks.

I have no idea why, at 8.30 am this morning while looking in the bathroom mirror, the image of my Mum appeared in my heart, so strongly I had to stop brushing my teeth.  Suddenly and for no rational reason I was back in the past, before she passed away.  I could see myself, pregnant, waving to her as the ambulance men carried her down the stairs, the very last time I saw her.

Then just as quickly images flew across my mind, my boys being born, starting school, my darling girl arriving and taking over all our lives. How the twins grew ever more alike as the years went on. The children starting and leaving school. How our family has grown over the years. How my baby girl grew into a kind and funny gorgeous girl, and how, a couple of years ago my eldest boy gave us the greatest gift of all, our beautiful Granddaughter.

I felt unbelievable angry and sad.  How dare life mean that my Mum has missed all of this. How she never got to read her Grandchildren stories, and how I missed out on the support and wisdom of the generation that went before.

Tears fell, as I stood in the bathroom toothbrush in hand.  What a start to the morning.  Eventually, probably just a minute or so later the moment passed.  I finished cleaning my teeth, washed my face and got on with the business of living this life.

You see this life is the one I have.  It is up to me to make the most of every single minute, to relish in family, in sunny days and in life itself. I have already had two years more life than Mum had,  I have read my Granddaughter hundreds of stories, played in the park and rocked her to sleep in my arms.  I am fortunate beyond compare.

It’s funny how these things ambush us isn’t it? You would think some thirty years on this wouldn’t happen, yet it does.  Someone once told me that you don’t ever get over bereavement but you do get used to it and find peace.  This is true.  It is also true that every now and then the emotions escape from that safe place they are stored in my heart and turn up in a bathroom mirror, while I am cleaning my teeth.

Million steps – days twenty six and seven

Monday’s walk was nothing out of the ordinary, usual route, usual steps.  Just saying it is crazy, to casually say it’s usual for me to be walking!

Tuesday started wet and windy, for the first time in a week or so I needed to wear my coat.  I did a fast route covering a couple of miles before the rain stopped and sun was starting to show.

Later I travelled with my daughter in law and beautiful Granddaughter to visit a very special place.  We went to the seaside, to a park where fairies live.  My gorgeous little girl loves fairies very much.  The first thing we saw was a wooden house, oh the excitement as we opened a tiny door and inside there were the fairies.  The look of wonder on a little face made my heart happy.  There were other fairy houses dotted around and we spent a happy hour peeping inside and squealing with delight.

I feel so happy to have a lovely family and am ever grateful I am fit enough to have fun with them.  We walked along the sea front to the beach where I was able to take a photo of my Granddaughter and her Mummy standing on the sand with the river behind them.  A poignant moment for me, as I have a photo of me as a two year old on the same sand, in almost the same place, with my Mum standing beside me.

The circle of life I guess.  My Mum never got to meet any of her Grandchildren, sadly it was not to be, so I feel the love and fortune all the more for having these special people in my life.  Down there on the beach with the same river lapping the shore, I feel connected to my past more than anywhere else in the world.  I am thinking of childhood summers on the shore, picnics and play, I am thinking of me on roller skates up and down the seafront and later as a teenager looking at the water and imagining the world at the end of the waves.

Our home town is miles away from the sea, my Granddaughter will grow up with the hills as her world not the sea, but just spending one day, on the beach and the circle feels complete.  She will never know the family who would have loved her so very much but I hope she will always understand the connections we have to the river, to the sand and most of all to each other.

By the time we arrived home I had completed a respectable 14,000 plus steps on a sunny day when memories were both remembered and made.

on how a little help is better than a lot of pity

Today I have been speaking to one of my most favourite people.  My Auntie is older than she looks, and we are not allowed to say exactly when she was born, but she has been around for a long time.  A normally sunny and happy person she is now facing the dilemma of ageing as her body is giving up far quicker than her mind.  When I see her now I notice that she is smaller than she used to be, her face shows worry and she appears somewhat diminished.  However, spend ten minutes talking to her, once she has got over all the things that are wrong with the world, she is easy to get chatting about the old days when she was young and she becomes younger as she talks.

I first remember her when I was about ten or eleven, when she arrived home from living in another county.  She was blonde and smiley with an enthusiasm for life that was very attractive to me. She would arrive at my parents house with gifts for us kids, and it was never anything ordinary.  She bought me games my friends have never seen or special pens and paper for drawing with, and she would sit and chat to us kids as well as to the ‘grown ups’ which was very unusual indeed

Over the years things changed, her life went in a different direction as did mine, but once I was married with babies, she again leapt into my life with vigour.  ‘A little help is better than a lot of pity’ was her catch phrase and she helped me in so many ways.  Taking the babies to the clinic she was there with me, a baby each to dress and undress, cleaning the house to give me more time to take care of the little ones, Marigold gloves in hand she was there.  All done with no fuss and a lot of fun.

In recent years she has been feeling the passing of time, her hubby passed away and living alone was proving difficult.  We talked often about life, the past, the present and the future. She stays with us at times and we spend long hours laughing and sharing stories. She is still the same person she was when I was ten.  Her body is older, so is mine, her laugh is still as strong, so is mine, and her spirit is still there, hiding under her fear of the future.  I can so understand this.  She is making massive changes at a time when she is feeling challenged by her physicality.   She is struggling with new environments and new people and muddling through the changes that are necessary for her to live safely.

At this time she needs to be reminded of the person she once was. She is still that person. Just because age is upon her, doesn’t mean she is no longer funny, strong and interesting.  Just because she sometimes repeats herself, or focusses on the things that have gone wrong, doesn’t mean she can’t be reminded of the fun of life and her past strength and courage.

It is so easy in our early years to take life for granted.  Busy with family and making a living, we don’t look forward to the future and imagine ourselves older, tired and feeling unsettled. When it happens it must be a shock to the system, but I have learned from my Auntie that the real you is still there, just waiting to pop up again.  Talking with her about things she loves, people she has known and the memories of my family that no one else alive has, is so important to me.  We laugh often and compare our lives, for there are indeed some similarities between us. At these times I see her once again as my bubbly blonde Auntie.

So, if you have older people in your life, albeit in your family, friends or neighbours, I would say to you, look past the grey hair and see the blonde or the brunette that used to be there. Listen to the stories, you may never hear them again, or mostly likely you will do so the very next time you meet!! Respect these senior citizens for they have lived a life we could never imagine, and above all see the person, the personality and the life within the tired body.

One day it will be our turn, if we are lucky, we will be the older person. We will be a bit confused, a bit worried, eager to talk to you so much that we will forget what we have already told you.  We will know that we haven’t changed so much from how we are today, we are still ourselves, and we will puzzle at why the world cannot see this. Our opinions, our knowledge and our memories will be intact and we will want to share them, quickly, while we still can. We might appear to be grumpy and to dwell on life’s bad bits, but with encouragement and patience we will be able to show who we really are. For within the tired old bones and shaking body the spirit is intact and waiting to be seen.

on dreams and wakefullness

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.

on inspiration Under Derbyshire Skies (with thanks to Paul Simon)

Recently I found myself with an hour to kill, I was away from home and my options were limited so I settled for wandering around a large supermarket.  At first I looked in all the usual places, the clothes I didn’t like and the home products we just don’t need.  I eventually found myself in the DVD and CD section and browsed the cheap music on offer.  Amazingly there were several CDs from years back in the discount section and I purchased some to listen to while driving.

Back at the car, I still had a bit of time left, I put a CD into the player and sat in the dark car park as the crystal clear sounds boomed out.  Do you know  how it is when a song takes you back in time, and when you remember the person you used to be, and how the music connects the two versions of ourselves?  It is as if the tunes are saying this was you 20 years ago, and here you are now, sitting in a car park in the dark. The music is still here, it has always been here, you were just off being busy, you forgot the music, but the music still knows you.

One track of the album makes me feel incredibly happy.  The words have stayed with me over the years, and the harmony and tune instantly reconnects me with good feelings.  I set off on my journey and sing loudly, I can remember most of the words as soon as I hear the music, how does that work?  Without the music I wouldn’t have a chance, apart from some key lyrics, but singing along it all comes back.  I wonder which part of our brain stores this information keeping it safe and only unlocking it when the musical clues are heard.

Happily I complete my journey and all is well.  The music has stayed with me for the past few days and each time I think of it I feel happy.  Happy to be me, to have managed to get through the years between buying this album the first time and now. Happy I have been able to deal with all that life has thrown my way. Especially happy   how I have ended up in this place, now, which is exactly where I really want to be.