Tuesday, June 10, 2008


Catherine Bruton writes in today's Times about the importance of grandparents in a child's life, sharing two reader's experiences of their own relationship with their grandparents and that of their child to their own parents.

As the eldest of three daughters I remember, hazily, the day that my mother's father turned sixty. I would have been 3 or 4. M, the youngest son, watched his own father turn 60 last year; my father has the best part of a decade to go. I often wonder whether or not I will have a child to remember my father's 60th birthday. Yesterday, my mother's mother turned 80. M's only grandparent is 92. My grandparents have played a huge part in my life; I am lucky to have known all 4 as an adult. M in turn has only ever 'known' 1 yet her role has been large enough to more than make up for the absence of the other 3.

My maternal grandmother often refers to me as "her third daughter", when she isn't calling me the name of her son. Ironically, had I been a boy, she would have been correct. My maternal grandparents are more eccentric than my father's - Grannie still has waist long hair (pinned up into a bun for as long as I can remember, although photos suggest that this was not always the case), they are artists and their cottage is pretty much my favourite place on earth. From my maternal grandparents I have inherited a love of art, poetry, reading, the beauty of nature, appreciation of the very smallest things, of tea, of shadows and light. The importance of kindness, of love, of families, of displaying every day things as works of art, of Cornwall, Shropshire, stripy fabric bags, of Liberty fabrics, of making things rather than buying them, of card games. When I was small, Grannie wrote a book about the things we used to do together and Grandpa illustrated it. Every occasion is marked with a home-made card; every holiday encouraged to be sketched. I can tell my maternal grandparents things I cannot tell my parents - a tummy button piercing, leaving a long term partner, money worries. All have been discussed at length with Grannie & Grandpa over a telephone call well before the subject was broached with my parents. I can still remember the fury of my father when he received his quarterly BT statement to discover that I had chatted to them for over an hour at a ferry terminal on my way to a sailing trip, using his charge card (aged 16). To me it seemed the natural way to spend an hours wait - a cup of tea and a good discussion with Grannie & Grandpa. These days I tend to use my own mobile telephone though (with a contract with unlimited land line minutes, thankfully).

From my paternal grandparents I have inherited a love of Yorkshire, of sailing, the importance of good food, family support, sisterly bonds. Of gardening, reading, slushy films, of the closeness possible between parent & child even as adults. I think I learned more about family life from lying on the floor in the dark listening to Dad talk to his parents every few days than I ever did from discussions round the kitchen table. From Granny & Grandpa I learnt the importance of manners, and that vodka will give me lines. Every letter from Granny K ends "eat your greens" and once she even sent me a postcard with the amounts of fruit & veg illustrated courtesy of the NHS. It was stuck to the fridge in the kitchen throughout my time at university. Visits to Granny & Grandpa brought pocket money for sweets and once an illicit trip to McDonalds (if we promised not to tell Mummy)! Every month throughout university a cheque arrived, which I used to pay for broadband which would have been unaffordable otherwise, every week a notelet from Granny. Once, aged 6 or 7, during a particularly tasty bowl of ice-cream I was caught licking the remains. "That's ok in this house" warned Dad, "but not at Granny K's". Staying at their house last May bank holiday Granny repeated this behaviour, almost weeping with laughter when I told her what Dad used to say.

Mum's parents lived much nearer us when we were growing up - they used to come over once a week after school and collect us in their car (a VW camper van when I was tiny, replaced by a succession of Golfs) and take us back to our house for tea and, treat of treats, a packet of crisps. They would be waiting for us outside the school gates, with Snuff, their border terrier, sitting at their feet. We would play card games over a cup of tea. Later on, when Mum went back to work and we brought ourselves home from secondary school, Grannie and Grandpa would come over, still the same rituals. Now, aged 26, a trip home is not complete without a visit to or from Grannie & Grandpa. Dad's parents live in Yorkshire - a place synonymous for many years with Christmas and Easter. My first Easter not spent in Yorkshire came only after leaving university. Trips to Granny & Grandpa in Yorkshire were exciting - best dresses could be worn, Granny always cooked beautiful food, and still does. There was 'Grandpa Bread' to be eaten, which last visit he taught M how to make. There were mountains to be climbed and cattle auctions to be visited. Staying with Granny & Grandpa in Yorkshire is always a 'proper' holiday.

Writing this now, I feel so lucky to have had such an experience of 4 wonderful grandparents who have contributed so much to my life, and hopefully in return, I to them. I see so many similarities between the two sets of grandparents it can be no wonder that my parents fell in love. I have heard the stories of each set of parents meeting the new boyfriend/girlfriend - Dad turned up late at night on the back of a friend's motorbike, dressed head to toe in orange waterproofs and after introductions had been made was asked if he would like any food. His response - "a bowl of cereal", was so Dad, and at once he was part of the family. Mum, meeting Granny & Grandpa for the first time, had been invited up from Surrey during the holidays of their first term together at Oxford, only Dad had gone off caving and so Mum had to telephone and check she was still expected. Whatever Grandpa said to her reassured her and she too has felt part of their family from that moment on.

One day, I hope I will have children who will feel the same thing for my parents. To those who are fortunate to have grandparents, I think it is an incredibly important and special relationship.

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