I have a tapestry on the wall which my grandmother made. I loved my grandmother. Growing up, I felt like she understood me better than anyone else, and I felt like I understood her too.
I used to spend a lot of time staying at her house. If I wanted to try something, she wouldn’t say it was stupid, she would let me try, and she’d join me. One time, I wanted to know what cat biscuits tasted like, so we tried them together. She had a dream to write her life story; she’d had a very adventurous, very unusual life.
When I was about 16, she had a stroke and was mentally okay, but physically found it difficult to write. From that point, I went round there at least once every week for three years to write down her story. We ended up self-publishing a book titled ‘Hannah’ when I turned 18. To this day, it’s one of my proudest accomplishments.
One of my biggest regrets is not seeing in the few months before she died. Ironically, she had a great aunt who was her closest relative, and she didn’t see her for a few months before she died either. It was my Nanna’s big regret.
My grandmother had a difficult life. Her mother died giving birth to her, then her father remarried to a woman who hated my grandmother. Everyone in the family took out the anguish they felt at her mother’s death on my grandmother. Like a sacrificial lamb, I suppose. She was beaten, abandoned, and thrown down stairs on one occasion.
When she was six, her father took his new wife and two sons to Australia, leaving my grandmother in England in winter, tied to a chair with no clothes on. She would have frozen to death, had not her great aunt, a missionary in what is now Pakistan, had a vision that she was there in that room. She asked someone to go and check, and my Nanna was rescued.
Her story took us three years to write and a whole book so it’s obviously too long to detail here, but included such events as being a rebel at school, and having three failed marriages.
The first husband went insane in the war and tried to kill her before being locked up in an asylum leaving her with years of debt.
She then travelled as a single woman after the Second World War to Gibraltar and lived there working at a hotel, where she fell in love with the love of her life. Due to her previous marriage and non-Catholic status, though, his mother wouldn’t let them be married. For ten years they tried. That part of the story always sticks in my mind the most.
She explained to me, sitting across the dining table, about how she left on the boat to go to Australia to try and get a dispensation from the Pope for their marriage, and she said “I ran to the side of the ship to watch Paco go. Then I started to retch but nothing came up. I guess that’s how it feels when you break your heart.”
As she told me her story, now as a woman in her seventies, her tears seemed as real as they must have been on that day; the tears are is real now as they were on the day I heard her. Funny, tears carried through generations for a love story that could not be. She wore the engagement ring that Paco gave her until he died, even through another two marriages, and then she gave it to me. I was 18 at the time.
It was after she came to Australia that she had the two more failed marriages. The first to a man who was abusive. She left him. The second to another abusive man who had a stroke two years after they were married. She then proceeded to nurse him for twelve years until he died. She spent twelve years nursing someone who had been horrible to her. All he could do was jigsaw puzzles. She would sit there while he did the jigsaws and she took up doing tapestries, one being the tapestry on my wall.
Over the years she made many tapestries, some of which she sold. This leads me to the other things she did.
She grandmother started following Jesus in her forties. In her diary she described the moment she made this decision as, “the happiest day of my life.” She was in church one time and the pastor was talking about building a boys’ home in India, and my grandmother, ever the activist, stood up and said “what about a girls’ home?” To which he replied, “if you want a girls home you can build it yourself.” So she did. She rallied all these older ladies in the church and they spent ten years making Christmas cakes, jams, tapestries, baby clothes, and sold them at a fete every year, until they raised enough money to build a girl’s home in India. It’s there today, and it’s called the ‘Hands of Friendship Girls’ Home’ after the name of their group.
My grandma always said to me, “make some memories.” She didn’t tell me to earn a lot of money; she didn’t tell me to try and be the best at everything, she said: “make some memories”.
When I look at my life, it’s her advice I’ve taken more than any other.