Yesterday, when you were playing at my feet and happily babbling your constant stream of sounds and half-formed words, I found out that your great-grandfather had died. He was 86. Even though you shared this world for the first year and a half of your life, he didn’t know you. He had an illness that is the worst kind of thief, stealing memories and time. Although he didn’t know of you, I will make sure that you will know of him as you grow.
My grandfather was the gentlest of men, with a twinkly smile. A teddy bear of a man, who constantly broke into song, singing with a big belting voice that boomed as if it came straight from his belly. I was in awe of his ability to recite quotes and songs and lines of poetry, plucking them from the corners of his mind. And, you know, even when the dementia started to block paths to his memory, the doors to where he hid song lyrics were never closed to him. I sat with him at a carol concert a few years ago, listening to the choir with which he sang for years, and he remembered every single word of every song. Something even the thief could not take from him.
There are three things that your great-grandfather loved that I am certain will feature heavily in your future (if your father and grandfathers have any influence) – sailing, fishing and golfing. Your great-grandfather did not, as someone once pointed out, pass his sea-legs onto me, and yet a lot of my memories involve sitting with him and your great-aunt Kay in his sailing boat, heading out into the Moray Firth. My childhood summers were spent in Findhorn and he will forever be entwined with carefree days and the smell of the seaside. I rolled eggs with him at Easter, I posted letters up his chimney at Christmas, I ran through a hose-pipe in his garden on those glorious hot summer days. I listened intently to his stories from places he’d visited, and when I was in my 20’s, it was my turn to regale him with tales from far-flung places.
He would have loved you, Isaac. He would have sang to you, and said you were a ‘bonny boy’. I never got the chance to talk to him about being a mother, or how I think you snore like him. How I’m sure you will love music as much as he did, how I hope stories and poetry will be a part of your life, what kind of fisherman you will make.
And when you are learning to golf, I know that either your father or your grandfather will recite his ‘rules’ for golf:
‘Keep your eye on the ball, keep your damned eye on the ball, keep your eye on the damned ball.’
You are not gone,
for your boat is there;
paint-chipped and weather-worn,
reflecting in the bay.
The trip-line is anchored not to your boat
but to my childhood days.
I pull it in, heaving in the memories,
wrapped in the smell of salt and sunshine haze.
You’re there in the workshop,
your jumper blue, your embrace tight and strong.
You’re there, peering over half-moon glasses,
laughter in your eyes,
saying something witty.
You’re not gone.
You’re there, when the light dances across the water
and the wind shivers through the dunes.
You’re not gone.
You’re there, big booming voice to fill the world with song,
and reciting little ditties.
You are boat trips in the Firth,
the smell of motor oil.
You are the summers that feel so long
when you are a child.
You’re not gone to me.
I climb into the boat,
rowing back on seas of the past
to where you stand with open arms
and where you’ll always be.