I have regret in my life. I’m sure we all do but mine is something I could have changed at the time and I knew I would have the regret if I didn’t but I let it pass and now there’s nothing I can do to change it.
One rainy Sunday I was sat in my grandparents living room, sat on their old orangey, brown sofa that screamed ‘Made in the ’70’s!’ my granddad on my right sat in his chair in the corner and my grandmother sat in hers diagonal to me. The sofa was pulled forward nearer the fire –they did that in those days- and the lights weren’t on to save the darkness creeping in as the sun went down. They were reminiscing about days gone by and these were lovely times as their faces lit up, they laughed and smiled and for those few moments they were young again and living life with a vigour and energy that only the young have. They looked at each other, something they rarely did in the present and the electricity between them was tangible as they added details, finished off each other’s sentences and giggled. I loved hearing about their early life, my relatives of generations past and moments of my dad’s childhood were also shared and my Nan told me of how it was to be a wife and mother in the days during and after the war.
I was told of how short my great grandmother was and how when my nan met her for the first time didn’t realise this and had to hide her amazement when she thought she was sitting but she was actually standing and she only just came a little above the table. My granddad then added ‘yes but she was someone you didn’t say bugger too twice!’ I was told of the time that my granddad dived into the local canal to save my dad’s dog and when he pushed the wet dog onto dry land everyone crowded round it to see if it was okay but completely forgot about him struggling to get out! I also know that my nan’s dad was a wheeler dealer and would sell anything in the house to earn a few pence. Nan told us of chairs and furniture coming and going and then granddad told us of the time he told him that nan would love a dog and that he had one granddad could buy. Granddad did this and gave it to Nan. For a few weeks the dog was hers but then it disappeared much to my Nan’s distress. They looked for it, asked their friends after it but they didn’t find it until one day when Nan saw someone with it and she went to speak to them. It turned out that her dad had taken the dog back without her knowing and sold it again to someone else! She giggled; they giggled and so did I, their granddaughter, at the memory from many years ago.
I miss those days. Before husband, children and mortgage when all my worries focussed on the next essay, the next concert or the next date with a gorgeous boy. My granddad had regrets; he had a try out with a football team and they wanted him to join as an apprentice and his family told him ‘there is no money in football’ so he choose the traditional apprenticeship and had a lifetime of regret. He always encouraged me to go for everything I wanted to. He thought living on a boat was an amazing adventure, shame he never got to actually see it as he died just weeks after I bought it. He had regrets and he showed bitterness every day for a life he wished he led.
I remember one Sunday afternoon when Nan had popped over the road to get the evening paper as she did every day, and granddad slowly saying ‘why won’t he take me, I’m no use to anyone?’ as he became openly frustrated with his braking body. He wanted to die and who was I to tell him that life was great and he had lots to look forward to. I listened and I agreed. I empathised and I sympathised no matter how hard it was for me. I wanted him to live forever as I did my fluffy, plump, red-cheeked-after-1-whisky, Nan…
But they died. Him before her just after I got the boat he was so proud of. In a mist of growing confusion his body finally gave up and Nan was left just with her memories. We saw each other more as I helped her to sort out the flat, her money and I gave her the support she needed. She reminisced more but with less happiness as she missed granddad chipping in with the missed details, the added parts and the conspirital shared glances. I knew I should have written her stories, taped them even but as it goes with the young, I thought I had endless time. I didn’t and she died after a fall and long spell in a nursing home where she was sedated and comatose on every visit. The life, her life ebbed away quietly and so the stories stopped.
Sometime in the car, when we’re round the table, when the boys do something that reminds me of something I tell the boys the stories their great grandparents told me. I’m not sure they care, they aren’t old enough too really, but then I’m not really telling them for them, I do it for me. William and Amy (Bill and Gin) were here; they lived a life and were part of mine. I have an old chair upstairs with the legs cut off. It’s a perfect child’s chair and it lives in the bathroom. Hubbie uses it daily when he sits on it to bath the children, they climb out onto it and it has, on occasion, been sneaked out into a bedroom to be used in some furtive, undercover operation to get something which they boys aren’t actually allowed. It’s my great-grandmothers chair. The legs cut off for a lady just below 5 foot. It’s the only thing I have of my grandparents as it lived in their bedroom all the years I could remember.
I can imagine sometime in the future, sitting on an old, worn out sofa reminiscing about my past. The day would be at its end, the darkness slowly creeping in and I would want to be sharing my stories with my grandchildren. They would sit there listening, with maybe one foot nearer the door itching to get away back to their lives and their present. But then they might be a little like me and want to stay and listen and see hubbie and I light up as we remember our early life and their parents as they were growing. The light would fade and the room would slowly become dark just lit by the glow of the fire. I will tape our reminisces and pass them on and it will be my story, an ordinary story of an ordinary life but it will be the story of a life well lived.