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Dear Pop,

Posted on: October 25, 2011

Dear Pop,

It’s just over 9 years since you passed away. I’ve been thinking of you a lot in the last couple of days. I just thought I would touch bases with you. Let you know I still love you, and miss you. I wish you could have met your great-grandchildren. You would have thought they were terrific. They are terrific. One day, I will tell them what I know about you. Which really isn’t much. I only knew you for 18 years out of your 79.

I know you were born on the 8th of March, 1923. You grew up in Bronte with your elder brother and sister. I know you fought in the tanks in World War II. I know you didn’t like to talk about the war much, except to tell us funny stories about tanks that sank in swamps. I know that you were pretty spectacular to look at back then: very tall, fit and handsome.

I know that, after the war, you returned to Sydney and started working for a publishing company. You worked your way up to the top over the course of your career, and you retired on big bucks. Unfortunately, you never figured out how to curtail your expenditure in your retirement, and so, most of the money was gone by the time you passed away.

I’m not sure how you met my Grandma, Joan. I’m not sure what attracted you both to each other, initially. I do know that your marriage wasn’t a happy one. You weren’t able to have children biologically, and so you adopted my Uncle, and a couple of years later, my Mum (from different families). I think you were a loving Dad, and I think you worked hard to provide for your family. I remember you talking very fondly and affectionately of your own father, and I think he must have been a big role model for you in your own parenting.

My Mum, Uncle and Grandma in the background with no head.

I know that, after my Uncle and my Mum each grew up and left home, you and my Grandma separated. I don’t know how much later it was that you married Colleen, or Ma as I’ve always called her. She was your secretary, and also your ex-sister-in-law, but never mind that! This marriage, at least on the surface, seemed to be a much happier one. But I wonder whether it was really all that happy for Ma. I wonder whether it was wise of her to marry her boss. It was an unequal power relationship that inevitably carried through into the marriage. Which I think suited you just fine, Pop. Let’s be honest, you were a bit of a chauvinist. But I guess you can’t help the era in which you were born. Anyway, love isn’t always wise, and I do believe that you and Ma genuinely loved each other.

You took this photo of me. After you died, Ma told me it was your favourite one of me.

Here's you at around the same time

 

My 5th Birthday

As a Pop, I thought you were the best. You were always warm, affectionate and caring. I won’t lie: you were my favourite. Most of my happiest childhood memories have you in them. Some are from the time my Mum, Dad and, eventually, baby sister Kate, lived with you and Ma: when you would pretend to screw my bottle teat onto a 2-litre milk carton, and I would laugh and laugh; when you would lift me up high over your head, or give me shoulder rides; when you would just play and have fun with me. Some are from when I was older, when you and Ma would come and stay with us and mind us over the school holidays, or when we would stay at your place in the country. I remember you letting me sit on your knee and ‘drive’ the car along the road at the airport; I remember you taking us to the fair; I remember you always letting us have too many ice-creams, lollies and treats; I remember you making ‘ice-cream cake’ by simply breaking up a block of chocolate, sticking the bits into a tub of ice-cream and then re-freezing it; I remember you buying me my first ‘big’ bike and teaching me to ride it (Mum was jealous because you never bought her one); I remember you being horrified that I was learning metal-work and carpentry at school, while the boys did cooking and sewing; I remember you ringing every Sunday night (usually at dinner time), just to see how we were, and to tell us a joke or two; I remember how you used to have an afternoon nap every day, and then get up to watch The Young and the Restless religiously; I remember how much fun Christmas was every year, when you and Ma would stay with us for nearly a week and it was the most exciting thing ever.

Christmas!

I remember that you never, ever raised your voice or got cranky with us. Instead, you would just ask us to please stop being nasty to each other because it was upsetting you… and we would. Like magic. I’m not sure how you managed it: how can a person never get angry? It’s a mystery to me, and also to Mum, I think, because she says you never got angry with her, either. Was it wisdom, supreme patience, maybe? Or maybe the result of your experiences during the war? We will never know.

I remember that you dreamed of winning the lottery, and you would tell us all of the things you would do when that happened: you would take us overseas; buy us quad bikes; buy us ponies; buy us houses and cars. Later in life, when it became apparent that perhaps you never would win the lottery, you used to tell me that you would be with me in spirit the very first time I went overseas on my own. No matter what, you would be there with me. Of course, you never did win the lottery. But, two years after you died, I sat on a plane ready to take off for Paris (via Tokyo and London), and I thought of you.

Another, earlier Christmas. I'm wearing my new Christmas outfit. Didn't my Mum have impeccable taste?

I remember that you were always so proud of me. Of all your granddaughters. I think it’s very fitting that you had five granddaughters and no grandsons; my sister and I, plus our three cousins. I think we taught you a thing or two about being strong and independent. As did my Mum, who was a single parent from the time I was seven. I think you wanted her to lean on you and let you take care of everything, but she wouldn’t. She knew she had to do it on her own. But you helped whenever you could. You were especially proud when we did well at school, or sport, or music. You were excited for me when I got into uni. You thought it was great that I wanted to be a teacher… you may not have liked it so much if I’d wanted to be a mechanic, but I think you would have been supportive, anyway.

You were pretty sick in the last few years of your life. You were diagnosed with cardiomyopathy, and it was the start of a gradual decline. You were in and out of hospital a fair bit, having a pace-maker implanted, or spending time in respite, on oxygen. I suppose our relationship started to decline a little then, too. I was a teenager and pretty full of myself, and you were busy being sick and probably feeling a bit sorry for yourself, too. I wish I had taken the time to come and see you a bit more often. Or talk to you on the phone more. Especially when I was living at uni for six months, only an hour away from you, but I never visited once. I wish I had. I’m also sad that I don’t seem to have any photos of you after about 1998… maybe someone else in the family does?

The last time I saw you, you were in hospital for a short respite stay. We didn’t think anything of it, much. Pretty routine. I saw you twice in that week. The first time you were chirpy. Joking away and telling us everyone else’s business. The last time, you were a different man altogether. You didn’t recognise me – you kept calling me by my Mum’s name. You could barely stay awake for the time we were there. You were grey and listless. I was pretty shocked. I thought to myself as I got in the car afterwards, “Is that the last time I will see Pop?” It was. You died in your sleep the next morning. I am so grateful that I got to see you those two last times.

I know that not all of your granddaughters agree with me about how fantastic you were as a Pop. I think you may have favoured my sister and I, over our cousins. I don’t know why. I think it’s sad that they perhaps missed out on having the same relationship with you that I did. I know you weren’t a perfect man, but you were a wonderful Pop, to me.

Isn’t grief a funny thing? I really don’t know why I’ve been thinking about you so much in the last few days. Looking back, I suppose the times I’ve missed you the most have been the big events, especially my wedding, and my cousin’s weddings. You would have loved them. Maybe I’m missing you a lot right now because I know how much you loved little kids, and I so much want to show mine off to you! I think you would be super proud of me. Just as you were always super proud of Mum for raising us.

Or maybe there’s another reason. I’m not religious, but lately I’ve been discovering there’s a more spiritual side to myself. I don’t think life is completely random. I am starting to think we are connected to the ones we love, always. So I choose to believe that, since I’m thinking of you a lot, you must be thinking of me a lot, too.

Thanks Pop. I love you, too.

Anna xxx

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