Now that I have two cute little grandchildren, I have an extra dimension in my life.
For years I’ve been rather bored by friends who wax eloquent about their grandchildren. At dinner parties, Diane would set the conversational rules: two minutes for diseases; two minutes for grandchildren. Now that I have my own, I know what they meant when they assured all and sundry that theirs were the ‘cutest, smartest, most talented’ kids on the block. Of course, mine measure up to that yardstick and more.
Now my grandson Trevor is approaching five and my granddaughter Evelyn has just turned two. At this age one would expect their characters to be unformed, yet they constantly amaze me with how developed their individual personalities are. I won’t bore my readers, or embarrass their future persons by describing their cutest, smartest, most talented moments.
Alright, just one story. The other day I had a horrendous car accident while on my way to see the family. My car was totalled, and I ended up in hospital. Not my fault, it turns out. No bones broken and no stitches required, but a head on collision can rattle the cage and leave one with bumps, bruises and strains in funny places. As soon as he heard my car was toast, Trevor said i can have any of his toy cars I want and stretch them out into a full sized car! Nice thought.
Trevor calls me ‘Grandpa Captain Nigel’ after Grandpa Captain Pig, who has a boat, on his favourite TV show Peppa Pig. Last summer, in a brief break in the lockdown rules, I was able to take my son and grandson for a sail on my own former sailboat, thanks to the kindness of the new owners. It was a joy to be able to start to pass down some family passions. Perhaps this summer we will be able to repeat the experience.
I enjoy my regular visits with the two of them. Getting down on the floor to play made-up games with Trevor’s cars or complicated railway track constructions, gives me a second lease on life. Sharing colouring books at the table is always good for an hour of fun, even if Evelyn hasn’t quite mastered colouring inside the lines. Outside, now that the weather is warmer, we play with balls or other more active games, while I can. At the end of my visits we always find time for a story or three. I enjoy and treasure every moment.
Thinking about their just past and upcoming birthdays, led me to realize that I knew very little about my own grandparents. To remedy this omission for the future generation of the family, I started to set down a personal memoir, so that at least my family would know all about my early life and background before they came on the scene. I’ve called it: “My life, as I remember it,” after a scurrilous YouTube video made by friends and family for my retirement. Please don’t watch it. Certainly, as much as possible of the book is true, but certain family stories become embedded in time as fact and may or may not be based on reality.
In my memoir I write:
When I was born at the height of World War II, my Dad had already been captured by Japanese forces in the fall of Singapore. My Mum did not know if he was alive for several years, as he worked as a slave labourer on the infamous Burma railway. I finally met him after the POWs were liberated following the fall of Japan, when I was three years and four months old. I have a movie-quality false memory of Dad coming home, walking across the lawn in front of our cottage, in full uniform, carrying a large sack of toys over his shoulder. In fact, he assured me years later, he had arrived in civvies, in the middle of the night long after I had gone to bed, and with only one wooden toy and one stuffed toy.
Of my own two grandfathers I write:
I was very close to my own maternal Grandpa. During Word War I, Grandpa had served as a signalman in the Royal Navy, rising to the rank of Chief Petty Officer with great expertise in semaphore and Morse code. I did not really know my other grandfather, Lance Napier-Andrews, who was killed by a German bomb in London, shortly before my second birthday. He had just posted a card to me, which I still have. Before the war, Lance worked for a shipping company which mainly imported bananas. As a result, he travelled a lot to Latin and Central America, and family gossip said he had an Argentinian mistress. He also allegedly drank a bottle of Scotch a day.
(I try to keep up, but I can only manage a bottle a week.)
Over the past few weeks, I have put down as much of my life story as I can recall. Since I don’t want to upset any friends or family members who might read it, or those who are mentioned by name, I have left out all the salacious bits.
At the same time, I canvassed other family members for details of my grandchildren’s family tree. This involved getting in touch with ex-in-laws, who have been kind and helpful. Some really interesting stories have emerged. Members of their side of the family include the first white woman to cross the Red River and travel west by ox cart; the family who bred the MacIntosh apple; descendants of General Isaac Brock, who beat back the invading Americans at Queenston Heights; the third man to enlist in the North West Mounted Police and other characters.
My own ancestors include long lists of English gentleman farmers dating back over 500 years, plus a few wandering Scots, notable for the fact that not one of them ever died in battle. Fascinating at these family trees are, I don’t expect my grandchildren to express any interest in the facts for many years to come. But with my own recent taste of vulnerability l feel it is important to jot down all that I know. If some of the minutiae of my life and ancestry seems trivial, then I hope the overall picture I paint is not of a trivial life. It will be up to the readers in my family to determine how various events informed my life or formed my character, for better or worse. Overall, I’m happy to be writing about a life well lived.
My son, daughter-in-law and two grandchildren have settled into a new house in the country, with wide open spaces all around and a large garden for the kids to expend their energy. The other day, when I arrived for a brief visit, they both leaped up from the sandbox where they were playing companionably and ran over to give me a welcome hug. I noted how small their sandbox was and suggested to my son that he and I build a new extra-large sandbox, sponsored by Grandpa Captain Nigel. If we start work during my Fathers’ Day visit, then we might get it ready for his birthday a month later. It will be big enough for me to join them in building sandcastles.
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