The Truth About Your Grandparents
Photographs were just commas in the narrative about my mother and father, for my daughter, who had never met them.
You can see his shoulders were as wide as the River Tyne, where he served his early sentence as a Geordie. And your grandmother had gentle blue eyes and the soft accent of west Cork, but steel in her sinews borne of Michael Collins. They would have loved your willingness to vacuum up their words; words lost to forty woodbines a day and maybe a little too much cheap whisky.
My father was the only fundamental atheist I have met and he married a woman with more plaster popes on her dressing table than the Vatican has pontiff statues. But his digs at Catholicism were never intended to wound. Her attacks on his English patriotism were not the bomb or bayonet of rebellion.
Life for Walter and Kathleen was invented on the fly with visits to churches where my father would theatrically climb into the pulpit and preach against religion. But if she was not amused, he would take her into the heft of his frame and comfort her. Or, when visiting a rebel’s grave, after singing ‘The Fields of Athon Rye’, she would announce that this is why your English father comes from a race of devils. Then, when she saw his hurt look of incomprehension, she would embarrass his tough northern act with a wet, smacking kiss and a loud, ‘I love every bone in that body of yours.’
Your grandfather would have carried you laughing across the Labour Club’s room to show you off to the men he beat at snooker, always with a shark’s smile. He had a plasterer’s physique and a sense of humour that could cure a room full of failures. Your grandmother had kindness in her hands, hands that were never still; and words that would heal a graze or maybe broken bones. She sweated care from every pore.
Somewhere they are looking down on you, and for the first time, they are judging me. They want me to teach you that we make ourselves from the stones we find and how we stack them. We are not DNA and an electro-chemical factory. Your grandparents made up life’s chapters every day. They were not Irish, or White, or Strong. They were sewn together with threads of experience that made the patchwork of authentic evolution.
We lived in South London where two accents had such different cadences I could barely understand them. But I understand the rock-hard fact that somehow you must learn without them here to teach you…that it is not where we come from but how we travel now.
Your grandparents loved you even though they never met you and it does not matter a fig that you are chosen, that you are adopted.
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