My fourth grandmother, on the other hand, was the only one for whom I found difficulty in bringing any granddaughterly instincts to the fore.
She was my stepfather’s mother, an aristocrat by birth, bearing and marriage, and the last ten years of her life exactly spanned the middle years of mine. She was highly educated – one of her few family anecdotes was that her father, having five daughters, early determined that he would not scrimp in order to leave them heiresses, but warned each of them that her dowry would be the best education he could find. And so, her intellectual capacities strongly developed – she spoke five languages fluently – she was a daunting old lady, and not only to me.
It shouldn’t have mattered, however. She adored me, I now believe, yet I never took the liberty of bestowing any grandmotherly title upon her. She was overwhelming in her kindness and her suffering, about which I knew. And with my nasty childish and teenage nature, I could not take it: she was riddled with cancer and scars, having had three major operations, combined with a severe calcium deficiency and to cap it all, Parkinson’s disease. She could not walk without a stick, yet whenever she came to stay with us, and my parents would ask me to fetch a glass of water, for example, she would be in the kitchen faster than I could blink – in order to help me. This would quite rightly annoy my parents and embarrass and irritate me, for I knew in my own mind that I would perform the task soon enough. She was goodness itself, and must have found my behaviour quite incomprehensible.
When I was a little older, however, she was privileged to be the first chaperon to me and my first suitor. He would come to visit me in our flat and she would very delicately insist on sitting with us all the time, for which I am eternally grateful, as I was rather shy. He may have been annoyed by these Victorian encounters, but she certainly won a firmer place in my heart. And then soon after she went to hospital. She knew she wouldn’t leave, and so she stopped taking her tablets. Quietly, without fuss, always thinking of others. Hers was the first funeral I ever went to – and the only one I ever wept at.
All four old ladies are now gone out of my life. I remember them all with affection, if not without criticism. But, indulged all my life, I was over-indulged with grannies, but who better to spoil one and teach one? Polish old ladies seem to take these instructional duties with a serious zeal born of tradition – and I can only be grateful for it.
( I now have two more to write about, as when i got married, soon after i wrote this, i acquired my husband’s!)