Following on from yesterday’s post about grandparents, here are two of my own poems about my maternal grandparents. I never met them because they both died of cancer long before I was born, nursed tenderly by my mum. But I was told many beautiful stories about them, and they lived for me through those stories. I even felt my grandmother wished me into being, because mum told me she was watching my big sister playing with the handles of the dressing table, pre-school age, and from her sick bed she said to my mum ‘have another little girl, because little girls are lovely’. My mum was an only child. Her parents longed for a houseful of kids, but they only had the one. This photo is of my mum as a little girl, with her parents. Her father was Peter Coyne, her mother Margaret (known by some as Annie, nee Lawler)
If your children never met your parents, as mine never did, at least give them stories and show them photographs. Thankfully, for me the cycle of loss is broken and I have my delightful granddaughter.
My granny’s a whispering woman,
her stories follow me down the hall;
hang, half-told, in the corners of the kitchen
above a tut-tut of metal knitting pins.
My granny’s a soothing woman,
smoother of brows with a cool palm;
polisher of brasses; igniter of fires;
she picks up babies before they cry.
My granny’s a loving woman,
shoes clucking on tiles when I call.
her eyes laugh at me in photographs.
She’d have loved you, my mother says.
You wanted a houseful of children,
sons. When your only daughter
made a polite appearance, you said
a little dishwasher. You didn’t mean
any disrespect; a boy would have
carried the family name, been a modest
pride for you. Through two world wars –
you serious in your uniform, did
the thought of her sustain you?
And when you lay dying, cancer
robbing you of all your fight,
you said to her as she washed you
how glad I am of my little dishwasher.
She who could shape a story
gave me this memory, a gift passed down
like a brassoed medal, to me,
your granddaughter, the one you never met.
Both poems appeared in Letting Go (Mother’s Milk Books 2013)