This was sad in some ways because of all of the family memories and moments that are associated with places where one has grown up. But also happy, as it provided a chance to unpack and remember a lot of laughs and shared experiences, as well as hearing other family members’ memories of those same shared experiences.
A parent-child relationship is an interesting one. Parents provide love, guidance, discipline, free food and board and also cash as their kids grow up. They’re also a link to a wider family of cousins and Claytons Cousins. They’re also schooled in the liturgy of myths and legends that is a major part of that sense of belonging that comes with a family and its connection with other limbs on one’s family tree.
As one grows older and perhaps wiser, one’s relationship with one’s parents changes. My Grandpa once told me that old age is a privilege denied to many. This is the same grandfather who once, catching sight of his reflection in a glass door, pointed at it and remarked “Who’s that old bugger?” In his case he had the same razor-sharp brain he had always had. It was his body that was going to fail him, and he knew that.
As parents age, one thing that changes is the responsibility for who gives care to whom. The amount of care that’s needed will be shaped by how age takes its toll. This decay will generally have physical effects – older people lose physical acuity and agility to varying degrees. Other once perfect physiological processes can also erode as organs and bones tire. Sometimes there is also a similar mental loss. Dementia can be insidious and emotionally straining, both for those who are directly afflicted and for those who care for them. And while it’s a phenomenon observed in others, there’s always a chance that it may affect one directly, a realisation that probably affects the ability for people to cope with it in those they love.
So while we were clearing up at Grandad’s place we made some interesting discoveries. There was a cupboard packed full of jars of honey. Goodness knows what he had planned for it. Grandad was known as Pooh Bear for a while after that.
Discovered in a drawer in his bedroom was this piece of cardboard with rows of letters on. In capital letters. In Grandad’s best printing.
Grandad had a passion for literature and had been well educated as a lad in Yorkshire, cleaning up a bunch of academic prizes at Wyggeston Grammar School, including first class honours for eight Oxford Senior exam subjects – as a 14-year-old. So we were all spellbound by what this code may involve. He wasn’t a freemason or a member of any strange sect, well not that we knew of. It wasn’t anything to do with a Swiss bank account, motor vehicle registrations or property details. We mused on this mystery for ages and were reluctant to challenge Grandad directly as to what it meant.
Then came the epiphany. It was the text off a Snellen Chart – the device used by general practitioners and optometrists to see how sharply people can see. You know the chart. It will start with a big E on its own in the top row, with the text in subsequent rows getting progressively smaller.
Like a lot of older people, Grandad was hugely dependent on being able to drive his car for his independence and general quality of life. Clearly he had concerns about passing his annual medical examination, and was leaving as little to chance as possible by memorising the answer to the eye test. Bless him!