My grandmother has not been with us for over 15 years. But she was always a massive part of Christmas Day. She would prepare the meal for days, and weeks ahead of time. I remember vividly eating jellied savoury peas (chilled), honey baked ham, a Christmas pudding that had been drying for weeks through many douses of Rum and Brandy, Trifle, homemade custard, and a turkey too. She would always pull out her mother’s recipes and share them with me. Thanks to her I can now be a good Christmas cook, perpetuating her recipes for my own family.
But my grandmother was not just special at christmastime. She was special all year round. At this time of year my heart goes to the memories of the good old days and the things she taught me throughout my life. Grandmothers like mine play such an important role in moulding their grandchildren, I believe and yet I wonder if the lessons my grandmother taught me are being taught to the younger generations… I feel blessed to have had a Grandmother like this. Did you?
Firstly and foremost, my grandmother taught me about nature. She taught me about how to enjoy it by climbing trees, watching spiders in webs, and sitting on the grass in the sun with a picnic. She taught me to enjoy nature and to go out and seek it. Bush walks were a part of every spare day out. As was the engagement with wildlife. We’d feed the butcher-bird on the balcony. We’d catch grasshoppers and throw them into the spiders webs and watch them get eaten. And we’d leave a slightly overripe peach on the stairs for the possum with an injured foot to enjoy at night. She taught us to step around the carpet snakes in her yard without much fear, and how to pick mulberries from the very top of the tree.
The first ever female graduate of a zoology degree in New South Wales, my grandmother taught me that women could be smart. In fact she encouraged me to be. In her day women gave up work when they got married and became wonderful wives and mothers. She was this, but she was also the first woman to empower me with my own mind and tell me it was not only possible, but very fulfilling to use it well. To be encouraged by a woman 65 years older than me and of a completely different world is a great memory to hold close.
My grandmother encouraged me to read and build my imagination, giving me books about fairies and mystery and wonder throughout my childhood to encourage me to think beyond the possible and the lateral. She would read to me for hours and show me pictures that sit so fondly in my memories of pixie’s homes in the bottom of trees and mystical wonderlands not unlike those Enid Blyton would be most remembered for. That imagination is so valuable today as a grown up, yet I’ll bet few children in today’s rushed world get to stop and grow one.
My grandmother was ALWAYS there for my mother and father and us kids. There was never a more important priority than being the family’s backbone, support network and matriarch. She would be up at 4am to help my mum get to a new job as a newly divorced mother, making all three of her young kids breakfasts, lunches and dinners every day to support the changing family environment.
She would sit with us day after day, year after year, testing our spellings and our times tables, making us rote learn the important facts that would provide so many foundations on which we could grow. She was proud when we got 20/20 in a spelling test, and took time to celebrate with a glass of milo and a biscuit under the tree with us. I can still see her at the dining table, ruling lines in my homework book so my handwriting got tidier, and correcting my pencil grip. It was my grandmother who encouraged me not to be a lazy learner, not my parents, I have to say. My parents were probably in the rat race, as are so many of todays’ parents, juggling jobs, school fees, and priorities in order to pay the mortgage.
My grandmother made the time to ensure we didn’t get lost. Through divorces, remarriages, changes of schools, new houses, new priorities and tough economic times, my grandmother made sure the children got priority. Even when our parents’ priorities sat with 17 per cent interest rates or the worries of split families and divorce, my grandmother would stand up and take the lead rather than wait for others to do so, and make sure people knew that the kids were not a part-time obligation.
My grandmother taught me manners. Table manners, cutlery usage, and pleases and thank-yous were her mandatory learnings from a very early age. We had to stand when guests entered a room, and say please when we wanted something. Even the subtle differences in language between “May I go?” and “Can I go?” were hers to teach us. My own father has taken it upon himself to teach the youth in our family the way we were taught (but to today’s modern standards), upholding the respect this brings into a family unit.
My grandmother lived in a nice house, but because of the era she lived, she lived very frugally indeed. My grandfather would give her the housekeeping money each week that she would have to “stretch” across all the food, clothing, hair care and health of their lives. Many of those years they had three of us young grandchildren eating in their home both breakfast and dinner. It was her job to make the money go everywhere it needed to and never ever ask for more. Leftovers were part of every day… without fail. Food was never wasted. Nor was thought. She had a little secret box in the bottom of her cupboard that she would squirrel the odd $2 or $5 note away into, for gifts, she told me.Because gifts weren’t in their budget. Grandma would save her housekeeping for weeks, waiting until sale time and go to the department store to buy the special book about fairies for me to love and cherish for my birthday six months later and the anticipation she had for it when she gave it was palpable. That book would be pored over with me for months, and the small spend never wasted through the highly consumptive behaviour we see today.
Christmas decorations every year in my childhood were made from crepe paper chains and last-years Christmas cards stapled and cut into lantern shapes. Birthdays had home made cakes with misshapen decorations, and funny wonderful amounts of effort by all around. Gifts always included a home-made element like a bookmark made from pressed flowers, or a picture painted for someone with love. Mobiles made from things we found in the garden were something we loved to create!
I don’t know about you, but these very precious lessons are lessons I hope that today’s over 60s are giving to their own grandchildren. The connection I have with my grandmother in my own heart and mind will go on forever because of the effort she put into my childhood. On Christmas, I think its lovely to reminisce.