Memories of grandfather - Scottish nostalgia
Bob McMillan recalls memorable visits to his grandparents in the Sixties.
My grandson Adam made a comment the other day which stuck in my mind. He said he likes to come up to my workshop and make things with me. This brought back memories of my grandparents from way back in my own childhood. I never knew either grandmother but my two grandfathers were very old men who sat in ‘their’ chairs by the fire and spoke but little. Different, fortunately, to the grandparents Adam will, hopefully, remember.
My paternal grandfather was, I’m told, a grumpy old man who would communicate with few of the family except my Dad. No one was allowed in except to bring him meals. I remember him sitting in his chair by the coal fire in the bedroom. Summer and winter he sat there in a three-piece suit, complete with bunnet and watch chain. He obviously had to move to go outside to the communal toilet but in all the times I was in the room and the kitchen he shared with my two aunts and my cousin I never saw him leave his chair. If I was allowed in to the room at all it was with my Dad and communication was scant, strange when there is a chatty youngster there who would usually have a toy to display or questions to ask! It was just accepted that everyone left him alone. How lonely and sad.
My maternal grandpa was very similar but he lived in a Glasgow single-end where the window shutters were rarely opened and the room was brown from the incessant pipe smoke and the smoke from the coal fire. It was a cluttered wee room and again he had his chair to the left of the fire. My main memory is of showing him my Sunday school prize of a Bible. He opened it to look at the label and left a big, brown, tobacco fingerprint on the page. Somehow my young mind thought the book defiled! Both men had been hard working (and in the case of my maternal grandpa hard drinking) men all of their lives and had been respected as such. Perhaps, in the twilight of life they felt useless and perhaps lost.
Now Adam’s grandparents, two grans and me, his grandpa, live in bright airy homes and are happy to sit and chat with him. He asks lots of questions on a surprisingly diverse range of subjects for an eight year old and seems confident that he’ll get answers. He is happy to footer in my workshop with me and to involve my wife and me in his play or just to snuggle up beside me on the couch and play with something, usually an electronic game.
So what’s made such a dramatic change? Well, I guess we are living longer and have more resources than previous generations but I think the real reason is that our grandparents literally lived to work and were the head of the house. They didn’t want, and therefore didn’t get, pestered by their children when they eventually came home from work. Privacy was scant and the children would probably be either put to bed or taken out of the way until the man got washed and fed. After that, all that was left for him was to sit by the fire and smoke while reading the paper or dozing before bed. As the years rolled on the children left and life took its toll to the point where all the old people knew was their wee haven of peace by the fire and intrusion was unwelcome, discouraged even.
Will we ever get like that? Well I for one hope not. My grandson, Adam, is a burst of freshness, enthusiasm and a source of brain-taxing mental activity for us oldies. While I’m often tired and don’t feel like doing what is asked of me, I always do and, hopefully, always will, as my wee pal expects no less and if I can help him to learn and remain inquisitive in life then perhaps I can make up for what my grandparents missed because, yes, it really is a two-way learning process I wouldn’t miss for the world.
(Image copyright Tuck DB Postcards)