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Ruminating on a great man

Gratitude and greatfulness(sic) for my grandfather

By Rachel DeemingPublished about a year ago 8 min read
My grandfather

It's bittersweet, transporting yourself back and seeking memories of people now passed. There is an indulgence to it but also a sting, as recollections infuse you with warmth but leave you wanting when you realise that you can only live them as you are now - in your mind's eye.

I am lucky to still have my father here and I have written about him before, the moustachioed gem that he is in Tale of the Tache. And so, in the interests of balance, it seems only fair to think of the maternal branch of the family and with this in mind, I want to tell you about my grandfather, Ron, as he was known to most, my mother's father.

To me, he was known simply as Gampy.

He was an amazing man; a great, great role model. A farmer who was hard-working and earned every penny he acquired through his own endeavours.

He was a man of the church, dedicated to Christianity in the same way that he was to everything - with commitment and regularity, singing in the pew and ringing the bells with aplomb while I scampered about the ancient stone structure.

He was always interested in what people were doing, what they were planning and asked lots of pertinent questions. He made people feel important and let them speak. He listened but he could also engage in informed discussion.

He loved Winston Churchill and had a bust of him on display in his living room. I have this bust now.

He was up on current affairs and loved cricket more than any other sport. Lots of my memories of him are wrapped up in cricket: watching it in his chair, hands knitted together over his middle, talking about it, nodding off whilst watching it.

He loved cake and one of his most famous sayings, with Orwellian undertones, was "There is no such thing as bad cakes, only some cakes are better than others." I wholly support this adage as my waistline will tell you.

But what I will mostly take away from him is his positive attitude to life. He was always the same. He was never mercurial in his moods and I don't mean he was dull because he was far from that. He was just constant, consistent, caring and kind. He never deviated from that at all and, even if people annoyed him, he greeted them with a warmth and openness and this was palpable to all who met him.

This was one of the biggest things that he taught me even though I was never given a lesson, and I will be forever grateful. To approach people in a friendly way will usually lead to relationships on the same footing. I have emulated this my whole life and am proud to have had such a strong role model in him.

So, how have I taken this into life?

Firstly, in my former career in high school teaching. Facing kids every day is tough, especially getting the less motivated to work for their future and see that this could be the pathway to success, the foundation blocks on which to build. And there is no doubt that there are some challenging individuals in the classroom who are prepared to confront you and also prepared to let their opportunity to educate themselves go.

I was once told by one of my students, and I quote, "I fucking hate you" which is a little daunting. Classic British understatement. I wasn't overly fond of him either, truth be told; he was hard work in the classroom, demotivated, distracted and confrontational. But next time I saw him, I greeted him in the same way that I always had - pleasant and open, with an attempt at forgiveness. It may have been a show as our relationship was never good but Gampy had modelled good behaviour with people of whom he was less than fond my whole life and so, I took my cue from him. I had no idea what that kid had to face every day before coming to school but I could be a constant, even if he didn't like me much.

In more recent years, I have used what Gampy showed me in meeting new people all over the world. Living in a new country is very different to visiting it in the short term and making friends is key to feeling part of your new community and culture. And you are continually, throughout life, being placed in new and unknown situations with new and different people and I have always tried to approach them in the same positive way, with an open mind, approachable attitude and optimistic outlook.

I've got involved with sports, school and community groups in the same way that he was involved in his local community through the church, Farmers' Club and whist drives.

He is with me when I do all of this, a guiding influence which permeates my interactions with others, like a spiritual rudder.

It's weird what you remember about your folks. If I try to think about the last time I saw Gampy when he was alive, it is not a great memory.

He was dying. He had already lost my grandmother some time before and he was tired, tired of a fight that he did not have the resilience nor motivation to continue. My mother was caring for him and on the morning that we came to visit, to say goodbye before departing, she was feeling extremely rundown and not up to visitors. I was a little bullish that day as my youngest needed feeding before the 4 hour journey back to my home and I needed to sit. I had thought that this could be something I could do whilst chatting to my mum and Gampy but it was clear from my attempt to get in through the door that this was not possible, that it was an inconvenience and that I should leave them alone. I left, saying my goodbyes from the door and putting my half kicked-off shoe back on my foot whilst holding a baby.

Don't feel sympathy for me. I have gone over this in my head since and realised that there was one overlying thing going on that day for which I am grateful as, even in that moment, he was shaping me as he had done for years previously.

You see, he was looking out for my mum, like any good dad would. She was tired and feeling low and I should have picked up on this straightaway and realised that what was needed for her was quiet, stillness. She was less than her animated self; quiet and still. She was caring for her father who was dying and it was taking its toll. Illness had struck when she was at her lowest ebb and here I was, acting like it was my right to come and do what I had to do. He must have been tired too and more weary still from seeing his daughter sapped of energy and good spirits. Perhaps, if I had phrased my presumed entrance differently that day, it would not have resulted in the snappishness but we will never know.

That was the last time I saw him.

But this reaction was not typical of the man I knew. Not at all. And this is why the memory described above is not the one on which I choose to dwell. It is one I remember, yes, but not one I savour.

Look at the picture at the start of this story. That reflects the essence of the man, not how he was that day.

Remembering it makes me sad and could have overshadowed my whole remembrance of my relationship with him, if I'd let it. But he was dying and I choose to remember him as he was, not what he briefly became. He was being eaten alive by a disease that was hollowing him out from the inside. As a result of his physical deterioration, he was becoming less in terms of everything else: less patient, less accommodating, less present.

He wanted to die and knew that it was inevitable, that he had only days left and maybe, seeing young life was a reminder too far of what was being left behind. And he had become introspective, where he had always been a man looking outwards, to others and their interests and so, maybe he didn't have the energy for that, that day.

I'll never know and so I choose to focus on the man in the photo, because that is who he was - jolly, robust, approachable, solid. There are many more good memories than there are bad. And ultimately, I think he would approve of this attitude and knowing that matters.

It matters so much.

And so, I focus on the times when I would visit him and he would laugh at my stories and exclaim with a loud "Oooo!" at some mildly shocking comment I made.

I focus on the moments when he hugged me and told me that I was "like a breath of fresh air, which was a deeply felt compliment that still warms me to this day.

I focus on his generosity to me at times when I needed support.

I focus on family occasions where we are all gathered and I can see him, proud and chatty, with the people he loved and who loved him the most around him.

I focus on the unique way that he answered the phone with a cartoonish style "Hello!" which is in my ears as I write this.

I focus on how emotional this is making me writing this and how important that is to me.

I remember the time when I was a kid and he walked through the snow to deliver groceries to us on our remote farm through uncleared roads and drifts, through an alien landscape of hazards and falls to check that we were okay and bring us supplies after we had been isolated for days.

Warmth, friendliness, comfort, love - great memories which I draw upon for emotional sustenance.

My proper farewell to him was in the same church in which I had shared many childhood memories, which was at the core of him and what he stood for. And there I stood with my baby son strapped to me at his funeral, the baby who shared his name, reading a poem to him and all there as we celebrated his life. It was one of the hardest but most satisfying things I have ever done - a tribute that was hard to deliver but necessary to show the depth of my feeling and my loss.

I miss him terribly but as with all figures of influence, he remains with me every day.

I hope that he would be proud of me.

I missed the deadline for the challenge - mum and work duties had to take precedence - but I want to share this piece regardless as the man needs to be remembered, even if it's just in this piece of writing. He was awesome and I miss him every day.

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About the Creator

Rachel Deeming

Storyteller. Poet. Reviewer. Traveller.

I love to write. Check me out in the many places where I pop up:

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Comments (2)

  • Jay Kantor12 months ago

    Dear Ms. Rachel - So glad that I've just discovered your work - I'm just a retired legal prospectus writer - morphed into a self described Goof Writer; nothing more. I do not enter contests or count stats; just fun for me. This one special memories close to home. From one instructor to another I betcha we have lots of classroom incidents to swap stories. Thinking that I've heard everything, I just had one yesterday that I refused to address since I lecture to 106 students, pro bono. *As I scroll through your well thought out succinct articles along with your gorgeous headings I've subscribed to you with pleasure. Jay Jay Kantor, Chatsworth, California 'Senior' Vocal Author - Vocal Author Community -

  • I'm so sorry for your loss 🥺 And so sorry you missed the deadline but so glad you still shared tbis piece! It's such a wonderful tribute to your Gampy. The way you treated that student who said he fucking hates you, that really touched my heart. You wanted to be a constant in his because you had no idea what he was facing at home before school. Any idea how is he now?

Rachel DeemingWritten by Rachel Deeming

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