My Nan and I had the same birthday, and I always thought that was pretty amazing. Now I know that statistically speaking if you walk into a room of 75 people then you are guaranteed that 2 people will have the same birthday…but I also know that I failed statistics at university…twice…so there’s little surprise in me being so amazed by this coincidence. It always made me feel like we had a special bond, that we were a part of some exclusive club. It also meant that I never once forgot to wish Nan a happy birthday, except for one year when I was travelling to America, and due to a complications to do with international timezones, forgot it was my own birthday.
My childhood memories of Nan are a whirlwind of colours, tastes and sounds. The colour is turquoise (her favourite colour), from her jewellery to the paint at our holiday house on Lake Eildon, to…and as I write this I’m suddenly second guessing my own memory…but a turquoise car!
The tastes are of Boxing Day at Eildon, of cold Coke being drunk from an anodised metallic cup, of meat and veg and gravy, and of course of the pudding being delivered to the table with a halo of blue flame from whatever spirit was on hand.
The sound is Nan doing her impression of Alfred Hitchcock saying ‘Good evening’ and everyone laughing, and me laughing…and me simultaneously wondering who Alfred Hitchcock was.
When I first learned to read she gave me a copy of ‘Black Beauty’. It was a book for grown ups, and I loved that she had included me in that cohort. In fact all through my teens and my early adult life, Nan was always vocal in her support of what I was doing. I have no doubt that this was because Dad was being VERY selective with the information that was being passed on, but if I ever heard Nan talking to other people about what I was doing, I always thought ‘Man, I wish I was living the life that Nan thinks I’m leading!’
I was the first person to inflict the status of ‘Great Grandmother’ on Nan, and she seemed to really relish the being able to emphasise the ‘Great’ in that title. But the maelstrom of looking after my own young family lead to me being in contact with Nan a lot less. If work, or a triathlon, or family holiday drew me to somewhere near Shep, then I would come and visit Nan. But ultimately it became a phone call on our birthday, and the Riordan Christmas in July.
It was at the final Christmas in July that Nan attended that I was having a chat with her and had asked how she was doing and she said ‘Oh, not very well really’. Clearly the correct answer is ‘Fine Dear, how are you?’, and I knew that Nan knew the art of social decorum better than anyone, and that she would never break the rules of polite society without a good reason, and the look in her eyes told me that she was looking for support. She was looking for someone to talk to that perhaps didn’t have the burden of responsibility that her kids had, she was looking for someone who had that wonderful degree of separation that has bonded grandchildren and grandparents together since time immemorial, she wanted someone who knew her story and could tell her what an amazing person she was. How strong she was. How much she was loved and respected.
But instead I made some sort of glib remark, some weak platitude, and the moment was lost. I’ve ruminated on this and regretted it ever since, and have promised that I would put it right. But now she’s gone and I’ve lost the opportunity. Stuck overseas, I can’t even attend her funeral and attempt to atone for my inadequacy there.
So I don’t want to make the same mistake twice, and I certainly don’t want my last words about Nan to be about regret. Because I never came away from my time with Nan with anything other than happiness, confidence, and if I played my cards right, some chocolate.
So Nan, thank you for teaching me so much. For welcoming Katie, Josh, Holly and Xavier into the Riordan family, and for 41 years of birthday phone-calls. My youngest son shares his birthday with his grandmother, and I hope he has as wonderful a life with her as I did with you.