Essays & Articles - David Drew-Smythe
2001 - All Rights Reserved

An Audience With Grandma

I've come, cap in hand, to consult with Grandma. When life gets hard or when there are two paths to choose from, or even just when the phone bill's overdue and there's five bucks in the bank, she's the oracle who must be consulted. She's wonderful; she bursts my bubbles.

She eases Highland Shortbread from a packet, lays them on a doily that’s laid on top of Spode and settles back in God waiting for the tea to brew. God is a huge armchair, built for two.  She hardly fills the half of it but God is in there with her, filling the other half. Always has been; since creation, about half way through the nineteenth century.

Her tweeds and mohair are scented lavender.  Her pearls, which once grew wild, swing gently in the Earl Grey steam as she passes my cup and saucer with a silver spoon. She sips her tea and fixes me with a look.  It means, eat. The shortbread.  When Grandma says eat, everyone eats.

Another sip of tea and she peers over the rim of her spectacles, expectantly.  She decided against fitting a chain to them.  Now she spends her time looking for her glasses when they’re on her nose.  She laughs it off and says it helps her pass the time. I lay my cards on the table at her invitation.

She's a grand old lady now but she burned her bra long before Germaine Greer pricked the conscience of her sex. She married an older man who had been married before.  She bridged a generation. She's had lovers in her life but locks away her treasures in a little box and says the memories are too painful;  not because they happened, she wouldn’t change all that, but because each small story ended with an “if”. They have no names her lovers, though she could drop names from high places in her time just as, in her time, she watched the flowers of her youth wither on the beaches at Gallipoli and in France.

If suffering is wisdom she is wise; if wisdom is attained by art, she has suffered. Her poets and her artists, her heroes and her lovers all sank into khaki graves in khaki mud which left a generation lost inside the earth. Their blood fans the poppy flames but how many of her brave subalterns and young majors would have written, painted or composed?

She helps me to develop strategies and somehow, without any sleight of hand, she manages to come up trumps. I have my answers but I still hover. One more question; maybe two. But she's given me her time. She's had enough and politely tells me to go forth and multiply.  Only she would spell it, phuque orph. Her Persian runners see me to the door and she follows me out in her frilly carpet slippers which, somehow, are forced to match up with her tweeds and her pearls and her childhood spent with Nanny. She hugs me at the door and I am grateful. That’s what the extended family’s for.  Seems to make some sense of life to be hugged by Grandma.

I step out into the road.  When she was a girl, this street was a row of brothels.  A man can still find answers here despite the changing times. The station produces ghosts and a ghost train.  I share the carriage with Macdonald’s wrappers and plastic cups.  Inside my head I still have shortbread fingers and floral Spode around me but I have my answers too.

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