Tuesday, July 2, 2013

A letter to my Narnie

Dear Narnie,

I have so many memories of you. I remember sleeping on a mattress on the floor, next to your bed. I would tell you when you were 'snorting', probably disrupting your sleep several times a night.

I remember building cubbies out of blankets and chairs in your loungeroom, so that you literally had no living space for days on end.

I remember being terrified of your grandfather clock; of hiding in your magic pantry with the light that went on when you opened the door; of the enormous chest freezer that always had Eskimo Pies in it.

I remember being given an old margarine tub and a spoon, and spending hours in your beautiful forest of a garden, making 'perf'. I remember feeding the maggies on your deck. I remember being taken up to the Cross on the Mount, and finding Little Red Riding Hood's house.

I remember feeding the horses with you on crisp winter mornings, and freezing autumn nights, when the mice would leap from the bags of chaff in the shed. You were never afraid, or flinched from the task. I was always glad you were the one scooping your hands into the golden chaff, piling the buckets high for Joker and Willy's dinner. I can still remember the sweet scent of the lucerne we fed the horses when they got older, and needed more nourishment.

I know when my Mum was small, you had several beautiful cats, but when I was growing up there was always an adored and adoring Aussie terrier by your side. You would put their Good-o's on the carpet in the morning after they'd been outside, and when they'd been polished off, your little dog would sit patiently by Pa's chair until a corner of toast was offered. First Pixie and Hemingway, then Pepper, and then finally Joffa - all were enclosed in your circle of love. Even when the Ash Wednesday fires threatened your home, and you took refuge in the local pub with the rest of the town, you smuggled your dogs in with you rather than leave them in the ute. Thank goodness you did.

You had an aviary of canaries that enthralled me as a little girl. You used to go and talk to them while you fed them. It was the simple pleasure of their singing that you loved, so I loved it too. My one-and-only beloved Tweety came from you - the only "male" canary to ever lay eggs. But boy, could Tweety sing.

I remember crying at the end of every school holiday, when Mum and Dad would come to take me home. You would always break off a sprig of forget-me-not from the little patch at the top of your driveway and hand it to me, telling me that if I took it, I wouldn't forget you.

How could I? Even as a tiny girl, I knew we were old friends. You called us kindred spirits, and understood me like no one else. You were wise when I needed advice; brave when I needed courage; enthusiastic when I needed spirit, calm when I needed settling, and endlessly, endlessly, loving.

Over the years, you have given me so much. You told me stories of your parents and grandparents, instilling the family history in me. You gave me a thirst for knowledge; a desire to travel; the hope to be just like you when I grew up. It was you who embraced my education and my friends when I needed to change schools and came to live with you and Pa during Year 12. It was you who drove me to aspire to be a student at the University of Melbourne, just like you. It was you who lit the fire of curiosity and bravery that made me shed my fears and travel the world when I was 22. It was you who built the family who has shaped me, and showed me every day that love is all you need.

You were there when I was born, when I grew, when I left home to see the world, when I returned. You were there when I became a teacher, just like you. You were there when I met Christian; when we got engaged; you danced at my wedding. You cradled Jack, and Phoebe, and then Maisie when they were born, and the look on your face each time was priceless.

For as long as I can remember, you have been there. There is not a family occasion that I can recall when you weren't there, smiling and enjoying the chaos. After all, you raised four babies of your own who went on to marry and have babies. In the last seven years, your great-grandchildren have swelled the ranks. The family you and Pa created is large, loud and loving. We support each other, celebrate each other, and surround each other when needed, all because of you.

Over the last few years your body has become more frail but your spirit never wavered. Only two weeks ago, my aunty 'outed' me and told you about my lessons in pole-dancing. I underestimated you by hiding from you, thinking a lady such as you would be shocked. You were delighted, and laughed until your eyes sparkled. Somehow, you managed to be mischievous, down-to-earth, practical, exuberant, naughty and extremely respectable, all at once.

Yesterday, you breathed your last breath, and walked hand-in-hand with Pa away from this earthly life. I haven't yet allowed myself to think about life without you, because it is something far too painful to imagine. Your wisdom, your stories, your gentle hands, your loving eyes, I have taken for granted, I know. Not everyone is lucky enough to have a grandmother reach the amazing age of 85. Fewer still enjoy a relationship with someone as remarkable as you. You were, and are, one in a million.

Everywhere I look, there you are. In a photo on the shelf. In the cookbook you gave to me last Tuesday. In the dinner you taught me to make. In Phoebe's smile. There are tangible bits of you everywhere I look. But it was my children's response to me yesterday that proved that you are in all of us, and that your love will always be there.

When Christian and I gathered the children onto our laps to tell them you had gone to heaven to be with Pa Fred, they cried. But their tears stopped instantly when my own sobs grew, and it was their actions that showed what their Argie had taught them - that love is all you need. Jack immediately turned, put his teddy in my arms and gave me a box of tissues. The Mouse went and got a book to read to me ("Dora Loves Boots", just in case you were interested), "to feel you better, Mumma". And Phoebe drew me a picture to cheer me up. All three forgot their own grief in their attempts to 'feel me better', which is something that you would have done.

They miss you terribly already. How could they not, when you have been such an integral part of their lives since they were born? It is Jack who turned 'Narnie G' into your last nickname, Argie. It is Phoebe who carries your artistic blood in her veins. It is Maisie who refuses to wear any jumper that wasn't "kitted" by Argie. It is Asha, their beloved cousin, who looks most like you. My children already understand that one of their jobs, as they grow up, is to keep you alive in Asha's memory. I think they are proud of that responsibility.

As for me, it will be a long time before I can speak of you without sobbing. Losing your kindred spirit is not an easy thing to do. I am fortunate that there are so many of us in this enormous family, and so many wonderful stories of you to tell, that at some point my tears will be mingled with laughter. The only thing that eases my grief is the thought of you and Pa, together again. You have missed him so terribly, and borne your own grief for him so well, that I can only be happy that the two of you are in each other's arms again. The love in our family is not an amazing thing, considering the love that this family came from.

And so my darling, my Narnie, I will say good night. Not goodbye - never goodbye - but good night. Sweet dreams. See you in the spring.

Your Sal-pal xxx