My grandmother was a writer

It sounds like a good title for a book. My Grandmother was a Writer. But it’s also true. She was prolific, until her fingers got so twisted with arthitis she could hardly hold a pen. She passed away two years ago.

My cousin made all us grandchildren a book of everything she could find that Gran had written. I am so, so blessed to have it. I cry every time I read it. And it reminds me that any speck of talent with words that I may have, I have her to thank. It’s her writer’s blood that courses in my veins.

She also had the same initials as me. SW. Her name was Stephanie. She called herself Stiff Knees.

She wrote this the year before her death.

When I am gone, please set me free

Over the mountains, over the sea

Let the wind carry me to the base of the clouds

O let me loose from enveloping shrouds

Let me fly with the birds high in the sk,y

Or swin with the dolphins, please don’t cry

My spirit is free, I will see you below

Don’t be sad, for I’m happy you know

Which is exactly what we did. My family went to Cable Bay, a beach near Nelson where Gran had lived and had many happy times. We let her ashes free, and the wind caught them and scattered them out to sea. It was just what she wanted.

She wasn’t a happy woman in her old age. My grandfather died of cancer before I was born, leaving her with five children. She railed against her aging body, utterly confused and bereft at not being able to do all she had done in her youth, when running after five children was a breeze. When we went for Sunday picnics, and she stayed sitting on the beach while we hiked up the hill, I saw tears in her eyes. When Gran was my age, she would drive to Lake Rotoiti, row across, climb up Mount Robert, and ski down. How frustrating it must have been for her to sit on the beach and watch. 

I didn’t understand her then. I didn’t appreciate the life she had had, or the talents she had nurtured and passed on to me. She was a singer, too, she sang in the Air Force band when she worked in Wellington on the AF during WW2.

Scattered amongst the odes to her grandchildren, the carefully copied wise words of Native Americans, some Tennyson, and “The Ten Commandments According to the Cat,” are small references to Gran’s rebellious spirit. A copy of that email that went around, sang to the tune of If You’re Happy and You Know It: “If you cannot find Osama, bomb Oraq. If the markets are a drama, bomb Iraq. If the terrorists are frisky, North Korea is too risky, bomb Iraq.

Gran loved that stuff. She hated the right, she hated the government, she liked nothing more than to complain about every item on the six o’clock news. She had derogatory names for every politician, including Bush and Milosovic. She was the world’s best satirist.

And yet, here are poems about my brothers when they were small. Here’s one about my cousin’s mice. An ode to her chiropractor, the “magic cracking man.” Many, many birthday poems – always birthday cards from Gran had individual birthday poems.

And here is poems by the child me that she has copied down. I didn’t even know she knew I wrote. When I was 15, I had a poem published in the NZ Listener, and here it is, in Gran’s poetry book, carefully bylined “Sarah Wilson, (15), NZ Listener, April 5-11: 2003. I wouldn’t have remembered.

But by and far, they are cat poems. No cat that Gran ever had was safe from her pen. Sneakers, Ruffi, Oscar, Dusty, unnamed kittens, the next door neighbours’ cats, us kids’ cats, anything with whiskers was fair game. I never knew there were so many words to describe the humble house cat. Therein lies Gran’s brilliance.

She passed so much on to me. Love of nature, cats, words. A lesson to make the most of the time you have, because before you know it, all you’ll have left is sitting on the beach, watching the waves.

Of course, I only appreciate it now, when it’s too late to tell her. But I have a feeling she knows.

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