Love Letter: Memories of the Grandadest of Grandads

Grandad with Bessie

A Guest Post by Hayley Beasley Dye

September 28, 2017

Becoming a grandfather is fairly easy, one just needs to have a child and for that child to also have a child. Lots of men become grandfathers, but becoming one is not the achievement that a man should be recognised for. No, being a good grandfather, is what a man should be commended on.

What qualifies a man as a good grandfather? Sure, being able to turn a blind eye when your grandchild has pilfered yet another Fox’s Glacier Mint from your tin that you kept hidden away, is definitely an essential quality, but making your grandchild feel your unconditional love is, as the kids say these days, “the one.”

So let me tell you about my maternal grandfather. He was the only grandfather that I ever knew and luckily for me, he did an astounding job at it.

My grandad (as I called him) was born and brought up in Berkshire (a British county just west of London). One of five brothers, he left school and became a milkman in Reading.

He always looked back on his time as a milkman with great fondness as he stopped and chatted with each family on his round as he delivered their milk. Grandad would also stop and have a quick game of football with the kids out on the street and would be offered numerous cups of tea on his way round all the houses. It was a sociable job for my grandad and he was a very sociable person.

Hayley with her grandad
Hayley with her grandad on the right and paternal grandmother on the left.

Eventually though, he changed career and became a farmer. He was given a lovely house to live in with a huge garden as part of his wage and this became the family home that my mother was brought up in and I spent so much time growing up in.

The Tractor Driver

Now, I have numerous favourite memories of my grandad, but his job as a farmer leads me to my first one. Do you have any idea how cool it was as a kid to have a grandad that drove a tractor? Unless, he was a spaceman it basically could not have been cooler. When my brother and I stayed with my grandparents over the summer holidays, every day at the same time my grandad purposely drove past the front of the house. My brother and I would excitedly run down the garden path waving and shouting at him as he casually chugged past in his huge tractor, waving and grinning back at us. It was truly the highlight of the day. My grandad, the tractor driver.

An Ox with a Missing Digit

My next favourite memory of my grandad was his missing finger. You see my grandad was a tough man. A gentle softie one minute, making children giggle and joyfully playing with kittens, and a hardy man who wouldn’t be defeated easily the next. He lost his finger in a chainsaw accident and he was left with a kind of useless lump where his finger should’ve been. As a child, I was fascinated by it. It never freaked me out or disturbed me. After all, it was just my grandad’s missing finger. He didn’t let a little thing like a missing finger get in his way. He carried on farming, doing DIY, gardening and driving like a missing finger was as inconvenient as a mere paper cut.

My grandad also survived a broken hip, a heart attack, a triple bypass, bronchitis, a car accident and lived into his nineties. When he had a health check in the last year of his life, the doctor said that, amazingly, his internal organs were in perfect working order. He could see him living on for years to come.

Once, when my family all ate the same meal together and every single member of the family, bar one, came down with bad food poisoning the next day, can you guess which sole member wasn’t affected? As if eating undercooked chicken would derail a sturdy man like my grandad. The man was built like an ox.

Don’t Mouse Around

My next memory explores somewhat, how my grandad was not a man to be messed with. One day, my brother and I were playing in my grandparents’ garden. Their garden was surrounded by the fields that my grandad farmed on, so as you can imagine their garden would sometimes have some unwanted visitors. On this occasion, a cute little field mouse appeared. His little beady eyes looked at my brother and I as he scuttered around the garden, his little tail waving about behind him. My brother and I were quite excited by this discovery of a field mouse. We ran inside shouting at the tops of our voices, “GRANNY, GRANDAD, THERE’S A LITTLE MOUSE IN THE GARDEN.”

Unfortunately, for this cute little mouse, it was the part of the garden near the kitchen. “Right,” my grandad said, “he won’t be there for much longer.” And with that my grandad reached for his shotgun and went marching outside like a man on a mission. I don’t remember hearing the shot, but I know it happened. I think I somehow blocked that bit out. But, I learnt not to mention to my grandad if we ever saw any other unwanted guests in the garden again.

A Gentle Man

That said, he was a gentle man. He loved children. I think he preferred the company of children to adults sometimes. At my paternal grandmother’s funeral, he spent the whole of the wake keeping all the children entertained and making them laugh so all the adults could relax. I remember being in awe of him. At this point in my life, he was my only grandparent. I was so proud that this man who had a natural gift with children was my grandfather. I realised at this moment that seemingly one of my grandad’s favourite things to do was to make children laugh, which he did with such ease.

Despite the incident with the field mouse, he loved animals, too. Animals seemed to gravitate towards him. Our unsociable cat would curl up next to my grandad as soon as he arrived at our house and sat down. He then wouldn’t move until my grandad left. Most dogs would instantly become his best friends too. And he also knew how to talk to horses. He was at one with animals and always seemed to take great joy in their company. This is something I am so grateful to have inherited from him.

Can I also just mention the time we were playing boules in my parents’ garden? After the game, I caught my grandad (who I have already mentioned liked playing football in his youth), flawlessly chipping one of the heavy boules over his shoulder. I should also probably mention that he was well into his eighties at that point.

For the last ten years or so of his life he suffered from Alzheimer’s (the cruelest possible disease that can seriously go fuck itself). What was even crueller was my grandad’s tenacious longevity. By the time he died, he didn’t know who anyone was. I imagine he probably didn’t even know who he was.

Before he went into a care home, I visited him in the family home one last time with my mother. He was quite ill at this point, but he still vaguely knew who I was. As my mother went into the kitchen to make some tea, he had a moment of clarity.

“In life, Hayley, you have to remember two things,” he started. “Always do the right thing and don’t pay any mind to what people think of you. If you always do those two things, you’ll do all right in life.” He then went back to being silent and just staring. I was astounded, but it was and probably will always be the best piece of advice I have ever been given.

Smiling Hayley and Grandad
A smiling Hayley with her grandad.

As we left my grandad’s house that night it was dark, but my mum pointed across the fields. She was showing me the line of planes all queuing up to land at Heathrow. The whole time I had been regularly visiting this house over all those years, I had never noticed the constant queue of planes waiting to land.

It would be a small moment to many, but to me it was significant. My grandad, ill and now so small, was coming towards the end of his life. I stood at my grandad’s home, somewhere I’d spent so much of childhood, and, close by, something so much bigger was happening every day, all day.  The juxtaposition was discernible. The eeriness was that they weren’t so close that you could hear them. No, it was the silence of this magnificent operation occurring in suspension that for some reason made me even sadder to leave my grandad there that night. My grandad’s life was winding down whilst the world still turned. I think I knew somehow it was the last time I’d be in that family home.

Saying Goodbye

Which leads me onto the last time I saw him. I was visiting him in the residential care home that he now lived in. Before we got there my mum warned me that he was quite poorly now, that he just wasn’t himself and that I shouldn’t be alarmed by how he was. Apparently, nobody could ever get much of a response from him. As I walked into his room, I had prepared myself for the worst. However, upon entering he looked up at me and smiled. He had no idea who I was, but seemed to be pleased to see me nonetheless.

We took him out for a walk in his wheelchair. After spending a bit of time with him we dropped him off in the music room where a music class was about to start. “Oh,” he said to me. “Are you going? Give us a hug then.” We hugged for a long time.

As I started to walk off, I looked back at him and saw that he was waving and grinning at me, just like how he did when he used to drive past the family home in his tractor when I was a child. For a very brief moment, I saw my old grandad again. He was still waving and grinning at me. As we walked to the car, my mum said she couldn’t believe how bright he’d seemed and how she hadn’t seen him like that for a long time. I knew then I wouldn’t see him again. I almost didn’t want to see him again as I wanted that to be my lasting memory of him. And it was.

A Grandad’s Grandest Legacy

At my brother’s wedding, some ten years before my grandad died and before the Alzheimer’s had really kicked in, I was saying goodbye to my grandad at the end of the evening. He gave me such a long squeeze. As we broke away he had the biggest grin on his face and his eyes were almost full of tears. They weren’t sad tears. I knew they were happy tears of pride. Without saying a single word, I knew how much my grandad loved me. Words are meaningless most of the time. It’s the actions of a person and the way a person looks at you that gives meaning. I always felt nothing but love and warmth from my grandad.

In short, my grandad was everything a grandad should be: loving, warm, and so much fun.

He left behind three children, five grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren. He may have felt like the lucky one, but in fact it was us that were the lucky ones.

Hayley Beasley Dye is the woman behind Just Another Blog (from a woman who’s just entered her 40s). Visit her fantastic blog filled with commentary on music, fashion, parenting, and much more. Also, connect with her on Twitter and Facebook. (You really should. She’s amazing.)

If you’d like to write your own Love Letter about a person you admire. Please read all about guest post opportunities here

Your turn: What do you think makes a perfect grandad?

 

Author: Angela Noel

Seeker and promoter of awesome people and ideas.

30 thoughts on “Love Letter: Memories of the Grandadest of Grandads”

  1. I have no shame in saying that I cried whilst reading this post. My granddad, and my nan for that matter, meant the world to me and still do, the reason being that they showed me total unconditional love. I knew I was loved by them, not because they said it to me but by the things they did. My granddad died about 17 years’ ago and my nan passed away only last year. I’m comforted to know they are reunited, but it is still painful that they are no longer around. Thanks Hayley for a beautiful post and Angela for hosting it 🙂

    1. I got chills reading your comment. I’m so glad you had the experience of such great love. Though pain is the cost of such things–we only miss who we truly loved. Thank you so much for reading. I love hosting Love Letters–the more the better. 🙂

  2. Oh goodness, Hayley, I wondered if I would shed some tears before I even started reading this. Grandparents can be such a huge part, sometimes the best part, of our lives. My grandmother had a special place in my heart, just as your grandad did (does). Much like your grandad, my grandmother suffered from a brain disorder, but hers was due to a stroke. I love that you were given the special gift of your grandfathers warm smile and wave the last time you saw him. Thanks for sharing your special story. And, Angela, thank you for always inspiring others, AND sharing the love. 🙂

    1. Thanks so much Suzanne. We were very lucky indeed. I was blessed with all of my grandparents (though I never really knew my paternal Grandfather). Grandparents really are special x

  3. What a beautiful and touching post Haley. You are very blessed to have such wonderful memories of your Grandad. I love his advice he gave you! Very true indeed. 🙂
    And thanks Angela for a great feature. Xx

  4. Oh dear. Yes, my eyes are filled with water, so I’m having a bit of a time here, trying to type. What a beautiful gorgeous delicious ode to one heckofa grandfather. What a lucky man he was, to have inspired so much love. But of course, he was that kind of man. My mom was a vibrant funny wild woman and an incredible grandmom to my kids. Now she has dementia and doesn’t know them. They are devastated, but like you, they know deep inside how much she loves them.

    1. Thank you so much. I’m so sorry to hear about your mother. It’s such a hard thing to deal with as someone’s child as well as someone’s grandchild. I am glad to hear they knew her as a vibrant woman and as an amazing grandmother though. All the best x

  5. Oh Haley, this post was so magnificent. I type this as I also wipe the tears from my eyes. Your grandad sounds like an amazing soul, and you’re so lucky to have had such a great relationship with him. I’m a little at a loss for words; this was a beautiful tribute.

    1. Thank you, Katie! Yep Alzheimer’s and dementia are first class c u next Tuesdays. I’m sorry to hear about your grandmother. It’s a bloody tough thing to deal with x

  6. What a great post. It brought tears to my eyes as I remembered my grandparents and they love they had for all of us kids. Family is so important in today’s day and age with social media and the distractions of the internet. I’m going to make it a point to create some family traditions so my boys will have fond memories about family like I do.

  7. Oh Hayley thank you so much for sharing this.
    Your granddad sounds like a hero! I’d love to go back to having a milkman (it’s so strange not to see one in the village where I grew up these days…) It’d be awesome if more ex-milkmen got to ride tractors. Anyway, you were so lucky to have a gentle, caring and kind dude as your granddad. He was such a cool bloke.

    I am very sorry for your loss, but very glad that we could all share these happy memories.

    …but poor mousy.

    1. Haha yes poor little mousy. This post is doubly sad because of him too! Thank you love. I miss milkmen too. I’m sure one gave me a ride to school, when I was running late once! Bless milkmen! But especially milkmen-turned-farmers. Cheers x

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