My Grandma came for lunch last week. Ninety years old and she’s always been a formidable character in my life. These days, although quite frail she is still getting about on two feet with help from a walking trolley and a couple of sticks but you can tell that she finds it all a little exhausting.
I arranged for her to arrive early, so we could chat while lunch was organised by OH to give us time together. We didn’t have an agenda of topics so we just chit-chatted. She told me how she was happy that my children were settled and doing well. We talked about pensions and retirement – she herself retired at 55 so has more experience than most. We talked about university and degrees (I don’t have one) and I told her about the boss who taught me to spell by throwing the stapler at me when I made a mistake (different times!). Then she told me about her first ever job.
Back in Bombay (Mumbai) just as WWII was in its final days, my grandmother finished secretarial college and went for a job as an accounting secretary. She took a typing test and was told “You’re not very fast” to which she replied, “But are there any mistakes?”, “Hmmmn, no” came the reply. “I would imagine that accuracy is more important than speed to an accountant?” she proffered. She got the job. She told me that she loved that job and her boss was so very kind to her. She had her suspicions that she got the job as a favour to her father who was also an accountant and a friend of her boss. I asked how they knew each other and Grandma said, “Daddy saved him from the Nazis in Germany!”. Well this was news, “How so?” I asked, knowing that my great-grandfather must have been too old to fight in the war overseas. So she told me the story.
Her boss had been a Jew living in Germany just before the start of the War and to avoid being rounded up he had married his Catholic girlfriend who was from Bombay. He needed a promise of a job get their passage back to India, and my great grandfather had given him a chance. When they arrived, they were only allowed to settle in one area of the city but my great-grandfather sponsored the young couple and helped the bright young man start his business.
So fast forward a few years and the young man remembered his sponsor’s kindness and gave a young woman her first job. Grandma told me that she worked for him for a few years, until, “I married your grandfather and lost the baby” – more new news. I had never known that there had been another baby, “It was very early, just three months” she said, “I just woke up one morning and the baby was gone”. I saw the sadness in her eyes and didn’t ask any more.
You see Grandma has had a very full and fulfilling life but boy has she had some sad moments. Having lost her first child, she had a healthy girl (my birth mother) and then a little boy who lived just a couple of months. Following her emigration to the UK in 1952, her father died and just 12 years later, aged just 37, my grandmother was facing becoming a widow. The stress of it all caused her to have a heart attack and while in the hospital, my grandfather passed away aged just 40 years old. The day of our lunch would have been his 93rd Birthday. This left her with 3 young daughters, fragile health and no career.
A lot of women would have given up but not my stoic grandmother. She got a degree and became a teacher, she also learned how to invest wisely and play the stock market (which she does to this day). When she retired, she travelled the world and has given a lesson to us all in making it count.
Even though I’m now well into my own middle age, I hope to have many more conversations with my grandma and find out new snippets of information each time but what I am learning from her is to have conversations with my own grandchildren, telling them about my life and the early years that they won’t remember.
And never let them be in doubt about how very much I love them.