My grandad died in 2008, just after Christmas. Had he been alive he would have been 90 today. Although I wish he had been around longer – was still here now – there’s a corner of my heart that’s glad he wasn’t here to see me mess things up a few years ago. I know he would have been disappointed in me.
But the last time we saw each other – on Christmas Eve that year – I was happy and in a good place. I was moving forward with my life and trying to make my mark in this world. When he passed away a few days later, I know it is that memory of me he took with him, and I can find consolation in that fact.
I think about my grandad a lot, partly because there are only a few of us left to keep his memory alive. My grandma is still here – she will be 95 this year – but she’s in a care home and her memory is in and out, even on her best day. I don’t think she remembers him beyond a vague recollection of his name and connection to her buried somewhere in her mind.
But it’s mostly because I miss him, and his words of advice, even if most of the time I pretended not to listen or outright discarded whatever he told me as old-fashioned and not really appropriate for my generation. What did he know about being young anyway? But we all do that: we all think we know better than those who came before us.
My grandad was a strong and proud man who knew how to cry but very rarely did. He was staunchly Labour, and was the only person who ever made politics interesting for me. He liked to dress smartly, whether the occasion called for it or not, and he never owned or even wore a t-shirt. He hated the tattoos on his forearms and hands, that he had got while stationed in Singapore as a teenager, but refused to have them removed as a reminder that alcohol and needles don’t mix.
He enjoyed the long walks we would take on Saturdays when I was a child; and I loved listening to him tell stories about the places we passed, and how it had all been fields when he was my age.
I sometimes catch myself looking at places now – watching office blocks or student flats as they rise out of nothing – and I think about my grandad.
I’ve turned my life around, grandad, and I wish you could see me now because I’m happy again. I can still feel your influence on the things that I do, and the decisions I make, so I hope you’re proud of the grandson you helped to mould. I know I am far from perfect, and all the mistakes I have made are my own, but a lot of the goodness I credit to you, and the example you set for me.
So happy 90th birthday, grandad. I miss you every day.