Thankfully, I have been very sensible of late.
But on to more important things...
Today would be my Grandad Frank's 100th birthday, so I wanted to tell you a bit more about this person I am fundraising and running in memory of, and why he was so special to me and such a great character to have had in our lives for those who knew him. I'm hoping we can raise £1,000 for Alzheimer's Society - I think he'd be quite chuffed with that...
Francis Gandy was born on 23rd May 1915 and was the middle child of five Gandy reprobates! I only say that because he was the one who told me he'd earned the nickname "Knocker Gandy" as a kid, chapping the doors of the Gandy empire to collect rent money! He told so many stories about his home and growing up in an area of Widnes called West Bank, which is right on the River Mersey beneath the Runcorn/Widnes Bridge.
|"St Pat's" Primary - Front row, second from the left...looking cheerful as ever. |
Special shout out to the poor kid with a broken arm on a stick at the back.
I later looked this up on historical maps of the area and sure enough, there was a small graveyard which is now worryingly close to a housing estate! Further to that I did some census record research and found that he did indeed have two siblings who died in infancy...our family had never known any of this before. It was amazing. His memory, despite his dementia, was crystal clear with vivid stories about his childhood and it was so special to share them with him that day because it was like they had been locked away before this time.
He told lots of stories about "my big sister Kitty" (or Elsie as she was christened) and big brother Tom, along with his younger sister Rita who I treasured as a Great Aunt and have so many fond and funny memories of too. He also had a younger brother called Les who I believe died when he was young, but no-one seems to know much about Les at all. I guess this highlighted another side to my Grandad, one that was very private and quiet, and kept himself to himself. Never made a fuss.
Grandad's father was a roofer. I remember drinking tea in the kitchen with my Grandad one day (this was not unusual!) and him telling me about the time his Dad marched him up to the school and told them that he was no longer going to be attending because he was old enough to be working. That was his 14th birthday, and after that he learnt his trade for life...building.
|"What health & safety!?"|
Grandad helping his Dad, up on the rooftops of Widnes and Liverpool
As I said, he never ever talked about any of this. We have put these pieces together from the very little we know. Most of it came from one incredible source...
One day, when my Dad was undertaking the MAMMOTH task of clearing out the out-buildings at the house in Runcorn, he came across something buried in the wall, tucked away like a time capsule. It had obviously been there a long time and was falling apart...
He opened it up to investigate...and realised he'd found my Grandad's bag from the war, and that it had been tucked away there for many years. Hidden? Perhaps...
Everything was still in it and in tact...letters from home, photos of his first nephew Geoffrey, his reserved occupation card, his letter calling him up for active service, his toothbrush, his sewing kit, kit badges, leaflets about all the different places he was going. Maps, albeit very very basic ones with very little detail obviously, documentation about getting your identity back after you'd been taken Prisoner of War, pristine Belgian francs, photos of people we don't recognise at all but who are probably friends of his, from when he was my age, away from home, no Whatsapp to check in with family, no way of knowing who was safe and where your loved ones were. As a generation we take far too much for granted, but I have always counted my blessings when I think of what my grandparents' generation experienced and lived through. We should all learn something about patience and perspective. At least we know where our loved ones are and that they are safe and well.
On a happier note, after the war he met this stunner.
They met at the dance - got married in 1950 and my Dad was born in 1951. Grandad kept the receipts for the engagement and wedding rings he bought for my Nan...an old romantic, maybe...maybe just keeping his bases covered (lols), or possibly just a hoarder, because I also found the receipt for their fugly brown velvet three piece suite in the same box.
|Grandad and Nan, with my Great Grandmother "Nanna Gandy", my Great Auntie Rita and her husband Jack...the cheeky one at the back!|
|With my Dad on holiday adventures around the UK|
|Why our neighbours hated us...|
This is the last photo I have of them - they lived all their married lives together, latterly in their beautiful little bungalow in Winsford. Though my Nan was frail, she always had all her faculties and wits about her. Sharp as a tack, so she was, and incredibly house proud. My Grandad's memory was failing him by this time, but he was physically fit and healthy at the ripe old age of 91! They were a force to be reckoned with and were very independent.
|GAMMON. EGG. CHIPS.|
Perhaps the saddest part for me was when he'd ask me how long I was visiting for...or the time he looked my Mum Margaret straight in the eye at the dinner table and asked her "where's Margaret?"...I remember the day he told me "my memory fails me sometimes" after asking me "and who are you?". I just used the word "Grandad" as many times as I possibly could so he knew who he was to me...so both of us could experience the love and connection for a moment, even if he wouldn't remember it.
I said goodbye to Grandad at the bottom of our drive way one sunny day in 2007. He offered to walk me to the train station but that was a can of worms I was not going to be responsible for! I'm not sure if he knew who I was, but he was kind, warm and friendly. That is a lovely memory we shared, but one that I have to keep safe for the rest of my life, because sadly I knew that he couldn't. That was the last time I saw him - a choice I made because I wanted to have that lasting memory of him, nothing else. Several months later he died suddenly, following a massive stroke at home on an otherwise entirely normal day.
More than anything else, I have indescribable respect for Grandad - I will never take for granted what I have, because without the sacrifices he made and the difficult experiences he lived through, our lives could have all been so different. We have a lot to be thankful for. Lest we forget.
Now, I shared all this for a reason...please head to www.justgiving.com/tatty-narja-berlin to make a donation to Alzheimer's Society. I need to hit that £1,000! Not everyone is as fortunate as Frank was to have caring company around him during this confusing and unnerving time living with dementia. What's more, it can happen to anyone and there is currently no cure.
Lots of love and thanks,