A Trip to Visit Grandpa Who Cuts Firewood in his Socks With No Shoes!


I’ve been away for a few days. We went up to my grandpa’s in the Central West of NSW. It was nice to see him and see his 93, almost 94 year old self, doing well.

He lives alone nowadays, no licence anymore, on 52 acres, up  a long-and-pretty-crappy dirt road. He is still cooking and cleaning and mowing and whipper snipping and taking care of cattle and Bobby, his beloved border collie. His back is bent over, and he always forgets to grab his walking stick. His one good eye is starting to fail, and his hearing is shocking. He is continually taking out his hearing aides and he regularly leaves his personal alarm on the dining room table.  

One chilly, foggy, -1.3 degree morning, we arrived to find him chopping kindling with a well sharpened meat cleaver, and only socks on his feet. He had no chopping block, just the concrete ground, and a single, orange ex-school chair to lean on if required.

I begged him to let me chop the kindling, just this once, and he argued that it was far too dangerous for me to chop kindling with a meat cleaver. When I challenged him with ‘but you are almost 94, bent over, can hardly see, AND you’re out here in only your socks, how is it less dangerous for you?’ he tried to argue but knew he didn’t have a leg to stand on, so he relented, and hovered over me while I chopped. In no time at all his anxiety got the better of him and he announced that he was going inside and he couldn’t watch!

A short time later I’d filled the old plastic milk crate with wobbly kindling, but kindling nonetheless. I felt like I’d actually helped him instead of humoured him, and both of our worth was left intact.

Dinner for Grandpa is meat of some sort - usually some kind of steak but chops too, or the occasional piece of pork. A proud butcher in his hey day, Grandpa has high standards when it comes to meat. He still buys chunks of beef that he can cut for himself, into steaks. He is quite dissatisfied, most of the time, with the quality of the meat and with his lack of bottom teeth, he certainly has high expectations. The last lot was dissappointing and so he stocked us up with the remains of it to take home with us. Two bottles of frozen water as icepacks and an old esky that he said he no longer has use for, awaited us as we came to say our goodbyes.

He has a cleaner come for two hours a week. She does the bathroom, toilet, vaccuums the carpet in the living room, and mops the kitchen floor. Other than that, Grandpa does all of his own cleaning and washing.

He accounts his good health to a lifetime of hard work. Who am I to debate this, to be completely honest. I have tried, in the past, to share with him my concerns for an ‘all work, no play’ existence, but these days I don’t dare go there because it seems that his life choices have worked in his favour, and who am I to say otherwise?  

It was a difficult visit. I struggle to be inside my nan and grandpa’s house without yearning for my nan. Cooking the evening meal using her old, lidded frypan without watching her knuckly fingers nimbly pick up and turn piping hot, roasting potatoes in spitting oil. That kitchen feels so cold now that she is no longer there. Her spot at the dining table, with it’s sheepskin padded chair, her small body propped up by dilapidated cushions
from the early 80s, decorated with german shepherd heads, is sitting to the side, over by the fireplace. Photos of Nan and Grandpa sit on the seat. It’s like a small, pink shrine.

So many times, while rifling through the last of the photos, I wanted to ask: who is that, Nan? How old were they? Where did they live? She was the keeper of the family stories; the keeper of the family.

I won’t dwell on that, though. Grief is a process, and what I love about being blessed with grandparents who get to live to old age, is that there are so many stories to remember, and  smile at, to ponder, and even question. I know I have been blessed, and the grief will never outweigh that sense of  gratefulness.

And so, as I start this fresh new week, I plan to continue writing my letters to Nan. I have a whole list of topics and memories and conversations to re-visit and bring back to life. I will sit with the sadness as it ebbs and flows, but mostly I will relish the happiness that swells each time I remember my precious nan, and the connection we had for 50 years.

I’ll also continue to ring Grandpa regularly enjoy those moments while I still can.

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