I have been incredibly blessed in my life that I not only had a full set of 4 grandparents for most of my primary school years, but that I can remember three of my great-grandparents as well. Family is important to me, and I find the cross-generational stuff wonderful.
And given the fact that I had four Grandmas for my earliest years, it was not unexpected that I would have special names for each of them:
I had Horsey Grandma (my Dad's Mum) who used to bounce me on her leg and sing the "Horsey, Horsey clippety clop" rhyme for me. (Someone had to give the Hippomanic gene a start in life!) She used to object to being called that, until she heard that I used to call my other grandmother...
Cuckoo Grandma (my Mum's Mum) because she had a cuckoo clock. She was the one who sent me letters. She was not in anyway mentally unbalanced.
Then there was Little Grandma (my Mum's Mum's Mum) who was not precisely tall.
And there was Chair Grandma (my Dad's Mum's Mum) because she was pretty much chair bound when I knew her.
It is amazing that I remember Chair Grandma. Firstly, it's amazing that she lived long enough to marry and procreate (particularly as my Grandma was her youngest). Then it's amazing that she lived long enough to see her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Then it is amazing that I have any memory of her, given the fact that she died a few months before my second birthday.
You see, she was from a reasonably well-to-do family on the Northern side of Sydney. As a single young lady she once went for a job, and stipulated that she would not be available on Thursday nights, because she wouldn't miss prayer meeting. The lady doing the interview laughed, because girls who went to prayer meetings didn't usually do the sort of evening work that was on offer. Innocence is not always bliss.
She (and her sisters) were devout in their expression of their Christian faith. They used to visit the slums as part of their charity work, and Chair Grandma contracted TB from exposure to this environment.
The good thing from my perspective was that she was sent to family in the country to get all the clean air, fresh food and all that (which was about all you could do for TB back then). This was where she met my great-grandfather. She was a good horse woman and they used to get lost together to enjoy more time with each other as they courted.
She had three children out of about (I think) 13 pregnancies. This must have been heart-breaking. My Grandmother was the post World War One bub (yet another chance for me not to exist if my great-grandad hadn't got through the war) and the end of the family.
Chair Grandma had really bad anaemia, and all that could be done for it at that time was for her to eat mushed up raw liver. Blerrchh!
But she was a survivor.
Mum and I used to visit her at the home very frequently when I was little. I remember her shadowy figure sitting in her armchair beside a window. I couldn't describe her features, but I remember her. Apparently, when we visited the staff had a game to see if they could distract me as I single-mindedly waddled towards her room, shrugging them off with "I'se busy".
The strange thing is that although I couldn't describe her features I remember taking my Grandma (Horsey Grandma, if you needed reminding) to visit her older sister in her nursing home. When I walked into the room, my aunt was sitting in an arm chair beside a window. I got goosebumps. When we left, I had to ask Grandma whether her sister looked like Chair Grandma, or was my memory faulty? Yep. Spitting image. No wonder I was freaked out.
I also remember her lying in her bed (on the other side of the window). This image is vaguely troubling to me. Mum says the only time that Chair Grandma was in her bed was the week she died. I was so troubled that Mum decided not to take me back, but how was she going to explain that to me? Chair Grandma died before it was time for our next visit.
When Chair Grandma died, my great-aunt suggested to my Grandmother that she should keep Chair Grandma's good watch for Jennifer. So the once I was all grown up Grandma had the watch cleaned and gave it to me. It is a lovely cheery ticking watch (you know, has to be wound up each morning) that I've worn for good ever since. And occasionally, when my other watch ran out of batteries or the strap broke, I'd wear all the time.
I like that it's delicate and elegant. Dainty. Classic. Timeless. I like it because it has a bright, cheery tick, even when life wasn't going well in one part of my life or another. And I like it because it reminds me of Chair Grandma.
The sad part of the story happened yesterday. A couple of weeks ago it stopped. I could coax it to start again temporarily by some gentle tapping, but the tick was loose, not the crisp, cheery tick it should have been. I took it down to the local watchmaker to get a quote to make it tick merrily once more.
Yesterday the girl at the shop told me that the balance is broken, and it is so old that they don't make them anymore. It can't be replaced.
I asked her if it was possible to get whatever it needed machined especially. She checked with the watchmaker, and yes, it could be done, but it would cost in excess of $400 because it would be a once off. It could cost even more.
So today I went down to the shop to pick it up. I felt a little like I was going to the Vet to pick up my dead pet for decent burial. It' s only a thing, and it doesn't mean my memories are gone. I couldn't put it in my handbag, I had to hold it as I walked back to the car.
And the chance I wasn't repeating, "it's only a thing, it's only a thing" to myself?