Tess and Grandma
So the object is a pink cardigan that was my Grandma’s, erm my Dad’s Mum cos my Mum’s Mum is still alive. Erm it’s from Marks & Spencer’s. Er, it’s . . . what else is it? I was actually, I was tryna remember how I ended up having the cardigan this morning and I don’t think, she def. . . she didn’t give it to me erm because she just wore it all the time and it was her cardigan, and she wouldn’t have thought to give it away because it was just a boring cardigan. Erm and I don’t think I even took it, I think that I didn’t even take it from her house after she died. I think that I took it from a bag of clothes that had been taken from her house and then, there was sort of various events where I would find some bin bags in the attic and realise, oh this is Grandma’s stuff. Erm but quite early on I took this, because I did. I took it straight after she died, erm and when, because, and it still smelt of her and so . . . yeah I used to, and now I wear it, erm now and again.
But when I first took it, I wrapped it up in tissue paper and kept it under m. . . under my bed. In like quite a lot of layers and in a box or something, I don’t think it was in a box, or maybe it was in a shoe box? Erm and would do this slightly strange ritual of getting it out and unfolding the paper and smelling it, and then putting it back like really really preciously. Erm and I remember showing someone that I did that and then it, once I’d finished describing that activity looking at their face and thinking, God I really wish I hadn’t told you that because you think that I’m a creep or something. Erm but obviously I didn’t think I was a creep, I, my, it was my dead Grandma. But erm, but I think I thought it was a slightly strange thing to do when I told someone about it. Then . . . that was, so she died, I think she died about ten years ago and I was tryna remember which month she died. So I was seventeen or eighteen erm . . . and then we moved out of the, the house that we lived in when she died. Erm about . . . I went off to university, so they must have moved without me, but eventually it kind of lost it’s wrapping and became something that could just be worn, and the most sensible place to store it was with all my other jumpers. So now I have started wearing it, now and again. But it feels like I can only wear it like if I really, really want to wear it. Or if it’s some sort of special occasion that would require wearing Grandma’s jumper. So sometimes that’s sort of a comfort thing and sometimes it’s an event thing. Erm . . . yeah. So that’s what it is. Erm . . . actually I think probably part of the reason that I took the cardigan was that this is what she wore, and she always used to dress the, pretty much the same every day. But this cardigan was worn probably most days of the week. So that in a way the first thing in terms of a visual image of her is in this cardigan. Erm and she would always wear it.
And I remember she once said . . . erm . . . that, she was really lonely I think. She was really, really lonely and once said that she just wanted to have a really good laugh. And that, that I completely understood that but I think it’s like at the same time as feeling, oh no you’re really lonely and you don’t have friends that come and laugh with you, I kind of thought like, well you’re not exactly a barrel of laughs erm, so I can’t just come up with a joke or something, like what’s wrong with this? And so I think it was, I didn’t really know what to do with her loneliness actually. So she used to sit in the front room and be very quiet all the time. It was very difficult to engage someone in a conversation that would result in laughter if they’re actually not contributing a great deal.
We were, I don’t, we weren’t really close in terms of I don’t think I told her everything that was happening in my life, but we were very close. And it felt like a very special kind of relationship that ya know, some members of the family really click. It was, yeah. It felt very intimate erm . . . so . . . so maybe that, in a way that is part of the difficult memory of her; that I kind of didn’t really know, I’d always feel like I didn’t spend enough time with her but then when I s. . . when I did spend time with her didn’t entirely know what to say despite the fact I felt very close and really kind of huge affection for her, and her of me. And we, there was always this sort, there, I was supposed to look like her. And did actually look really, really like her, and there are photos of her when she’s in her twenties that look a bit like me dressed up. Erm so that that, I think that’s another thing that sometimes family members click over; such a visible similarity. Or like we’re, it’s some strange tribal thing that there is no denying that we are part of each other or something. Erm . . . so maybe what I’m tryna say is that er it was nev. . . it was al. . . sometimes it was quite uncomfortable but it was extremely loving. I think that’s what I’m tryna say.
I think she nursed the soldiers from Dunkirk erm, I think. I’ve always thought that but it’s only just now that I’m saying it and it’s being recorded that I’m thinking, God maybe that’s not even true. Erm but I think she did. Er . . . so she used to recite her school song, which I can still remember as well. Er but maybe I’m not gonna recite it cos that feels a bit weird. Erm and she used to tell this story about . . . I think all the soldiers fancied her basically, because I mean it was loads of soldiers and loads of nurses, so they probably just all fancied each other. Erm and . . . and I think she was probably quite a good laugh and maybe a bit coy and a bit of a flirt; she was quite sociable I think. Erm but she used to talk about a soldier that had written her a poem that she still had until erm. And she, I can’t remember the lines, but she used to describe the poem and could remember some parts of it. But she had it until she got married and then her and my Granddad, who I never met, erm . . . I don’t quite understand this because it seems, I, I can’t really imagine the reality of the situation but somehow they were travelling by train to move to where they were gonna live together like immediately after they’d got married or something. And they just had loads of suitcases with all their stuff, which maybe I just can’t imagine it because you would like get someone to give you a lift or . . . or yeah. So, but all their stuff got stolen erm, or one suitcase got stolen. Er but the . . . so these letters were gone and loads of stuff was gone. Erm but I can’t, I sort of can’t, I, it, that feels like something out of a erm out of some sort of really twee film of a newly married couple standing on a train with just like two suitcases, like here we go this is our life now. Erm . . . but yeah.
So anyway around the time that I decided that I should start wearing the cardigan erm I also, and I’m absolutely not religious, I don’t believe in ghosts, I don’t believe in any, any of that kind of extra, what’s it called? Supernatural anything, erm not that religion is supernatural, that’s probably trivialising it. Erm but I was convinced, I really, really believed it, erm that my dog had been possessed by the soul of my Grandma, in a good way. Erm and that somehow I remember sitting in my bedroom and looking at the dog and thinking, it’s just obvious. It’s just so obvious that Grandma’s with you because you got on so well. Erm so that always kind of surprises me as a response that I had that was obviously about not really understanding that Grandma had died or not really wanting to deal with the fact that she wasn’t here anymore. Erm and actually when she died I didn’t, I remember it was the f. . . although I had sort of experienced death before that, it hadn’t been anyone as close as my Grandma. And I didn’t, I don’t think I cried for about two years after she died and I think erm, and we had the, er what’s it called? Cremation service erm . . . and, and then I think after about two years I realised that I had thought that if I mourned her I would like earn her back, and that by doing that, like we’re finished now; we’ve done, we’ve done the being sad about you being dead so can you come back now and we can get on with everything else? Erm, so I think it was when I realised that, that it kind of really happened. So it was quite delayed. Erm and then by the time my dog died I don’t, I think, I don’t think I thought that Grandma, or I didn’t like really cling to the idea that Grandma was possessing the dog erm but I was deeply, deeply distraught when the dog died, and we were very close. But erm, but that’s a different story.
I went to the cremation and, but erm somehow, sort of strange turn of events and misunderstanding, and generally that there was, there’s no real kind of sense of ceremony in my family; there’s not a whole load of weight pinned on Birthdays or Christmas or things like that. Erm, that somehow my family were going down to Kent to, because actually my uncle’s wife had died so they were going to see him and he was gonna come and stay with us for a bit. Erm and so they were gonna go and do that and I’d decided not to go with them. Erm I think because it felt like loads of people were going and also I was, hmm I don’t know how old I was actually but it was very, very rare that I would get the house to myself for the weekend and I really really wanted that. Well they were gonna bring my uncle back up anyway and erm I thought actually this is great, you can all go away and I’ll have a really nice time. Er but somehow they forgot to tell me that what they were also doing when they went to Kent was burying my Grandma’s ashes. Erm so I think like a week or something after they got back or, or I think I might have even noticed that the ashes weren’t on the bookcase where they used to be. Cos they were in an urn in the house for ages actually. It’s sort of slightly carelessly like, oh one day we’ll deal with that but it, there wasn’t like, there wasn’t a whole load of weight put on these ashes, it’s quite weird. Erm, so yeah then I found out that they’d just forgotten to tell me about my Grandma’s funeral basically erm and they b. . . so they buried her a. . . I think they buried her ashes, I don’t think they scattered them, erm at my Granddad’s grave in Kent, which I’ve never been to. I think it’s called St Mary’s Church and I think it’s near Tunbridge or Tunbridge Wells, or one of those places; I’ve never been to Kent.
So yeah the ashes were in this brown urn in the dining room on the bottom of a book shelf and I did the kind of like classic, "Ooh what’s this strange object that’s appeared in the house?" and opened it and then went, "Oh, oh it’s Grandma." Erm cos I hadn’t, I hadn’t seen it come from the crematorium or whatever. Erm and then one day I was sitting at the dinner table, and we had this sort of glass wooden display cabinet or cupboard, or whatever you call it , erm with lots of little bits and pieces in, like little cameras and little, just stuff that was quite pretty, and looked up at the cupboard and realised that erm my Grandma’s teeth had been put in the cupboard. And that somehow my Dad had thought that, like an object that it’s fine to just put in the kind of curiosity cupboard and have on display near the dinner table, is your dead Mum’s false teeth. Which cause. . . so we took a while to persuade him to erm, that this was actually not, they weren’t gonna be able to stay in the cupboard and they had to go somewhere else. But he didn’t seem to see a problem with it. Erm I don’t know where they are now, he’s probably still got them. Erm . . . but yeah and also we were like, her false teeth were never talked about, it was never something you know like some people ta. . . are really comfortable with their false teeth, or they take them out or they, you kind of see them as false teeth and, and that’s, like I never even thought about her teeth as false teeth until I saw them in a cupboard, like a year after she’d died.
It needs fixing erm, which when I was thinking about this and thinking this is the object I would talk about, I thought actually maybe I’m ready to fix it and that’s the next kind of like, if you’re really gonna use it then you have to maintain it. Otherwise it will just turn into something that I don’t want to use anymore. So I need to work out a way to fix the holes in it. Erm also I was tryna work out if it’s actually been washed since Grandma died. So I don’t know if it has, which is maybe a bit disgusting erm but it doesn’t smell.
Well she had a really quite a, I don’t know erm if it happens often, but she had a kind of quick succession of heart attacks over a number of days. I think it was like four days or something when she was in hospital and kept having heart attacks. Erm and, but although actually there was this sort of sense that she was, she was kind of okay up until that point. She was getting more and more confused erm and I think she had more problems with cataracts but it wasn’t that bad. So actually she died quite quickly in a way erm . . . and . . . as well I suppose I mean, maybe it’s just a really, really romanticised version of death that you kind of, that she was really graceful and erm very careful, and when I imagine her dying it really wasn’t very graceful or very careful. But then maybe that’s the point, it was the opposite of her. Erm so she died of a heart attack and apparent. . . I think my Dad was in the supermarket and she was in the car. So she had her heart attack in the supermarket car park, which always just sounds really. And I think my Dad came back to the car, or someone came to find him and she was like falling out of the car or something, which is just completely not graceful. That made me sound like she should be more graceful when she was having a heart attack but I mean I don’t know, it felt really erm . . . undignified and embarrassing for her. Or that she would be embarrassed erm, which is awful I don’t think it is an, course it’s not embarrassing; she’s having a heart attack and she’s ninety two and there’s nothing shameful about any of that situation. But the sort of sense that she wouldn’t want, she wouldn’t want to be falling out of a car in a supermarket car park. She was quite dainty erm but then, anyway that sounds silly.
But then I wasn’t there when she died my, I was at school and, but I saw my Mum drive up the . . . I think I was sitting outside. I was sitting outside with my friend and erm saw the car come up and so knew, well. And my Mum hadn’t got out of the car but I remember saying to my friend, "I’m gonna have to go cos my Grandma’s died." Erm not out of any like er sec. . . like sixth sense, "I just know this had happened" but like there’s no other reason why my Mum would be driving to the school, and we’re expecting this to happen any minute. Erm so I went home and just sat in the front room, with everyone. Don’t think we did anything, some people cried. Erm but then I remember although it obviously wasn’t the same moment, but sitting in that front room erm filling out her death certificate with my Dad erm and him laughing because erm my Grandma’s second name. Her second, her married name was Denman and that’s the name that I’ve inherited but it wasn’t always Denman; when she married Phil his second name was Deadman spelt D-E-A-D-M-A-N. Erm so I think it, you have to put like other names that this person has gone by or something and, and in a sort of moment of grief and hysteria possibly, filling out his mother’s death certificate, this was really hilarious - that one of the names, the kind of alter-egos that we had to put on my Grandma’s death certificate was ‘Deadman’. Erm, anyway. So, and no one really knows why, I can’t really remember why the name was changed actually. Well apart from like why would you wanna be called dead man? Erm I think it was, there was sort of some suggestion that it was to hide some sort of heritage or something, I don’t know. But also it might have just been that erm my Dad was, my Granddad didn’t like it and I think he was getting a new job or he’s starting a new company or something and thought actually, be really great if I wasn’t called that.
Oh and she was called Winifred, which is an amazing name. Or she was called Mary-Winifred but everyone called her Winifred. Erm and my brother had a baby recently and I dreamt that erm, I sort of dreamt about the baby every night for about two weeks, erm but I dreamt that they had a little girl and they called it Winifred. And I was, I got really angry cos that’s my name and that’s what my child is going to be called, and you’ve totally ruined it because we can’t have two Winifreds, that’s really embarrassing. Erm but it was a boy and he’s called Oren.
Oh yeah so one of the things that happened when she died in the hospital was that erm she asked how Phil was. Erm but Phil was her husband who had died like maybe forty years ago. And I couldn’t quite work out what the, what was going on in her head, but it seemed liked she thought that Phil was in the room next to her and that she was maybe in the hospital that he had died in. Or that they had some, so in, actually when she died, and I don’t know how much I’ve exaggerated this my head, but erm there was a sense that she, she kind of got what she wanted because she died at the same time as Phil, in a way. Erm or that at that, that’s absolutely my perspective on it and I don’t know that that’s what she wanted but that some, she kind of did some sort of time travelling reversal thing. So that she had lived that life and had had grandchildren or whatever, and I don’t think that she would ever, had ever wanted to take her life or anything, that’s not what I’m suggesting, but erm but somehow she died at the same time as Phil because she seemed to think that he was there too. And s. . . and it seemed like she thought that he was in the hospital cos he was ill. Erm but also I think that was the, maybe the first time that she was in a hospital and not a nurse. Erm because she went straight to nursing college and then I think she had to leave nursing college because her Mum had an accident and she nursed her Mum. And then she had kids and then Phil was ill for a long time, I think, and so she looked after him. Erm so there was this sense that she was always a nurse and that was part of her and not just her job. Erm so I don’t know if it was part of that as well, that what is her role in a hospital environment or something?
I do remember when she was, er when her dementia was coming, becoming worse erm and she’d get lost all the time. And so, and then for a while people came to her house once a day or something to check that she was eating and to check that it was clean and whatever. Erm and sometimes we’d forget to tell them that she was at our house but then other times they’d phone and say, "Is Mrs Denman with you?" "No" "Oh okay, erm we’ve lost her." And she’d always just, she always, always seemed to be in the shoe shop talking to somebody. Like she just kind of got lost or kind of just, or made friends with someone, she was just chatting on. Erm and then sometimes she’d phone and say, "I’ve been burgled!" erm "I’ve been burgled and you have to come round." erm "I don’t know what to do about it." "Okay, what have they taken?"”"They’ve stolen the iron" And erm "and there’s no evidence of break-in but they, someone’s come in and stolen the iron." And I think we just kind of played along erm because it was easier and because why not? Maybe they did! Erm she definitely lost the iron cos we found it. Erm and then she once told me off for being disrespectful because er she was explaining how she saw the, the Titanic, she remembers the Titanic sinking. Erm she saw it sinking live on Sky News. Erm but she was born in er 1913 and it sank in 1912, besides the Sky news problem. Erm and I don’t think, I don’t know if it was before or after the film and whether she’d been confused by that, but I don’t think she’d ever seen the film Titanic. Erm so I was kind of saying, "Well maybe, maybe not actually. Maybe you didn’t see the Titanic like sink live on Sky News in 1912." Erm and she told me off for being really disrespectful to the memory of the people who had died on the boat.
Although she did get really really angry when erm she looked after me and my friend Claire when we were really young. And me and Claire really got into baking erm and we used to set up the kitchen like it was a cookery show and pretend to do cookery shows, while we were baking stuff that we didn’t know how to bake. And then we tried to make bread erm but there was too much flour, so then too much water, and then too much flour, and then too much water, and it was everywhere; I think we were probably about eight or something. Erm and my Gran, I remember my Grandma standing in the kitchen and us standing at the top of the stairs that went into the kitchen, erm and it being a total mess and all my Grandma kept shouting was, "If I hadn’t have come down, sparks would be flying. Sparks would be flying." Which isn’t a phrase that we’d ever heard so we in absolute hysterics at the top of the stairs, while she was going mad. Erm but yeah it was great. And then, and then sometimes I would make fun of her afterwards to my friends and do impressions of her saying, "Sparks would be flying" and that would be a great joke but if anyone else would be, if anyone else said, "Ooh sparks would be flying", be like that, "Don’t you dare laugh at my Grandma, she was right to tell us off. We’d been really naughty."
Maybe it’s not that I would say something else, but I remember going to university and coming back in the holidays, and thinking that I would really like to be able to tell my Grandma about what I’ve been doing. Or I remember my . . . er my brother’s don’t have the same Mum, and their Mum saying something about, "Your Grandma would have been really proud of you" or something. So it’s not that I wanted to say something else to her or that I didn’t say something but actually, that would just be really great if she was still here. Not because she could sit around being proud of me but erm that there, yeah it would just be nice to tell her about stuff. It would be nice to have her over for tea or whatever. Erm but she’d be a hundred and two so . . . so that’s quite unlikely. Erm yeah . . . maybe that’s everything.