When I was a child, all of the Father’s Day gifts went to my Grandad, Peter. I still remember the excitement of creating and painting him a pottery heart that proclaimed “I love U Grandad” - the one he still keeps in the bedroom I used to sleep in as a child.
My Grandad has been my inspiration for many things: travel, writing, gardening, all things British.
Today, on Father’s Day, I’d like to share (in my words and his) some ‘quaint little stories of us’.
Peter: Looking after Natasha growing up, and bringing her to school and picking her up after school, were happy times - although she was rather naughty once for putting chicken bones down the toilet.
Natasha: I loved living with my Grandad - except when I had to eat chicken, of course.
Peter: For some reason Natasha didn’t like chicken, and suddenly we noticed that there were never any bones left on her plate. Then one day after a chicken dinner, the toilet wouldn’t flush. So with my son Stephen’s help, we had to take it apart to see what was causing the blockage. Well! Now we knew where all the chicken bones went.
Natasha: My Grandad grew up during WWII, a fact I attribute to the childhood phrase I heard so often: “eat everything off your plate” (it's what led to my desperate chicken flushing act).
Eating everything up was easier said than done sometimes - unless I was getting a roast with my Grandad’s brussel sprouts and famous roast potatoes, perfected from his time as a cook in the Royal Navy.
Peter: I was drafted into the Royal Navy and spent 27 months in service. The cooking class started with about ten of us, and we had two really nice and friendly chief cooks.
My first stop after cooking school was at Chatham Barracks. Duty cooks start at 4 am until noon. We were sleeping on bunk beds and us cooks had a sign on our bunks for the early call, because the watchman had to shake us. When we got there we always had a cup of tea first, and then we started cooking for about a thousand men.
One day we were told to pack up all our gear; we were all going to a Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm Base in Gosport Hampshire. I was to be attached to a group of six Wrens (Women's Royal Naval Service - WRNS) who were very friendly from the start. In fact, because I was the only male cook, they asked if I would prefer to use their lounge room rather than being the only one in the men’s.
Then they asked me where I slept. It so happened my bunk was on the second floor near the windows. Why they asked me I found out the next morning at 4 am, when I heard them all shouting, “Peter, Peter wake up!” while they were on their way to the gallery. This happened every time we were on duty, and they must have wakened many others, especially all the Peters.
Anyways, they asked me to do all the frying and I said that was okay with me.
Natasha: All that cooking practice came in handy later on. The chicken was an exception.
Actually, I think my mum cooked that meal.
Peter: When she was little, Natasha would always follow me around and watch me shave. I think she always waited for me to put a dab of shaving cream on her nose.
Natasha: I remember that I didn’t like being locked out of my Grandad’s washroom when he was inside; I always wanted to be with him. Sometimes he’d be reading a book, and the waiting never seemed to end. Sometimes I’d worry he was going to try to escape, and might climb out the too-small square window in his washroom.
While I waited for him, I’d stand importantly in front of the full-length mirror in his room - the only one in the house - especially if it was following that one time I snipped a chunk of my hair off to make my new hairdo look just right.
Peter: There were two socks of mine that I named Sleepy and Sneezy, that could talk only to little girls. One day while pushing her Cabbage Patch train that went pop, pop, pop, they started to talk to Natasha while I was asleep. The socks were of course on my feet at the time, and resting on the coffee table.
Natasha: I loved those chats with Sleepy and Sneezy. I remember being endlessly fascinated and delighted with the two of them.
My encounters with those socks were just one of the ways that Grandad always made me feel safe. As I grew, I continued to feel - whether I lived with him or not - that my Grandad was my home.
And so, it felt natural that when I was a little older, my Grandad would take me on the first plane ride that I remember, back to his home.
In England we visited family, my Grandad’s old home, the hospital where my mum was born. We also returned to the farm he stayed at as a boy during the war.
Peter: One night two bombs were dropped in the field very close to the farmhouse. Windows were shattered and there was glass everywhere. However, we were lucky that the bombs dropped onto soft earth, or it would have done much more damage.
I received a small cut on my right hand from the glass, but this got exaggerated when I went back to school a day later, into: “I hear you got wounded.”
The bombs were the last straw for my mum, who said, “We’re going back home. If we’re going to get bombed here, then we might as well get bombed in London.”
So we all moved back home to my mum's relief, for now she had her gas oven, electric lights, the refrigerator, and her gas copper in the corner of the scullery to wash all the clothes and sheets in once more.
Natasha: Visiting that farmhouse was one of the highlights of our trip together - which is saying something because there were so many other wonderful experiences over those three weeks.
Seeing the large craters still in the earth from the bombs, walking past the little church my Grandad used to climb to the top of as a boy; these were the details that would stick.
Peter: I promised Natasha I would take her to England when she was 16. She kept talking all the time and asking questions with anybody she met.
Why, on the flight back home, she kept asking me to ask the lady sitting next to me all sorts of questions. Then when she wanted me to ask her name and her persisting “go on, ask her” I did - although she must have heard Natasha asking. So I did ask, and she gave it, but added that she had a boyfriend. She thought I was going to ask her for a date, I think. At that point I asked Natasha to stop asking too many questions.
Actually, that lady was quite attractive. Hmm.
Natasha: What did my Grandad teach me about what it means to be a human? That you don’t need to talk nearly as much as you think you do. That quiet can go a long way. That support and love don’t need to be showy grand gestures to matter more than anything else in the world. That family and history and time together matters.
Peter: Today Natasha helps me by cutting the grass, weeding and other little chores around the garden. She also buys little gifts from the shop that sells British foods and sweets that I used to buy when I was living in England.
Natasha: That’s because my Grandad taught me that the best chocolate is British chocolate.
Dipping some chocolate biscuits into a good cup of tea makes almost everything better.