My grandfather would be 122 today. He only managed to reach just over half of that, dying at the age of 67. He was a stonemason, and being artistic he also made his job one of his hobbies. So although Granddad is no longer with us, we have some very solid mementoes in the garden in the form of three artefacts made by his hands. One of these has already figured on a couple of photos recently posted here: the birdbath, used regularly by all our feathered visitors, from robins and tomtits to blackbirds and pigeons, who tend to drink the bathwater and perhaps that accounts for their eccentric behaviour.
The second item is a gravestone made for our faithful old family dog, a strong character who made an impression on all who met him. Granddad represented him with the profile of a Staffordshire bull terrier, but he was actually a cross between a chow-chow and a labrador, with the typical chow-shaped head. Artistic licence on Granddad’s part!
Thirdly, we have a stone with a verse engraved on it and my grandfather’s initials. This is getting rather mossy and mouldy, and I have tried to clean it but to little avail; it needs an expert. Granddad recommended using an old toothbrush to get into the awkward corners, and certainly never a wire brush or bleach. I know that ammonia is the stuff to use, and the old stonemasons of my grandfather’s generation collected the contents of chamber pots for this purpose. An old family anecdote relates how, as a little girl, my youngest aunt liked to help her father to prepare the stones by scrubbing them clean with “the special mixture”. One day she innocently enquired what exactly “the mixture” consisted of. Granddad told her, and she never helped again!
His advice to my parents when he gave them these stone objects was that my father should go out now and then in the evening and pee on them under cover of darkness. I don’t know whether my Dad ever followed that advice. Perhaps I should ask the neighbours!
Granddad was a shy man, very self-conscious about the fact that as a young man he had lost an eye in an industrial accident, and had to wear a glass one. It was an excellent match, and as a child I could never tell which one was real and which was false although I studied his face intently. When my mother was young, her father was always the first to get up in the morning and no one was allowed to follow until he had finished shaving. Naturally, in those days he used an open razor and didn’t want anyone to accidentally cause his hand to slip. These razors are not known as cutthroat razors for nothing! Once clean-shaven, he would put the kettle on, start making breakfast and call the family down.
However, she also remembers very clearly that he would confidently push his children in a wheelbarrow up and down the narrow stairway cut into the side of the quarry where he worked, with a hundred-foot drop at the side. He considered this was safer than letting the little ones try to walk this dangerously narrow path, and to his credit he never failed to get them safely up and down. The very thought of this feat gives me goose pimples!
He was long past the age of such circus acts when I knew him, of course. I remember him best making things out of stone and wood in his shed or working in his garden, and particularly associate him with yellow calceolaria flowers, bright and cheerful. Thanks for the memories, Granddad! Happy Birthday!