I wouldn't say I'm absolutely confident I know what 'evaporated milk' really is! I remember being given it as a child at Sunday teatime by my late maternal grandmother Clarry, poured over tinned fruit salad...the stuff that secreted the one lonesome luminous red cherry with a texture of candle wax and a taste to match! The floating fruit and cream always came served with 'a piece' of white bread and butter for mopping up any of the remaining wartime milk at the bottom of the cut class dessert bowl.
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So as the 'evap' creamily pooled the delicate jelly and I helped my lovely granddad take a few sweet mouthfuls I felt a strange fondness for the milk from the tin as its intense sweetness anointed his aged taste buds. But really, lifting a spoon to the lips of someone you love can feel like a final beautiful act of devotion in itself. Holding a hand that's worked 91 years on building a family up strong can feel like you might just have glimpsed the real and true meaning of this one lovely life. Holding a hand right to the end...is an honour beyond all else. And this just might be what 'family' really means.
And no one's taught me more about family than this handsome sailor! The gentle gentleman with the kind eyes and beautiful heart. The granddad that would slip a note into my hand when I returned home from uni all tie-dyed trousers and homesick to the hilt. The granddad who religiously set runner beans into the dark soil and grew up goodness each year to give away in newspaper wrapped parcels. The granddad who's green striped luscious lawn was the talk of the entire street! The granddad who dressed shirt-and-tie smart and kept a white handkerchief deep down in that pocket. Who danced a thousand dance floors with his beautiful bride held close. Who lingered over the morning crossword. Who was never far from a whisky and dry ginger! The granddad who unfailingly gifted us 'ice-cream' money each summer...and maybe every holiday we take from now might just require a clink of cones in memory of Bertie!
A granddad who worked hard all his life at the end of his street and the day he retired walked out of those gates to a long line of family clapping him right out of one season and into the next...and how his face beamed wide that day as he stepped into the 'Rolls' they'd surprised him with to drive him the 10 yards back up the old street to the home he loved...to the lady he loved.
And sometimes the best love stories might just be found in the messy, ordinary, simple, hard working days. The days of being gentle in the chaos and looking after one another well. The days of compromise and kindness when life thrashes cruel. Maybe the most genuine stories don't need Facebook validation or Instagram filters after all...they don’t need to inspire feature films or grab headlines...but maybe need friendship and humour. Grace and patience. Gin and sunshine!...Grit and respect for the one lovely soul that you chose.
In a world where one click on a screen can throw us instantly more clothes, more food, more 'stuff'...new homes, new partners, new shiny happy lives...I marvel at how he didn't need all that I 'think' I need.
Maybe Bertie never craved more of life because he 'made' more of life.
What if he didn't need more because he truly knew the value of what he already owned?
And I wonder if really, true happiness could be this granddad's lasting legacy. The one beautiful gift bestowed graciously on his generations to follow. The one thing he couldn't write in a will or gift wrap with bows, but that he 'lived out' each day of his life with a full and thankful heart.
This might be the greatest gift of all.
From truly the greatest granddad.
Sail well dear Bertie xx