Tuesday, April 13, 2010

wish you were here

This is Maisie Sladen. I knew her, many years after this photo was taken, as Grandma. I had never seen this photo until today, when my mum brought it and several others to show me. They came from the home of a great aunt who is selling up to move into a unit and is trying to clear out old belongings before the move. I wasn’t prepared for the impact these photos would have on me - the incredible emotions I felt when I looked at this beautiful young woman and recognised in her Grandma’s dazzling blue eyes.

It was only a matter of months after this photo was taken that Maisie got the news her husband Roy, a taxi driver, had been killed in a road accident not far from home. She was left to raise a three-year-old daughter and a one-year-old son (my dad) on her own, and to forge her own life through unbearable sorrow, in turn creating a defining chapter in our family history.

I stared at this photo for so long, trying to absorb every tiny detail, as though that might recreate the tiny missing bits of history. I wanted so much for Grandma to be here, so that I might ask her about Roy and about this photo - Who took it? What were you doing that day? What was your life like? Were you happy?

I couldn’t ask any of it, of course, so I just made myself a cup of tea and sat down at the kitchen table with the album open, staring at the grainy images and remembering. It was the closest I could get to having a cuppa with Grandma, who made me my very first cup of tea (and roused at me for making gulping noises when I drank it) and whose cupboards were always full of Lan Choo tokens.

When I look at her as a young mother, immaculately dressed and with her perfect complexion, before the well-earned wrinkles I knew, I understand why she was always wearing jewellery, buying Avon and painting her fingernails with three coats of rock-hard Cutex. I see why her bedroom always smelt of perfume, why she had a dressing table with not one but three mirrors, and I know that even when she was up at daybreak milking cows at the age of 65, the beautiful Maisie Sladen was still inside her, holding on to happier times.