Stories for my grandsons

Lockdown because of COVID-19 saw me flee ostrich-like to my garden. I am privileged to have a very large garden on the edge of a small country town. For years because of poor physical and mental health, work and lots of excuses, the space became a haven for wildlife including birds, squirrels, foxes and even the odd badger. In less kind and more honest words it became a tangle of giant weeds – dock, dandelions, brambles, creeping black rooted buttercups and wild raspberries. These are the brutes of the weed world that had taken over a vast proportion of the garden. We were just too tired with the business of living to get on with wrestling with those sorts of heavy-duty weeds. The attraction in buying the ex-council house more than 25 years ago was the size of that garden. We were both born in the heart of the country-side and longed for that, but couldn’t afford a house in a village – the garden was a compromise for living in what we saw then as a large town. As we got older, the enthusiasm and energy for keeping it neat waned…of course as my mother-in-law a keen gardener always said “It takes an hour a day dear (to keep on top of it).” The trouble is I found myself not clocking on every day, then every week, and then every month until as my dad (another avid gardener) said “A year of seeds, means 7 years of weeds.” There is a truth in those words!

All was not lost. We kept the top bit of the garden relatively ‘tidy’. We love unruly gardens (luckily) and ours has spaces to sit depending on the day – important in a North facing garden. We have a small pond which, as always, was first full of amorous frogs and then tadpoles earlier in the year. We have beds and borders with mostly pretty flowers (and some couch grass which for some will strike terror), and a tiny jade green summer-house for two. We have a shed which isn’t really big enough for everything that needs to live in it, as well as provide enough room for a husband who needs more space to make weird and wonderful things. We have a climbing frame and swings for grandsons although this space was rapidly being attacked by previously mentioned pernicious weeds…and there it is. My mind released the source of my angst. The main reason for me fleeing to the garden was to try to escape the sad heavy feeling when you miss those you love. I also wanted respite from the confusion of a different uncertainty day after day, which at the same time weirdly felt the same as the day before, like the record was stuck. I fled to escape the stress when working from home, of navigating different people’s own confusion and longing and demand for answers. So I ran from those big emotions which threatened to overwhelm me to dig and fork the soil, and chop and snip the weeds. Head down, listen to nature.

Shortly after lockdown I had 2 weeks of booked annual leave and so my holiday was in Costa-del-Sussex. The weather was kind, and everyday from morning until evening my husband and I worked in the garden. I found that I could block out all the painful stuff as I sank my hands into the soil, or sat on my green garden stool to listen to the birdsong. Once a week me and the husband would sit together on the sofa to video call my beautiful daughter and her family. I never realised that joy and pain could be so deeply connected until those times. The pure longing to hold them and stroke their backs as was my habit when I hugged them, was like a deep ache during those conversations. I so loved talking to them and seeing their faces, but afterwards it was as if I’d held my breath all that time, and a weight now sat in my chest causing a physical pain…and once again I would flee to the garden. I had stopped writing. I often wrote things in my head as I sat on my little green garden stool contemplating and musing, but I did not have the inclination to put those words down on the screen. I needed to be physically busy to block out my mind and the unthinkable. What was happening in the world beyond my garden was too big to comprehend, it was too uncertain, and there was no end in sight. So I just carried on gardening…

Last week things shifted for me. My older grandson and I have a special-time at the end of the video-call – just him, grandad and me. It usually comprises of him lying in his mum and dad’s bed eating snacks whilst we talk silliness, laugh and joke just as we did every normal Sunday before COVID-19 so rudely interrupted us. I commented on the things I had been finding in the garden, and that perhaps it would make a good story for me to write for him. He was excited by that and declared that he had written a story which he wanted to send me. I realised how much he was missing us. He and I spent weeks of Sundays at the computer writing a Harry Potter story. It was a time of connecting on many different levels and far beyond the act of just story-making. We both missed that. His story arrived by email and I was bowled over by the brilliant tale he had created about himself and his brother’s adventure with a maze, and a wizard. It was clever and funny just like my grandson.

The next time I was in my garden I realised that every time my husband and I opened up another area of the garden, the first thing we spoke of was how we could design it for the family to use. I had spent the time with my head down, trying not to look outwards, but my heart returned to the need to move beyond and share my love for those I love, in that space. I was unable to share the actual space with them physically at this time, so instead I decided to share my story of the space with them. Stories for my grandsons started to be written down rather than staying in my head. The weaving began…

So the stories attached to this post are for my grandsons. I have woven in actual events, found objects, and live things. There are memories of happy times, and people long gone but still missed wrapped up in these chapters. Some aspects are true, some are embellishments of the truth – spot them if you can. Family will notice that the jokes and sayings often used by family form a big part.

I am not sure that those outside the family will appreciate these tales in the same way, but delve in if you wish a taste of our family and it’s silliness. I have tried to incorporate things to make my grandsons read, gasp and giggle. The stories are first for them, and they are the inspiration for the creation of these tales too. Enter if you dare…

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