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written by: Michal Reibenbach
Even though Anna is now a mature woman, she still aches for her grandparents, there is a yearning for them that persistently comes and does, sometimes returning in quiet moments.
She’d been the child from their son’s broken marriage. Despite their advanced age they’d decided to give her a home, taken her in until such time, God willing that their precious son should marry again. They were a lovable, eccentric old couple who lived in a poor area of London. When Anna’s daydreams take her back, she thinks about how her chubby, granny had been a great believer in eating all sorts of healthy foods such as garlic, nuts, yogurt, and a strange concoction which looked like slimy eels. Occasionally when she’d wander into the kitchen she’d be surprised by the sight of her granny stirring a large pot of these ‘slimy eels’ with a wooden spoon, all the while singing, ‘Stir, stir the glands, stir, stir the glands!’ and her deep voice would ring through the kitchen. She'd be clad in a large white dressing gown, which since it was never held fast with a belt flapped open and underneath her, enormously large pink bloomers and a purple, woolen knitted vest (which she’d especially knitted in order to keep her back warm) were in full view for all to see. During this ritual, she’d always wear a gypsy scarf with tassels on it (which she’d bought in a jumble sale) tied around her hair. All this healthy food paid havoc with her bowels and sometimes they’d complain loudly!
Sometimes she calls to mind other various escapades: how her grandpa had been a chain smoker so that the fingertips on his right hand had been stained yellow from the nicotine. Even though he had a hand tremor he was still able to blow the most glorious smoke rings in order to amuse her. She’d watch on as the wisps of silver, grey smoke twisted and curled around to form smoke rings which would dance away in a long succession up into the air. Although his body was shriveled, he had a head of thick, silvery white hair, his well-groomed mustache being the same color and his twinkling eyes were framed by thick white eyebrows.
Her grandparents were her blessing, her warmth.
Every night in her teeny-weeny room which was squashed in behind her grandparents’ bedroom, she’d go to sleep with the sound of the roar of the London traffic surging through the air, it was a strange, yet somehow comforting lullaby and sent her off to sleep. In the mornings she’d creep into her grandparents’ bedroom and watch them as they snored together and their enormous, fluffy eiderdowns would move up and down in synchronization.
In her grandparents’ tiny, almost barren garden grew a willow tree. The rest of the world saw a tree of no importance but Anna saw it as the most beautiful tree in the whole world for her granny had often told her, ‘I planted that tree on the day you were born, it is your very own tree.’ She adored that tree, for every time she touched its gnarled bark it felt like a hug and when she looked up into its branches which were covered with leaves in so many hues of green, it recharged her soul.
Other echoes from her past come floating back and Anna dwells there also for a while: such as when her granny bought her a cat from the cat shelter so that she wouldn’t be lonely. They named her Mushy. One day when she arrived home from Kindergarten, she couldn’t find her darling Mushy anywhere. Her granny explained to her, ‘Sweetheart, I’m so sorry but because Mushy was very old she died.’ When Anna inquired: ‘Where did you put her?’ Her grandpa had said bluntly, ‘In the dustbin.’ She’d moped around all afternoon with a worried expression on her face. In the evening she finally confronted her grandpa, ‘Grandpa, you’re very old, aren’t you?’ she’d asked him. ‘Not all that old,’ he’d answered defensively. ‘Will you also be put in the dustbin when you die?’ ‘No, of course not!’ he’d said and his face went bright red in shock at her impertinent question. Her granny who had been listening to their conversation tipped her head back and roared with laughter, which made her double chin quiver and caused tears to spill out of her eyes and cascade down her chubby cheeks. She had a deep, fat laugh that made you happy to hear it. When she’d pulled herself together she said, ‘Sweetheart, you don’t have to worry. We’re not very old. We won’t die and leave you as Mushy did. We’ll be here for many more years to come in order to look after you.’
Anna had felt extremely reassured. Soon her granny brought home a tortoise to comfort her for the death of her darling Mushy.
Her granny’s kitchen window was hung over by what had originally been a white net curtain, although even after being washed several times had stubbornly remained a dark grey color because of the London smog. On the other side of the window was a flower box. Healthy dark green chives with round, light purple fluffy blooms which sat atop blade like stems, grew in this box in abundance. It always amazed Anna as to how they thrived so well in such harsh conditions. Every day her granny would cut large handfuls of chives from the flower box. Then chop them up vigorously on a wooden board which lay on the kitchen table with a large butcher’s chopper. Anna lived in peril less she chopped off one of her fingers, but thankfully she never did.
Every morning her grandparents had had all the daily newspapers delivered to them. During breakfast while wading through the enormous stack they would make all sorts of angry comments, such as, ‘How awful-- it’s disgusting-- how can people do such terrible things’ — and they’d click their tongues and shack their heads. It was always the same ritual. It made Anna feel nervous about the world outside to hear about such terrible crimes. Inside her grandparents’ house, however, she felt completely safe especially since their front-door was bolted with three locks and a safety chain.
When Anna turned ten years old her father eventually remarried and she left the sanctuary of her grandparents’ home. During the last years of her Granny’s life whenever Anna went to visit her she’d say, ‘Anna darling this may be the last time you’ll ever see me,’ but Anna never believed her.
Even in their absence, Anna needs the memory of her grandparents with her, to soothe her. She wishes so much that she could have them back again, if only for a day so that she can tell how much she loves them. When they were alive she never did.