Today my grandpa died. He was ninety one. Here he is, holding my dad, in about 1947. Home from the war, a family man, looking natty in a vest knitted by my Grandma Hazel. He was clever, painstaking, witty. He always did what he felt was right, was courteous, well mannered, a good friend. He was also impatient, exacting, and had high expectations his children and grandchildren. His great grandchildren he just enjoyed.
He was the last of my grandparents, almost the last of his generation. He ended his days in the nicest nursing home I have ever been in, like a kind of hotel, but full of old people. He sat in his chair with his plaid rug over his knees doing sudokus and crosswords, bossing the nurses, and doing the rounds, visiting his friends who weren't mobile, holding the hands of 'his' old ladies. On Saturday afternoons he held soirees in the lounge room. Being the only person in the home who could work a set top box, he would tape old movies and episodes of Downton Abbey for everybody to watch. A very long time ago he and Grandma Hazel held 'at homes' on a Sunday afternoon for all their friends to come and visit for afternoon tea, and sing around the piano.
There is a gap now, in the family fabric. An entire generation has passed on, and are now stories and history, or a nose or character trait cropping up in younger generations. It is hard to see the legacy of an ordinary person. No statues or artworks or political reforms for most of us. So what is left? A man who worked hard for his family, brought up his children as well as he could, drove his children a bit crazy at times, but stayed close to them, stayed married to his wife for sixty years even when they drove each other a bit crazy, and looked after her to the end.
That tradition of working hard, laughing with your family, staying together, looking after them, and driving your kids crazy? Still with us three generations later. That's why, when the news came this afternoon, The Girl gave me a big hug, then set about baking, because nothing says 'I love you' like choc orange muffins. That's why The Man rang me from the departure lounge at Shanghai Airport, even though he knew he'd have to listen to me cry, and why The Boy popped home from his busy social engagements for an hour, to hug his mum, and make sure I was OK.
And me? I hugged the children, because that is my default reaction to any news, ever, and took a moment to watch the glorious, ragged, golden autumn sunset, with the sun going down on a world that, for the first time in ninety one years, doesn't hold the man who was my Grandpa Ken.