22nd June 2012

Cup of tea

My Grandmas. ‘Cup of Tea’ Grandma standing.

My Grandma died 7  years ago of cancer.  We were close in that sense of feeling completely comfortable together and being able to share a multitude of things, one of which was a sense of humour, the other being a love of words.  Grandma regularly did the crossword and we always played Scrabble when I went to see her.

About four months ago, my Grandma started visiting me… no, not a ghostly apparition at the end of my bed or a dark shadow against a wall, nothing spooky like that.  But she kept appearing to me in my head every night when I was in bed and about to go to sleep, or if I woke up in the night.  She never spoke, she was just there.  It was odd.  I’d never experienced this before and wasn’t sure why.  About three weeks ago, she stopped visiting.  I don’t know why she stopped either.  I can consciously conjure her up, as I am doing now, because I feel her absence, but this is not the same as what was happening before.  What was happening before took me by surprise.

I have a theory about this.  I have a thought about why she came, but I don’t understand why she has now gone.  My Grandma was adopted and raised in Southampton.  This could have no significance, but over the past four months there have been continual reccurences in my life related to Southampton and that area – quite bizarre and disconnected things.  I do believe in signs.  I don’t always know their meaning and didn’t used to give them much credance, but lately, as I see how pieces fit together, I have started to listen to them more.  Of course, maybe it’s because my mind has been on my Grandma that I have noticed these occurences… who’s to say?

I didn’t see Grandma much while she was ill, so still retain the memories of her as she was.  About three years ago, I wrote a poem about her, about how things were at her old home, about how things had been when we were kids – we grandchildren – and descended on her spasmodically throughout the year, and visited en masse every Christmas.   Words are memories, and memories are words.  Poetry can freeze-frame moments in time, capture memories and hold them tightly forever.  I hope this poem does just that…

Cup of Tea

The alleyway, the tall side gate,
closed, but unlocked, on a latch,
beneath the open water tank.

The swirly glass in your back door.
The grey-blue floor.
The cabinets and cupboards ceiling tall,
the metal meter on the wall
a small collection of 50 p’s,
the kettle boiling for a hot cup of tea,

the velvet square
that slips and slides on shiny table top.
A plant.  A picture.  Our family cut up in squares,
smiling and waving

beyond the swollen arch,
its curtain shutting out the cold –
light the fire.

But the fire lies bare as
the settee backs against the wall
and stares at Grandad’s empty chair.

China figures, curly-haired,
men with dogs and sticks
and fair-faced women in petticoats,
dance around imagined light –
I wonder if they sleep at night.

The kettle boils.  I pour
but have forgotten to put the tea bag in,
and she laughs until her sides hurt
and leans into the worktop,
her tiny body angled in.

Beneath, a box,
a Noddy in a yellow car,
an angry looking buffalo,
a set of wooden dominos

and at the table, waiting,
a game of Scrabble on a velvet square
that slips and slides,
its letters hidden
beneath the waves.

I rarely won,
and yet, now, I always do.
I have it here, asleep in my lap,
reminding me of you.

About Abi Burlingham

I write children's books and paint pictures inspired by nature, animals, trees etc, mostly in acrylics. I am a crisp addict.
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20 Responses to 22nd June 2012

  1. Jo Carroll says:

    This is lovely, Abi. Grandmas are so important. I knew that as a child, and as a mother watching my own children negotiate the generations. What no one tells you is that being a Grandma is such fun – so you can be sure that you gave her at least as much joy as you gave her.

  2. Ahh! That’s so true, Jo. Grandma had 5 children and 9 of us grandchildren and we descended on her and my Grandad every Christmas day afternoon. She was always the life and soul and I remember her laughter dancing through the house. Can hear it now! 🙂

  3. Lovely. My grandparents are all long gone and I have fond memories of them. Maybe I need to stop thinking of my mum as a mum and mentally re-classify her as my children’s Granny . . .

  4. Oh, do you know, that’s a good point… awww! Glad you liked the post!

  5. Martin Day says:

    Loved the poem, Abi – a little rhyming make me feel comfortable (like a rail on a rolling boat).

  6. Just lovely Abi. Thanks for sharing this. Grandma’s are so special. My mum was one of the best to my kids. They remember her for endless hours of colouring, letting them demolish her kitchen in their attempts to make the perfect cupcake and reading, yet again, that favourite picture book. Amongst other things I remember her for always suggesting ‘sausages’ for tea when I rang her moaning with that eternal question, ‘What the hell shall I give them all to eat tonight, Mum?’
    I hope one day to follow the tradition and give any grandchildren I may be lucky enough to have my kitchen to demolish. xx

    • Ah, what lovely memories for you Teresa! Yes, the ‘what to cook for dinner’ question? Funnily enough, my mum always used to ask me that. My stock reply was either fish fingers and beans, or pie, potatoes and peas 😉

  7. I had a very close relationship with both my grandmothers — so I can relate to this very much. It’s wonderful you have such good memories, and so interesting that she appeared and disappeared in your consciousness like that… I wonder what it is about Southampton?

    • It’s wonderful to have those memories isn’t it Julia? Yes, it is strange. Not sure about the Southampton thing but am staying with a friend very close in a couple of weeks. May have to visit the place… who knows what could be waiting for me!

  8. Nadine says:

    This is such a touching tribute, Abi. I’m fascinated by her visits to you, and the other correlating experiences with where she lived. I got goosebumps while reading that part. There’s so much that we have yet to learn about what lies beyond the veil of our physical sight. I’m sorry about her deterioration. My paternal grandmother had a similar condition, to the point where she couldn’t even remember my father. My maternal grandmother is still alive. I’m quite close to her (and we have the same birth month, only a few days apart), so this post resonates with me on so many different levels.

    I like that the poem was like a gift to your Mum. It’s quite lovely, and speaks of home and all the memories and love associated with it and family. 🙂

    • Ah, thanks Nadine. Really pleased you enjoyed it and could relate to it so much. Yes, there’s a whole lot that we don’t understand isn’t there? I find it fascinating and it opens my eyes to so much, even if I still don’t always understand the significance.

  9. Shary Hover says:

    Beautiful poetry. Grandmothers do play such important roles in our lives. Mine are both gone now, but I can still see and hear them both so clearly, although I’ve never experienced what you did. I hope you’ll discover the meaning of those visits.

  10. Emma Pass says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this, Abi – the poem is absolutely beautiful. I love how you describe your grandmother through the objects you associate with her. My grandmother was very important to me, and my memories of her are all to do with the things she had in her house, too – the tins she had on the side in her kitchen that were all neatly labelled, but could contain literally anything; the cabinet of dolls in her living room (she collected them); the pink wafer biscuits she loved; the smell of the Imperial Leather soap in her bathroom… and many more! A little while ago I found some letters she’d written to me when I was younger. As I read them, I could hear her voice inside her head, and it was as if she was back with me for a short while. I found it really comforting.

    I wonder if you’ll find out why yours was visiting you? Whatever the reason, it’s wonderful that she did. x

  11. Ah, that’s lovely Em. Isn’t it funny how our memories are so linked to these small and seemingly insignifficant things? Yes, the Imperial Leather soup – same here, so much so that I now buy it! How lovely to find those letters and be able to conjure up your grandma’s voice like that… lovely! I have a couple of ideas about the visits. It’ll be interesting to see if they pan out!

  12. Martin Shone says:

    I never knew my grandparents, thank you, Abi xx

  13. Jenny Alexander says:

    Hi Abi – I read this post last week and it’s stayed with me – so poignant and thoughtful. I don’t think we need to ask why, when it comes to these experiences – they’re beyond logic, and that’s kind of the point. I think simply noticing them creates a sense of patterns, the underlying fabric of things, which adds a dimension to the way we experience life. For me, it’s like dreams – meaning may jump out at you but, if it doesn’t, then that in no way undermines the value of the experience.

  14. Aw, thanks Jenny. I think you’re spot on there. These moments do defy logic and even if their meaning isn’t clear, we should embrace them all the same. I love the way you’ve explained this as a sense of patterns and how they add a new dimension to the way we experience things. They really do!

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