I first started writing about Grandmothers more than 20 years ago. It was part of a school project. My paternal Grandmother Margot had a degenerative condition that meant that, though she had some vivid memories of the past she no longer knew who any of us were. It was too late then for me to ask her some of the questions I ask of the women who I’ve interviewed for my Listening to our Grandmother’s Project but I suppose that it does suggest that a connection to older women and a sense of wanting to understand the women who went before me has been with me for a very long time.
In 1992 I was a teenager. I wrote about a visit to my Grandmother because I wanted to understand what was happening to her. I wanted to put some sense in to the confusion I experienced when we went to visit her. At the time I wrote:
There is a sense of Growing Down about my grandmother, a sense in which her mind and body are no longer growing, but rather, deteriorating. Maybe this seems a natural conclusion to life, a slow removal of it. A reversal of its constant growth from birth. Almost like she is returning to the beginning, to her original state…I would like to think she had passed some of her strength on to me now. That the ambition and liveliness she once had lives on in me now. That I am somehow something of her. As I grow, she declines, my strength is her gift to me. Her liveliness is not dying, simply moving on.
Bold thoughts perhaps for a 15 year old, but looking back on them now I’m reminded of the clear sense I had then of the way that life is passed on to us through generations. Margot died soon after I wrote that and much of what I know about her life has been passed down to me by my Grandfather Ted and my parents. Amazingly too when Ted died he left us not just her photos, one of which now sits on the side of my desk but also her war time dairies meaning that I do in fact still have, some of her words.
Listening to our Grandmothers is a project that has been coming together for a few years. As I interviewed women in their 60s and 70s about their lives for a book I’ll be releasing in a few months time I started to develop a sense of how much we need the stories of older women and our connections to them. Somewhere in the process of hearing and recording all of the stories that were shared with me by the women I spoke with I found a deeper sense of the connectedness to the women who went before us that I want to share and celebrate through this piece of work. Alice Walker talks about the importance of the ‘Grandmother Spirit’ and this work is all about honouring that. If you want to be kept updated about the launch of Listening to our Grandmothers please sign up for my mailing list or join the Facebook page here.