Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Grandad Barclay

I found out about a week ago that my grandfather died.

My parents moved from England to New Zealand before I was born, and I've only ever seen my grandparents once every few years, if that. Basically, whenever one end of the family felt brave enough to spend a heap of money and take on a 24 hour flight, which is hard if you're elderly, and also hard if you're trailing three kids. So he's not a relative I ever knew very well.

What I remember about Grandad Barclay is that his first name was John and his middle name was Barclay, but he was always so much a Barclay that I don't know whether many people ever called him by his first name. He was a creature of habit. He had a schedule of things that he did in a week, like adding to his enormous firewood pile and going into town to have tea at a particular tearoom on Tuesdays. (I think it was Tuesdays.) He would comment if you made yourself tea in the mornings, because there was always a particular amount of tea in the teapot, and if you poured an unexpected cup of tea it changed things and rendered the teapot unpredictable. Also, before I stayed with my grandparents, the concept of breakfast having a set time was completely foreign to me. Grandad always noticed if you stumbled in sleepy and late. Mind you, he was also notorious for getting caught up in what he was doing and being late for meals himself.

Also, my Grandad Barclay loved ships. 'Love' is actually too weak a word for how my grandfather felt about ships. He spent hours in his study with hundreds of books about ships to keep him company. When he was staying with us in Auckland, he caught many ferries to Devonport so that he could sit looking out at the harbour, watching each ship go past. And he sketched ships in tiny exact detail everywhere - on scraps of paper, on napkins, on the old whiteboard that my parents used to write reminders on when we were little. When my sister got out her felt pens and drew a bold, schoolkid version of the Titanic in bright colours, Grandad gave it a careful look, then added several funnels to improve the picture's accuracy.

The last time I went to England with my family, we left my grandparents' house early in the morning to fly home. Grandad stepped out to see us off. He wore a dressing gown and his captain's hat, and he gave us a sharp salute and a wry smile before we drove away.

That was the last time I ever saw him.

Because they've always been far away, I'm not as thrown as most people are by losing a grandparent. They're people I'm deeply fond of but not people I'm close to. I keep going with my everyday things and someone who breathed on the other side of the world no longer breathes. Nonetheless, he was wonderful, and he deserves remembering.

I'm notoriously indecisive about religion and I don't know what to make of the idea of an afterlife. To me it's the sort of thing you can't ever know with any sureness either way.

Still, wherever you are Grandad, I hope the seas are good.


John Rea-Hedrick said...

He sounds like a great man. I'm sorry for your loss.

Anna said...

A lovely ode to your grandfather. I'm sure he's watching the boats as I type.

Kristin Miller said...

Such a beautiful tribute, Leila. Thank you for sharing such a lovely man with us.

Leila Austin said...

Thank you :-)

Bee said...

I'm really sorry about your Grandad.
My Granpa passed away in June this year and he used to be my best friend..I still haven't been able to get over the loss.