Today would have been my Nana’s 93rd birthday. She died in her late 70s, of lung cancer, and this rocking chair, which now sits in my writing studio, was where she would sit and enjoy a smoke. Nana’s last cigarette of each day was accompanied by a cup of weak, milky tea (exactly the way I now drink my tea, minus the cigarette), her full-length floral dressing gown draped over her shoulders, her false teeth already soaking in a glass on the dressing table, and a Mills and Boone romance poised, ready to lull her to sleep, on the drop-leaf Formica table in the tiny kitchen.
My Nana was a selfless, patient woman where we – her grandchildren- were concerned; less so with others, but we could do no wrong, me in particular. She would spend long hours reading aloud from the books I packed into my sleepover bag, sometimes offering to read me an excerpt from her own heavy hardbacks on loan from the library van that stopped once a week in the car park of their sheltered dwelling. (I realise now – and for the first time – her ulterior motive. She must have been bored senseless of Millie Molly Mandy and Enid Blyton adventures on repeat, craving some more grown-up fiction!) She would read me a page or two, then pause, a rattling chuckle suppressed in her throat as she mumbled,
“Maybe not this, it’s a mucky bit. We’ll not bother with that”.
When I became restless, she would leap up and announce, “Right, let’s get cleared up – look at the mess!”, shredding newspaper into confetti, (never pausing to check whether it was a page my Grandad had read or not) and reaching into the cupboard for the vacuum cleaner.
“Tidy up! Come on, look at it!” she would shout, and I, giggling, would assemble the hose, tug on the cord and set the vacuum to work, sucking up shreds of paper not quite as fast as she would rip yet more and toss them into the air.
Nana taught me about mindfulness. Not that she ever called it that; she would have laughed at the idea of meditation, scoffing at what she would consider a fad of “sittin’ around not doin’ much”. But she showed me the value of giving complete focus to one thing at a time. I never once remember her seeming distracted, or bored of my company. I realise now that this is perhaps the preserve of the grandparent – the luxury of only having to pay attention for a limited time and then hand them back when you are exhausted. But I never remember Nana showing any signs of exhaustion of our time together.
Knitting, mixing pastry for her legendary apple pies, playing cards, reading one of her books, or listening to me playing the same half a tune on the piano over and over again, whatever Nana did, she did it with all of her being. One of my favourite adages states, “Wherever you are, be all there”. My Nana would have laughed at this, her interpretation of “all there” being one that related to the question of sanity versus senility – the latter being one of her greatest fears, and fortunately one that never came to fruition.
On this chair I have read many books; nursed all three of my children through long, sleepless nights; had many conversations, some difficult and stilted and tearful, others long and laughter-filled and easy, flowing like water. But whenever I sit in this chair, I am reminded of Nana and her “one-thing-at-a-time” approach to life. Wherever she was, she was “all there”.