Disclaimer: I have always loved (loved, LOVED) my grandparents. Blessed with an IRL Santa Claus and the working class answer to Mary Berry, I have never once suffered that foreboding sense of gloom some of my peers confess to feeling upon being told they’re off to the ageds for lunch.
From the age of 0 to an age well beyond what is deemed to be cool, our lives as grandchildren were a halcyon dream of homemade forts, homemade swords and homemade dolls houses interspersed with homemade millionaire’s shortbread. Yet while not everyone’s forefathers can be as legit as ours have been, there will always be some merit in hanging out with them — if only for the brownie points, and actual brownies.
For one thing there’s the food. Sure, it might not be home baking, but if your grandparents are anything like my grandparents, you’ll never go hungry. Set free from the burden of parental responsibility for your teeth/mind/waistline, they will quite happily cave to your various cravings and desires.
If they’re good cooks, you can learn from them: many a happy hour I’ve spent watching my grandmother crumble pastry, knead bread, whip up a meringue and reduce a chicken carcass to rich, hearty stock. All that I have learnt in the way of using (and reusing) leftovers or in successful cake baking, I have leant at her apron strings while sucking on chocolate eclairs, mint crumbles or some other exotic sweet to be found in Marks and Spencer’s.
Yet the lessons to be learnt from your elders can (and, in the case of those grandparents who prefer their meat cremated and their vegetables soggy) should extend far beyond the kitchen walls.
There’s the art of saving: of making and mending and other techniques which, in our post war age of consumerism, are at serious risk of dying out. Some work better than others: my grandma’s insistence on storing her money under a mattress has its flaws, for example, but if you can master some of the arts of darning, wiring, hemming, patchwork quilting and bargain hunting you’ll be literally quids in.
Not only are they well worth learning, they can prove a fairly entertaining bonding exercise. My cack handed attempts to darn moth holes in my jumpers may not make my grandma proud, but they certainly make her crease up. Next month, my grandad is teaching me how to make elderflower wine with his ancient wine making kit. Coming as they do from an age pre-internet – pre-mobile phone, even – our grandparents capacity for survival, self-sufficiency and entertainment is boundless in comparison to our own goldfish brains. Even if you don’t learn how to make your own lipstick from beetroot juice, those are some pretty solid life lessons right there.
Then of course there’s the stories: stories of childhood escapades, first jobs, first loves and — a classic — how your grandparents got together, pre-internet! How, Where, Why etc. In my case, my grandad’s father was a landlord, my grandma’s father was a drunk, and romance blossomed over many years of her rocking up at the pub to persuade him to come home. Bear that in mind next time you assume things were sweeter back then.
In all seriousness, though, your g’folks are a gold mine of tales just waiting for you to spare the time and the patience. Listen closely. They won’t always be in the mood to tell you — and you will, on occasion, have to suffer laments on Sainsbury’s price of washing powder while they warm up — but stay with them. Not only are these nuggets the footnotes of history, they are your own family glue.
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Image: Amber Griffin