Grandpa sits in silence twisting threads on a white
wooden frame with rows of neat nails on each side
weaving patterns with silky thread recovering
from the Great War and comrades lost on the Somme
Memories fall into the safety of the sitting room
shiny bodkins glint in the sun like bayonets
his fingers unroll a length of gold as tales of the dead
suddenly return and his eyes fill with tears.
He whispers to me about a hospital ship blown to pieces
and jabs a line of blue twine into the emerging mat.
A screech from his green parrot breaks his sombre mood.
He smiles and ties a golden knot in triumph.
Polly pads along his arm, sings ‘Roll out the barrel’.
I gather up Grandpa’s wayward threads.
Although Grandpa survived the Great War, he had to recover from a period of insanity as a result of being gassed and shellshocked, first in hospital and then in a convalescence home. He and Grandma exchanged letters every week for two years. I still have them in the wooden box I found them in.
Eventually he was strong enough to return to his family fruit shop in Goodge Street in London, going to market everyday to buy the fruit. But I suspect this was partly due to Stan their ever faithful van driver who did all the driving and enabled Grandpa to keep his role as the eldest son in the business. When his younger brothers eventually bought him out he was devastated.
When dad returned from the Second World War he had to live under the same roof as Grandpa’s argumentative parrot. How he hated birds in the house including Grandma’s budgies that were sometimes allowed to fly freely. Dad had to leave the room as he said they brought back memories of dodging plagues of locusts in North Africa!
At Grandpa’s request dad did however rig up a frame under his instructions so that Grandpa could try and make the same mats as he had done years previously as part of occupational therapy. This was when he and I, as a child, had secret conversations.
Minding Grandpa is from my new collection ‘The Puppeteer’s Daughter’. Poems about artists, Brighton, nature, eccentrics and of course the complexities of life as a puppeteers daughter!