Ode to grandma, the storyteller

Nancy Margaret
or just grandma to me -
where do I begin to remember you,

all you’ve been?

do I start with your soft skin -
those bright and kindly eyes
your aged and crackly voice, 
asking us always to plant
on each cheek and forehead - kisses three,
your powdery nose and loose singlets,
legs lying in the sun
for vitamin d you said, and everyday
in armchair or lounge or bed
open books, folded newspapers
the napkins up your sleeves -
your tiny handwritten notes,
the keenest, most hungry
mind for news of the world

you read everything -
biography, philosophy,
fiction and non, literature
poetry, history, magazine
old letters intended for you
and others that weren’t,
school notes and failed
a wealth of knowledge,
a treasury of verse,
story, song -
the meaning of words
the stories of others
you felt the most,
they made you cry -
made you happiest

the child who lived in the bush
won a scholarship for school in the city,

wrote and edited poetry,

became a schoolteacher

whose grandma rode past Ned Kelly

whose father went to war,

who married a farmer
and had eight children
birthed and breastfed
and how many young minds
you taught too -
when we were children
you came each summer
with a full and musty suitcase
sweeping us up in big hugs
tucking us into bed
we would request from your repertoire
favoured stories, fables, poems -
all the milestones you shared,
our first walks, words, school concerts -
then as teenagers,
you came to live with us -
in my room and then by the dining room table
your movements were slow and strained
but your mind as sharp as ever,
how you loved the bustle of a full house
all our comings and goings -
and in the early dark of morning,
a voice asking
who’s there?

you the tea drinker,
liberally with milk -
teabags stretched for three cups,
lashings of butter,
we knew the gifts you liked to eat
dark chocolate, crystallised ginger,
marzipan, peppermints -
sardines on toast,
cheese and beetroot,
the time you taught me to eat 
nasturtium leaves,

your faith that weathered decades
of experience and loss, 
unshakeable, in a loving God -
we counted on our fingers 
forty-one people
have come into being because of you,
you were not perfect
but you were as much
as a person can be -
a capable woman,
a generous mother
a great teacher
a wise listener
a miraculous storyteller -
and even in your last years
a source of interest,
faithfulness, remembrance
the older fragile you
barely moving,
with my own red-haired boy
who helped pop green peas
in your mouth,
who kissed your hand
and ran cars along your bed
I like him, you said, and smiled

and on my last visit
the mind that remembered
the chickens we keep
the days until they lay
the porridge that came late
you were lively, 
gripping my hands
with papery skin so soft -
those kindly eyes
thank you for visiting 
you said,

thank you for all you gave me
a love for words
to read and write
and recite aloud
to soak in sunshine
and watch the seasons,
to treasure hope,
and care for kin -
and above all,
the gift of life -
you gave to me
my mum.