Pandemic Archive

Connecting with my late grandparents during lockdown

By Elaine Grech . . .

Sitting here in front of the confined space of my computer screen, I know that the story I would like to tell resides in my body. I am focusing on my breathing, and I am becoming aware of different sensations in my body. The gentle breeze on my cheek transports me back 40 years. I find myself sitting on the threshold of my grandmother’s forest green front door. My bare feet are rubbing against the roughness of the concrete slabs, soaking in the warmth of the hot summer afternoon while the smell of the freshly baked bread is filling me with comfort. My eyes follow the children running in the street, I am fully present in my body. I want to move, to roam the poppy fields, to be embraced by the trees and earthed by the soil.

There is also this yearning for connection with the other children in the street, and so I start to tell stories of far-away kingdoms and villains and heroes.  The children, and at times their parents too, are gathering around me, finding solace in these fairy tales. I was, and I am a storyteller who, yearning for comfort, gives to others the same support she sought. I grew up listening to my grandmother’s hardships stories during the second world war. I have this image of my nanna as a child (that’s how I used to call grandma in Maltese), picking potatoes from the fields and swimming in the wild sea of my native village. My escape from the confined second world war shelters was perhaps the fantasy land hosting castles, magical forests and protective knights. To support her family, as a young woman, she had worked as a live-in servant at a rich people’s mansion far away from her village. That is where my selfless nanna met my grandfather who working in the underground shelters in the area. He was captivated by her beauty while she was cleaning carpets in the window. My grandfather was a handsome and robust builder. Honouring his noble values, my grandfather pursued her even when my grandmother sent word that she did not have any money. And so it was, they got married. That day still lives in the black and white photo I have of them here in my living room.

My grandfather was amazingly strong. My grandmother’s eyes used to shine when she would describe how he would carry a huge boulder on one shoulder as comfortably as if he was carrying a baby. His strength which seemed to be mainly located in his shoulders earned him the family’s nickname: Bronze, inspired from shoulders strong as bronze. He was a free man, a hunter who roamed the fields. Yet as faith would have it, in the prime of his youth, shortly after his first child was born, a freak hunting accident took his leg away and gone was the fully-abled athletic lifestyle. Still, he moved on with his life, pushing beyond this restriction. He opened a bar in the core of the village. In between its four walls (still standing today) men gathered to escape their daily life, drink and tell stories. How many stories he must have heard while generously feeding hungry men not expecting anything in return.

My grandfather sadly passed away too soon, long before I was born and my nanna, the hearth of the family,  kept the fortress going lunch after lunch, dinner after dinner. The soothing smell of home-cooked meals welcomed the uncles who came to visit daily. She grew vegetables and fruit in the garden, she cooked, baked and cleaned and barely left home except to go to church and maybe to the doctor when she needed. She seemed to love being confined at home, and I would imagine if she had to be here during this lockdown, she might have barely noticed any difference as long as she could have her family coming around. 

Confined at home, I feel a secure connection with my ancestors, especially my nanna. I see her face as I water my plants, bake her pie and sip the tea in the transparent teacup. Unlike my nanna, I am juggling trying to homeschool two children with different needs and also transitioning my practice online. Instead of the uncles and neighbours who drop by, the connection in my life through my therapeutic work is also core to my identity. It as a call which unless I fulfil, there would be a part of me which is missing. And so these months kept rolling by, in between facing the new online platform dragon and the wearing of different hats under the same roof at the same time: mother, wife, therapist, cook, cleaner and most frustrating of all home-schooling children who just want to watch movies. Every role I am enacting at the moment leaves me wondering whether I am doing enough of the other. And still who else am I besides these set roles? The poet, the performer, the artist, the explorer in me, yearn  for expression too, and indeed found their outlet at different points in this journey. The connection with my colleagues and significant people in my life out here keeps me going, they are the ones I welcome at home in my “nanna’s kitchen”.

I have been blessed to find a way of integrating these creative aspects in my professional practice. Within these four walls, I danced to different rhythms ranging from desperation to intense joy.  Most of all, there has been space for creativity and movement which surpasses the boundaries of these walls, which takes me to my nanna’s warm kitchen and to the far-away castle in the middle of a remote magical forest. Nanna and Nannu, I see you smiling at me. Welcoming people, nurturing them, supporting connections, is my way of honouring your legacy, transcending confinement of time and space.


5 thoughts on “Connecting with my late grandparents during lockdown

    • Wow how nice Elaine…really loved reading it..amazing. I like the way you describe your “nanniet”..I miss you. Take care dear and keep up your goid “jobs” ?

    • An absolute touchingly beautiful transportation through time and space…. I felt the love and the safety you were clearly surrounded and cocooned in during the reading and connecting of your story… it’s so fitting that you honored your grandma this way…. I am sure that from where she now is she feels a sense of accomplishment that the legacy of family values she instilled in you Elaine you are also handing down to your own family and other fortunate people like me that have the privilege of knowing and experiencing you and your therapeutic work. Thank you Tanya x

    • Dear Elaine
      such a moving story so beautifully written and powerfully felt in your words! It reminded me of my Nonna, Italian for Grandma who also had a few life adventures who shaped her life and mine down the generations. Thanks Elaine for your inspiring and creative work

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