During visits to my grandparents’ house, my granddad would joke with me and say: ‘Hasn’t Betty learnt to speak yet?’ or ‘Is she thick?’ and he would openly mock the name ‘Betty’. Whenever Betty left a trail of biscuit crumbs along their sitting room floor it made him grimace. He’d tell her off for sticking her head in the washing machine, or for pulling the window blinds too hard, and he had to leave the room when Betty’s excitable squeals caused interference on his hearing aid. (Betty would then go off in hot pursuit, barge into his bedroom and cheerfully say: ‘HELLLOOO’ and he would grumpily grunt something back at her.)
But all this was just the surface. When we visited their house, my granddad always came to the door to greet us, gave both Betty and me a big kiss, and then took Betty by the hand and guided her carefully up the steps, chatting affectionately to her as they went. And although at 94 years old he was frail and achy, he mustered up all his energy to pick her up and sit her on his lap, and happily let her feed him half-eaten soggy crisps. When Betty trotted into the garden he’d follow her and coax his old dog out of her kennel so that Betty could say hello to her. And I often caught him looking at Betty with genuine warmth and love. He and my grandma were Betty’s very first visitors in hospital when she was just a day old. I’ll always remember them peering into her crib and seeing her for the first time, and both looking like they were going to cry.
One time, when he and I were watching Betty racing around the room, he started reminiscing about the moment he found out that I had been born. He was on a fishing holiday in Scotland with my grandma and they were woken in the early hours by the landlady of the B&B, who brought them a cup of tea with the news.
When I was little, he and my grandma used to come to my birthday parties. Thirty years later they came to Betty’s first birthday party. My granddad was even apologetic when they had to leave early because it had started snowing heavily.
Up until recently this funny and caring man was healthy and active, walking his dog, driving into town, and even going fishing. Last week he passed away in his sleep, having been taken ill just a week before. I’m dreading the moment when we walk into my grandparents’ house and Betty asks where he is.