Her name was Rose and she was my maternal grandmother. Today would have been her 100th birthday and I could not just let it pass without a small tribute. She was born to Maria and Francesco in 1916 at the height of the Great War, the eldest of nine siblings. As a little girl, I spent many days with her and, with that inherent inquisitiveness of childhood, I would ask her a thousand questions about her life as a child. So she told me about her father, who had fought at the Dardanelles; about a brother and sister who died in infancy - from whopping cough, if I remember well. She explained how few children were lucky enough to go to school in those days and she soon had to stay at home to help her mother with the babies that kept coming every other year or so. But in the evening, when her chores were done. she went to the nuns and they thought her to embroider, crochet and sew, which seemed like no mean feat to someone like me who never had the patience to pick up needle and thread.
My Nanna with her brother Joseph
It seems like that's about all I can remember about her childhood, which is strange, because I spent countless days in her little kitchen with its blue and white cupboards and polka dot teacups. What I do recall is that she married my grandfather on February 4th, 1940 and went on to have six children, two of whom, my aunt and my mother, were born during the worse months of WW2. It was a life of hardship, of constant air-raid sirens (Malta was the most bombed country in WW2) and of long hours spent in the underground shelters that were hewn into the limestone. Though she was never ambitious for herself, she dreamt big for her children, encouraging them to get an education and supporting them beyond secondary school. Three went on to become teachers and one a nurse,f while the boys preferred to take up a trade.
My grandparents with their children in 1945 (my mum is the one of the right)
My grandfather died when she was 49, which to a 6 or 7 year old, seems like a grand old age, but now that I've almost reached that 'venerable' age, I realise how relatively young she still was. Yet not once did I ever hear her complain or bemoan her fate. She found joy in the little things, constantly, and never ceased to focus on what she had, rather that on what she had lost. Which does not mean that she ever forgot about the husband she had lost, wearing her wedding band and engagement ring (her 'consent ring' she used to call it) until the day she died.
If anyone had to ask me to use just one word to describe my Nanna, I would say that she was kind - which may sound like a very little word for someone who was so much more. But in a world where acts of kindness are becoming so few and far between, her constant thoughtfulness on behalf of others, not least myself, stand out like a beacon of light on the dreariest night.
Time is a cruel thing. Not only does it take away those we love, it also slowly subdues our memories of them, until we are left with fragments, bits and pieces of a jigsaw puzzle with several missing parts. But there are moments and particular traits that we will never forget - like the mischievous twinkle she would get in her eyes when someone caught her eating cookies or a slice of cake (she had adult onset diabetes) or slathering her toast with too much butter; or the motto to never put off until tomorrow what you can do today (sort of the complete opposite of Scarlett O'Hara), a motto that she embraced and followed diligently until the end of her life; or the radiant joy she always felt at celebrations like weddings, baptisms or graduations. We miss her physical presence at moments like these but I do not think she is ever too far away,
Memories may become faint with the passing years and photos fade away but there are things that not even time can take away from us. And today, as I stumble over words that don't quite convey what I would like to say, I think about a characteristic of hers that will stay with me all my life. Because when all is said and done, when we can't remember little details like what her favourite colour was and the name of her cat (it was Smokie), we will always remember her smile. That smile that lit up her face and made her eyes sparkle and that embraced us in its warmth and love. The smile that made it feel like everything would be all right.