Re-remembering, pain and beauty
Light tinkling through leaves, blowing over wind swept Lanarkshire trees.
It was one of many of my grandpa’s favourite things to note; the windswept silhouette of the Lanarkshire countryside he loved.
He pointed them out on our adventure walks. I’m quite sure that these walks built my soul, the very core of my appreciation of being.
He valued trees — planting them in beautiful swathes on his land, with enough room for an old fashioned horse and cart to pass, of course. It was as though he was teaching me a powerful secret about nature “who will lift her skirt to reveal a glimpse of her ankle”. Part of me thought that they were more real than I was; literally rooted, timeless martyrs of the earth, being blown, flourishing, diverse.
This is man who I can still see, who I still sense. The relationship with grandparents is such a special one. I was his kindred spirit. A fellow wild scientist. A lover of too-loud New Orleans jazz records played and sung. “You hadda to be there!” he would say with characteristic charm, an American drawl, his handsome face lighting, in a smile.
My mother says I called him “dangerous grandpa”; with huge glee. That particular label came following a walk in which my baby brother; his cuter than cute face at once beaming, and then disappearing, so rapidly that my retinas took a brief moment to register his loss; the saturation was convincing enough that he transitioned from real, to ghost, to gone so rapidly that it’s still the funniest thing I’ve ever seen. He was marching alongside the beautiful Calder river, face out, so he missed the temporary chasm beneath his feet. Even when we found him, down in the watery river bank, he was still grinning. I love that moment so much.
We grew up in Glasgow, three siblings, my grandpa on the outskirts of the city. He lived in a house that actually had a name, which my mum would reference, in the way she would refer to a person, whom she’d known a long lifetime. He had built it with my grandmother and namesake, Rozelle. The location chosen because the land had access to good clay and, it turned out, the right ingredients for dyes to colour it which was my grandpa’s forte, as a physicist (metallurgist to be precise) he made brilliant shiny blues. Rozelle was a potter amongst many other things. Calderstone is placed by a river, with land surrounding, and probably something special in the trees, making them whisperingly alive. The house, and the garden had a spiritual force: one late summer afternoon when visiting, Jim took me to explore the garden, he had to show me something special. He’d discovered a nook, shaded by a majestic oak, that was positioned perfectly between a low sun and a full moon. It cast unreal shadows; he’d built a shrine of clay bricks, pattered and delicate, with a pot in the centre, plant life spilling from it’s romanesque spout. I felt it.
These memories can be so difficult because they’re so strong, they make me feel hyper-real; it’s as if I have a reminder in me that the true meaning of living is to feel as connected to a spiritual world as possible and simultaneously, once I feel the heady air of that world, I have no place to put it in this one. My memories can connect, and at once they place me in limbo.
He had a fascination with Jewish religion, culture and writing — regularly sending passages from letters of Scholem, Benjamin, the works of Spinoza, or Kirkergaard. I still pore over them, not as much as I’d like to, I think this mainly a fear of running out of them, his letters, I mean. They’re limited, my memory isn’t. He taught me that a memory is like a great painting, with every revisiting we scratch the surface, we change it a little. I always find that idea comforting, as though