A little while after that, I stood at a lectern and tried my damndest to speak my intent through a tight throat and teetering-on-the-edge tears. A eulogy written on a scrap of paper, since stored in a box amidst tax receipts and old bank statements. It seemed right to proper-like type it down.
Jean started out as my Nana but when I was thirteen that changed. When I was thirteen, it was the heyday of the Ironman surf competition. Grant Kenny, the Iron Man Champion, ate and advertised a lot of Nutri Grain breakfast cereal: Iron Man food. When I was thirteen, Nana loved nothing more than a good boogie board in the surf. On one such occasion, some nine-ish year old kid observed her manoeuvres, paddled up to her and yelled: YOU’RE NARLY! YOU’RE JUST LIKE GRANT KENNY! Nana became ‘Granny Kenny’ forevermore.
It’s the summer holidays spent at Cowes that prompt many of the sweetest memories. Built by my grandfather, the house was basic and perfect, sand ingrained in the worn-in-places floral carpet, Great Nana Ritchie’s shell craft dotted about. The heart-shaped drive, the towering Norfolk pines, shady oaks, the trail to the back-beach and the stinky, dark, spider-infested outhouse. Weeks and weeks of every summer spent with Granny and various extended family combinations, merged with lazy days at the beach and Canasta tournaments that stretched into the wee small hours.
Master of the guilt trip, it was impossible to be in the presence of Granny Kenny in the faint vicinity of a beach and NOT swim. Even in the bleak, wind-buffeted landscape of a winter-struck Phillip Island, she would unfailingly have you in the water with emphatic use of words like INVIGORATING. And, EXHILARATING. Or she’d pull out ominous threats delivered with dire portent: YOU’LL ONLY BE SORRY IF YOU DON’T. Inevitably, they were indeed, invigorating and exhilarating swims. And hours later, once the hypothermia had eased, I was indeed Glad That I Did.
It’s little memory flashes of Granny that I have held close, through her illness and now her absence. Of course, there are the giggling, wave-catching, boogie board races to shore, or a vision of her bent over her card table, jewels nestled in dark green velvet, absorbed in the dark art of pearl stringing. Or the catch of her breath as she inhaled the ti tree at the Cowes back beach – followed by an inevitable Oh, isn’t it just lovely? There’s her watery-eyed chuckle and that ridiculous floaty, sitting thing she could do in the water – her toes just breaking the surface, an occasional flick of the hand maintaining buoyancy. There’s the way she called me a little tyke all the way into my forties, the way she would cling to my hand and whisper I love you, through the fug of her dementia.
There’s also no forgetting the glee when she finally earned her driving licence. She probably wasn’t Australia’s absolutely oldest P-plater. Certainly, she was well into her sixties, and pushing that P-plater cut-off. Once she’d nabbed that licence, she embraced self-chauffeured independence with gusto! A master of the scenic route (questionable navigation) and dodgy parking, Granny Kenny would also sometimes forget the handbrake. Sometimes in shopping centre car parks. Sometimes at the top of small inclines.
When I was seventeen, she drove both of us to Cowes for the weekend. Two thirds of the way there, Jean Anderson, Granny P-plate driver, wafted off to sleep, off the road and aptly crashed into the sign for the township of Anderson. There was airborne-ness and sudden wakefulness and an eventual upright landing in a paddock. Both of us entirely unharmed, we stumbled from the car and breathed relief. A gentleman witness, running to our aid, breathed similar relief. Then breathed fire. Furiously, he demanded explanation for terrible driving in perfect conditions. On and on he raged, his face puce and ranting in mine, his spittle landing in my right eye – the eye of the innocent, seventeen year old, non P-plater.
My darling Granny, you are stuck fast in my soul. Watching you slip away with such grace and peace was the purest privilege. A blessed and beautiful full stop, to a life filled with love and lived in CAPITALS.