“I’d run a mile for a bar of nougat,” my grandmother proclaimed. “In those days I could run like the wind.”
My grandmother was in her eighties when she told me that story. She was not tall and not slim, her comfortable plumpness belying her words. Grandma Stephanie became a grandmother late in life at the age of sixty-six. Perhaps this was not surprising since she’d not become a mother until she was thirty-four, and her only child was a son.
“How I loved to dance,” she declared.
“What is it like to be a ballerina and dance en pointe?” I inquired.
“As light as a feather,” she assured me, beaming.
Even at the age of ten, that statement didn’t seem very probable. I had never heard anyone else say that grandma was a ballerina. But then, my grandmother was a great storyteller. She had a natural gift for it.
I remember a picnic we had once: She and I, my sister, my father and a friend. It was a beautiful early summer day and we had come to see the racing at Goodwood in Sussex. I remember lounging on the woolen blanket we had spread out in my cotton summer dress, leather brown sandals and white socks as my grandmother told her stories. When she was on form, there was no one funnier. Oh how she made us laugh! And she was only talking about something that had happened to her the week before. Her tales were not light and fantastical, but grounded in the realities of being a widow in 1970s Britain: A person with a small income, who never learned to drive a car, and as a consequence had many interesting encounters at bus-stops.
But my grandmother’s storytelling abilities knew no boundaries. She would repeat her stories so many times she was no longer sure what was true. And when I realized that at the age of fifteen, I was scared. I wanted something to hold onto in my life. So I try to have it both ways, like controlling a chariot driven by two horses, with one hand on stories and the other on the truth.
Top image: My grandmother in 1975 at the age of eighty.
Bottom image: My grandmother as a young woman.
–Cynthia Haggard writes short stories, novels and poetry. During the day, she is a medical writer and has recently opened her own business. For more on her creative writing, go to spunstories. For more about her medical writing services, go to clarifyingconcepts. (c) 2008. All rights reserved.