Today marks the 10th anniversary since the passing of William Steele, my Granda. At the time, ahead of his funeral, my mother asked me if there was anything I would like to contribute to the eulogy at his funeral & I declined. My feelings then were that my memories of my Granda were mine & I didn’t feel like sharing them. I still feel a little like that now & I’ve never wanted to talk about him with my family or with anyone who knew him. I don’t think I ever will. I think that I don’t want anyone else’s point of view of him. He was my Granda & I want my memories of him to stay exactly as they are. However, it feels important to me to mark the anniversary of his death & so I wanted to write down & share some of those memories. I still think about him all the time, I still miss him.
Mostly my Granda came to ours for Sunday dinner every other week. He would always bring me sweets (I always think of my Granda when I spot a Lion Bar in a shop – that was a favourite for a while) & he would never leave without giving me a few quid even though on a state pension I’m not sure he could always afford it. I don’t think he ever tired of reciting his funny songs & rhymes about wee short shirts & Jeannie Beastie. He liked to joke, he liked to make me laugh & he’d make himself laugh – a hoarse, throaty laugh that was all his own. We’d have Sunday dinner, we’d watch Scotsport & then I’d be bored to tears as we watched Sunday evening TV – Antiques Roadshow & Last Of The Summer Wine mostly. There are so many things in life that we miss as time passes & would love to do over again but I’d give anything to have one more of those Sundays.
My Granda used to look after me from time to time, particularly during school holidays, & my dad’s Uncle James lived with him for a while. I remember a couple of days out they took me on very fondly, one was to the ABC cinema to see Star Trek 2: The Wrath Of Khan (because of this it will forever remain one of my favourite films) & the other was to catch minnows in jam jars at Victoria Park. The second one sticks in the mind because catching minnows was not what I was led to believe was the reason for going out that day. The two of them had mischievously convinced me that there was a street entirely made of chocolate in Glasgow & they were taking me to see it. I was about 6 at the time & although I think I remember being initially sceptical by the time I got in the car to go see it I had fully bought into it. There was no street of chocolate.
My Granda had a fair bit of mischief & devilment in him. He loved music & he loved to play it loud in his 11th floor flat. He was a sucker for a sentimental ballad & he loved listening to Daniel O’Donnell & the like. He loved songs that told a story & from that he loved Irish Rebel songs despite nominally being from the other side of that divide. I often wonder what some of his neighbours thought of his song choices played at ear-splitting volume given that his 11th floor flat was in Ibrox only a few hundred yards from the stadium. Another example of mischief would be the time we fired matchsticks from an air pistol at pigeons from the 11th floor. I’m relieved to say we didn’t hit any.
He was an inherently decent & morale man. He had a soft spot for waifs & strays. I think he would have offered his help to anyone he thought might need it. Similarly I remember Chi-Chi the cat, literally a stray I think he found wondering outside his flats. I know that the UK was declared rabies-free over a hundred years ago but that cat was about as close to rabid as it’s possible to be. My Granda, however, chose to take it in & look after it. Mostly it was fine, as long as you kept your distance. I probably shouldn’t say that he’d occasionally entertain me by telling me it was a flying cat & throwing it across the room but there we are, it was a different time.
It always amused me that he never liked Edinburgh. He saw it as unlucky. I think this was because every time he’d driven to Edinburgh his car had broken down. He came out with us for a day out to Edinburgh once. First we got lost & had to stop & ask for directions. My Granda rolled down the window to ask someone who, naturally, was foreign & had less idea than us but I think that moment sticks in my mind because I don’t think in the short exchange the passer-by seemed any more foreign than my Granda, resolutely Glaswegian & sort of appeared to me a duck out of water whenever he crossed the city lines. Then on the way home, of course, we broke down.
One of my favourite memories was when I was older, my 22nd birthday I think, I was working on Sauchiehall St, unexpected my Granda came in to the shop with a card & a present for me. He’d done that sort of thing before, travelling through by bus to ours unannounced for birthdays, but I was still a bit surprised & really chuffed. I was grown up, I didn’t expect any special attention but there he was. That sums up how he made me feel I suppose. As his grandson I always felt like I was the most important person in the world to him. When I was a teenager, I’d go out more on a Sunday when he was there or I’d spend more time in my room & less time with him & the rest of my family but I always felt he would be there anyway, regardless. He made me feel special & I really miss that. If anyone wonders why I have no great regard for my birthday anymore then that is why – the last person to think that it was important, that it mattered, was my Granda & without him it means less to me. I mostly feel the same about Christmas. It still means something because of Wills & I enjoy that but right through my 20s whenever anyone asked if I was looking forward to Christmas my automatic reply was “I’m looking forward to seeing my Granda” because he came to ours for Christmas every year. Again, without him, there’s always been something missing for me. Same goes for New Year. He’d come with my aunt & my cousins every year to be our first foot. If they arrived too early they’d sit in the car park until after the bells before coming in. He was the best first foot.
There are lots of little things I remember.
He loved a bet, horses & dogs. Rarely referred to the bookies shop, it was always “the club”. He used to walk a greyhound. It won a big race at Ashfield & my Granda gave me the winners’ dog jacket he got for winning. I don’t know where that jacket is now but I hope it’s somewhere hidden away at my parents. He’d never buy a lottery ticket though – he wasn’t impressed with the payout compared to the odds.
He hated waste. He’d never leave any food on his plate. He’d pick up things like old hoovers that were dumped in the street in case anyone could get some use out of them. I remember he painted our back doorstep red because he had some paint left in a pot. It looked odd but I loved it – one day I will paint my doorstep red.
I was never certain whether he genuinely did it on purpose or not but there was a spell where he always seemed to wear a royal blue jumper when he visited. He said he wore it just for me, to wind me up because I was a Celtic fan. I think he probably paid more attention to football just so he could talk to me about it. When his flats got free access in satellite tv’s early days, and before the Internet, he’d phone up to see if I wanted a Celtic game recorded.
He always looked great in photographs. Whenever anyone pointed a camera he’d just say “Yes” & the picture would turn out with him & a great smile. I wish I had inherited that talent.
He’d always go out to get the first edition of tomorrow’s paper the night before. I don’t think I ever knew why, just his routine I guess but it’s a quirk that makes me smile now. As did his habit of buttering rolls on the bottom without cutting them open – his reasoning was the ingredients were the same so it made no difference where the butter was. And he swore by washing his hair with washing up liquid – as far as he was concerned it was all just soap. Perhaps he had a point because as far as I remember he only really started to get some grey hair in the last year of his life. He thought he had a scam going with the insurance companies, those free Parker pens they gave away when you rang up for a quote – he almost had as many of them as he had bookies pens! Sent to him but addressed to his many aliases, Misters Peele, Keele, Teele, Beele, Neele, etc. And he wrote poetry (with those sneakily acquired pens I’d have thought) under the magnificent nom de plume of Rab The Ranter.
I suppose it was what would be described as a short illness before he died. The first signs I remember were on Christmas Day the year before. He complained that he had a bad back & he obviously wasn’t quite himself. He went to the doctor’s & was admitted to hospital shortly after. They didn’t know what was wrong with him at first. I’m fairly sure he was on the orthopaedic ward. I remember him telling me about some poor souls that he’d seen on the ward & saying to him “that’s not you” & he wasn’t as poorly as them. Soon after we found out he was. He had cancer & it was already too far gone.
My parents were amazing looking after him in those last few months. They both took extended leave from work & did everything they possibly could for him. Naturally it was horrible to see him so ill. Whenever I visited him he did his best to be his old self but sometimes he was just too tired or in too much pain. One of the last times I saw him was my birthday. He had written my birthday card himself although I know that would have been difficult for him. I still treasure that card.
The last time I saw him was at the hospice. He was asleep & I could see that he didn’t have long left. He wouldn’t have known I was there. I’ve always regretted that I never spoke to him. I wish I’d told him I love him. I think he knew. I hope he knew. He died early the next morning.
I grew up with the best grandparents anyone could wish for. I had my Granda on my dad’s side plus I had my Gran, Granda, Great Gran & Great Granda on my mum’s side (I even have feint memories of my other great grandparents on my mum’s side). They were all still around until I was an adult. They were all amazing. I should feel lucky. Of course, me being me, I don’t. I feel cheated. My Granda Steele was 78, my Granda Barrie died a few years later, he was 79. My Great Grandparents both lived into their 90s. I feel like I was cheated out of about a dozen years with each of my Grandas. Not to mention my Gran Steele who died before I was 2. I know I’m not alone, we all have loved ones we’ve lost. We all have to deal with grief. Life goes on as they say. I was lucky. My life was richer for having known them even though it’s poorer for their loss.
It took me a long time to deal with my Granda dying. I’m not sure we ever fully come to terms with the loss of someone that means so much. The feeling is always there. “Imagine” by John Lennon was played at his funeral, I’ve never been able to listen to it since. It saddens me that he never got to meet his great grandson. They would have loved each other to pieces. It was very important to me that my boy shared his name.
10 years. It’s hard to believe it has been so long. I wish there was something more profound I could say but really all I have is I love him & I miss him. He really was the loveliest man you could hope to meet. Kind, gentle & unassuming. He’s in my thoughts today.
Love you Granda. Sleep well.