”Grandparents are a delightful blend of laughter, caring deeds, wonderful stories and Love.”
I often sit down with my grandmother and talk. The conversation often drifts to snippets of her past and they have always left me taken a back by the strength of that generation. I wanted to share some of that story.
My grandfather, she tells me, was a very hard working man. He would get job opportunities abroad, embrace them, learn from them and make an honest living. One of these jobs was in Kuwait and another for Saudi Aramco. Through these various jobs he earned his living and learnt English. He moved back to Pakistan and married my grandmother. She moved into their family home.
My grandfathers family all lived together. The mother and father in one room and there were 2 rooms for each of the 3 sons and their families. My grandfather was the second eldest son. You’d think that the dynamics of this living arrangement would have caused many rows and family politics but she talks about these days as one of the happiest times of her life. Everyone loved each other, everyone helped each other and life was beautiful. She recalls once her son came home from school, on his horse and cart ride, with wet trousers. Her eldest sister in law changed and washed him before taking him to his mother. Everyone treated all the children as their own. Everyone respected each other, there was never any competition because all their husband were working hard and everyone was doing their bit.
In 1960 my grandfather moved to London to set up his business. From there he moved to Manchester and settled there calling my grandmother and her 4 young children to join him in 1965. This was during the Indo-Pakistan war of 1965 and my grandmother recalls the trenches outside their house in Pakistan that the family would have to seek shelter in when the Indian planes flew overhead. She left Pakistan on the last flight to leave the country before they stopped the flights altogether due to the war. She arrived in a foreign land with 4 young children with hope and aspirations for a better and brighter future.
They bought a small house in North Manchester where she recalls bathing her 4 children one by one in their small bathroom. A memory that came to her having just watched me usher my 3 children in and out of the shower. One of those children was indeed my mother, someone to me who was always an adult but remains a small child in the memory of my grandmother. My grandfather earned his living through his market stall. My grandmother would often help out at the stall and their business of selling hosiery and knitwear grew. They went on to buy another couple of stalls. They owned a small van and as their business grew they bought a bigger van she tells me with pride. In this van, with their close friends ‘The Baig’s’ they would often go on day trips and mini holidays. We went everywhere, she says, the children were similar in age and everyone enjoyed themselves. I can imagine there being lots of fun and laughter. She recalls these memories with a big smile making me think this was probably one of the happier times of her life.
However things weren’t to stay bright for long. My grandfather developed a heart condition around about 1972. He was very unwell for the next 5 years which inevitably caused stress on the family. My grandmother would work very hard at these times. It was very difficult but she remembers that despite being very unwell my grandfather would help as often as he could. She recalls once organising and mending hosiery and my grandfather could see she was working hard and insisted on making the evening meal. A small gesture that many many years ago is still alive in her heart.
My grandfather’s illness sadly worsened and he passed away in November 1977. He had an appointment for heart surgery at the hospital in December 1977, just one month later, but it was not meant to be. My grandfather passed away at the tender age of 50 years old and my grandmother was a widow at 45. To loose a husband, the breadwinner, the backbone of the family is hard for anyone, but to loose him in a foreign land with no family around must have been even harder. My grandmother’s life fell apart. The first few days after the funeral she said the house poured with guests. My grandfather was a very respected man. But as everyone left and went back to their own lives it dawned on her she was alone. I asked her whether she was helped by the community. No one helped me but nor did I ever ask anyone for any help, she replied. You can tell that she was a proud lady.
Her family back in Pakistan told her to come home so they could help look after her and the family. Why didn’t she go, I asked. At the time they had staying with them a nephew of my grandfather. His name was Arshad. He was in university at the time. He was a lovely young man and my grandmother speaks of him fondly. He advised her to stay in England. The political climate was better and more stable in England. So here she remained. I couldn’t help thinking had she not remained I probably wouldn’t have been born here and how my life would have been so different.
So began the upward struggle of rebuilding her shattered life. She worked for a factory, she worked hard and tirelessly mending clothes, sorting hosiery and other manual labour jobs needed in the factory. She could work from home so often did this in the evenings or when the children were at school. She would get a meagre £30 from the government to help her and the rest was her income from the factory. Nonetheless she strived for her living for the next few years. She saved and she spent wisely and managed to accumulate some money. In 1982 she sold her house in North Manchester, took out a loan from the bank and bought a grocery store. She did this in order to provide some long term stability for the family. It did. Her eldest son married in the same year and the store became the income of her eldest son and his family for the next 15 years. Her eldest daughter (my mother) had married by this time and her younger daughter and son were married soon after and things finally started to settle down.
My gran continued to organise the finances and ensured the mortgage of the shop was paid off within 10-15years. This shop symbolised her achievement and her hard work. It was something she gave to the family to secure their future and she did it primarily on her own.
My grandmother is now 81 years old. 36 years have passed but she recalls these memories like they happened yesterday. A gentle tear runs down her cheek as she remembers her husband. They must have had a wonderful relationship. She constantly says she wishes upon no one the struggles she endured and that she’s thankful that that period of her life is over. The shop she bought has now recently been sold and I can now understand why she was so reluctant to sell it. To her it was so much more than a shop. It symbolised her hard work, her struggles and her achievement.
She tells me of her nephew Arshad completed his degree and went on to become successful. His mother passed away and he moved to Pakistan and bought a nice house for his wife and children. He worked hard and sent one of those children back to Oxford university to study.
She tells me how she keeps in touch with her late husbands family and is still respected by them. She says proudly that he was a well respected man and her family friends were of high status and importance. The respect she has for him to this day is still apparent. Ask your mother how he treated me, she tells me. Ask her what our relationship was like and how we were as a couple. But I don’t need to, you can see it in her eyes. She still loves my grandfather 36 years later and its beautiful to see.
We talk about general relationships today and how that closeness and mutual respect doesn’t remain. We talk about how the world is different now and expectations have changed. She tells me the most important people you will have is your family and to look after them.
My grandmother doesn’t go out very much now. She says she’s had a lifetimes worth of fun and amusement. She now spends her twilight years reading, watching TV and just taking it easy. She holds onto memories and times where she was happiest and those memories give her strength and keep her going.
You often think of your elder relatives as simply wiser members of the family that you ought to love and respect. But its only when you talk to them and hear their story do you understand why that love and respect is so well deserved.
If you’re lucky enough to still have grandparents, visit them, cherish them.