Here we were, bringing all our Christmas emotions to London. So, how did my poor mother fare? Well, luckily she and her twin sister Ela were too busy to notice much. This is because they were looking after their mother, Wanda, Wandu, Baba, Babciu, Mama. Different names for the same capricious, stubborn and rascally ninety-one year-old lady.
‘If you take her puffer jacket on,’ Jack said, glancing up at her, ‘she’s close to disappearing. There’s nothing left to her.’
He’s right. Having not seen her for a year, the difference in my grandmother is dramatic. It is like someone’s been pressing the shrinking button. Has her mind shrunk along with her physical self though? Well, although still very politically-minded, Wanda’s not interested anymore in times and dates. This means she follows her own routine. In her nightgown all day long, crossword puzzles until 3am. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not judging her. I’m writing this now and it’s late at night. Time for her is just no longer the box where you put things in and constrain stuff.
My mother bemoans this change though. ‘I tell her to write things down on her calendar, and still my mother doesn’t remember what is going to happen in the next hour!’
When she says this, I watch her eyes roll back in her head like a shark. My mother bemoans most things her own mother does. And my aunt is right next to her on this. Really these twins make up a shiver of sharks when it comes to my grandma; really magnificent, silvery, rolly-eye ones.
I do understand their cartilaginous attitude. I used to believe everything my grandmother told me. I listened to every single thing she said. Her words were never said forcefully. Opinion was delivered by seeming afterthought. Boy, was I stupid. This lady is firmly in control. Which is why her seventy year-old daughters are still using bemoaning as standard, sharky, rebel charge. Those twins. God bless the ones who don’t stand a chance.
My grandma wants to go home to Poland. Even though she spent years in English-speaking countries, she never learned the language. She obviously did the calculation all those years ago: if she’d learned English, she’d have had to stay. And my grandmother loves her country more than she loves her family. Is this wrong? Hmmm. Two willing daughters to look after her in their comfortable homes… with no husbands to bother anyone and houses next door to one another. You see how the picture starts to change?
Since her last trip to London, the twins bought a Polish TV streaming box for their mother. It wasn’t cheap and they waited, nails tapping for it to be delivered from Latvia. Then just before New Year’s Eve, the postman delivered. Ela called her Polish neighbour and he instantly came round to install it onto their TV.
‘Come Mama!’ my mum called out to my grandma after the neighbour had pressed some buttons. ‘Come and see your new Christmas present.’
My grandma used her Nordic walking sticks to slowly stand up. She faltered from my mum’s little conservatory into the living room. As she approached, the neighbour kissed her hand, genteel protocol and began to run through the channels on the TV. He kept talking to Wanda in rapid fire Polish. He talked for so long the rest of us gave up and hid in the other room. My grandma however, made solid conversation until he thankfully left, taking the chocolates my mum thrust into his hand. His wife had obviously had too long to herself in a silent room.
The next day, Wanda chatted with a friend back in Poland. ‘Yes,’ she exclaimed down the phone receiver, ‘it has been nice staying here. My daughters have even rented Polish TV from a German man.’
Ela, who happened to be walking by, stopped. She frowned at her mother. ‘A German man? You talked to him for hours in Polish. And you know perfectly well that we bought the TV box for you as a Christmas present. It is not a rental.’
Wanda shrugged in response. Ha! My eyes narrowed. It was like catching a mermaid in a fishing net. Finding a unicorn in a herd full of horses. The canniest whatever shrug I’d ever seen. Planning her way back home.