When I was ten years old I was given the overwhelming task of compiling my very own poetry anthology for school. Immediately intimidated and admittedly out of my depth I turned to the one person I knew would be able to help; a woman of knowledge and guidance. My Granny Glen. A tiny woman full of words and never afraid to share them. Her hands, slightly tobacco stained, always turning the page of a book. My family always told me that my love of reading had come from my gran, that it had trickled its way down to me making us connected. She has always felt much more than a gran to me, she has been a friend, someone to admire and always someone who has understood me.
I told her of my impossible task and she calmly eased herself from her well worn chair and crossed the room towards her bookshelves. It occurs to me only now that I am not entirely sure if the walls in my gran’s house are covered with wallpaper or not because all I can picture are rows of rows of stacked books covering any glimpse of colour or pattern. Books squeezed together and on top of each other both horizontally and vertically in an image that now reflects my own shelves, like an antique mirror passed through generations. She carefully ran her fingers along the spines before extracting a small and timid book. The royal blue cover and neat printed capitals informed the reader that this unassuming book was in fact a Poetry Treasury. I have to admit that I was a little underwhelmed- how was a book this small supposed to help me with a task so large? I held the book delicately as if it were a small animal, careful not to scare it away but even in my small hands the book refused to grow. I clasped my fingers over the Treasury and headed outside to read.
Whenever I think of my gran it is impossible to not think of her house too. A small secluded cottage, each brick a part of my gran; the warmth of the fireplace in the living room that held the responsibility of heating the rest of the house, the smell of worn books well read, the old work top on the kitchen where I would climb on top, nose pressed on the glass desperately waiting to catch a glimpse of a rabbit or bird. My gran would let my cousins and I journey to the bottom of her road and play in the small burn there, running over the bridge excitedly, throwing sticks, stones and weeds into the water, dipping our toes and feeling the cold stream over us knowing that when we got back we could warm our feet by the fire whilst gran made us mugs of tea. Every second in that house felt like an adventure, like I had jumped into a page from one of my stories where I could fully be myself. People often assume that the Glen after Granny is her given name but rather she is named after where she lives; in a small wooded area called The Glen. Even her name is another brick in her cottage. My gran’s surroundings are an integral part of her, like overgrown ivy on a wall seeping in and filling cracks. They are always linked, a support for one another. Always reliant and forever associated, they are together even when they are not.
Next to my gran’s little cottage is a small forest that in my youth felt like a deep dark wood where fairy tale characters ran a mock as opposed to the reality of a smattering of trees and wild bushes. Although I was a loud and confident child, showcasing poetry and skits to anyone who would listen, I was always very aware that I wasn’t quite like my peers. I had friends with whom I climbed trees and made secret clubs, scrawling makeshift membership cards for the select chosen few, but my book loving nature made me an easy target for mocking. I found solitude in characters and far off worlds where I was safe and happy to be myself and these woods were my books come to life, adventure awaiting just round the corner of the next tree. Crunching through leaves and weaving through trees, I nonchalantly flicked through the pages- grazing on first lines before turning to the next. Then the page suddenly stopped and the first line moved to the second until I had devoured the whole poem. With my taste developing I read the poem again, this time aloud to my younger sister hoping that she too would acquire the taste. But the poem, so nutritious to me, was bland to the palette of a four year old. Nevertheless I had changed. This poem, this wonderful, exciting poem had turned a simple spring flower into every bouquet I had yet received in my life. Feelings of hope and anticipation had been planted inside me and my heart with pleasure filled and danced. I ran inside to show my Granny Glen my incredible discovery.
Scrambling at the door I couldn’t move quick enough. My index finger jammed in the book, crushed and stinging but desperately keeping my place. I burst into the living room, startling my gran. Still panting and with the sudden heat from the fire flushing my face, I opened the book and began to read. Two lines in, I hear her calming voice join me, and our voices melt into one. I couldn’t believe that she knew the poem too, the words so effortlessly floating from her and wrapping themselves around mine. I felt completely and utterly accepted. If having a vivid imagination and loving poetry made me like my gran then I no longer felt ashamed; I wandered lonely no more.
At a family party a few years ago, my gran, a little tipsy on red wine, pulled me and my then partner aside and proudly told him that she and I were the same. She cited our shared love of wine and cheese and then, pulling him closer, she whispered in slurs that it was our love of reading that really made us similar. She laughed and rejoined the party unaware that she had just given me the greatest compliment of my life. A year later my gran had a stroke. She survived but lost her ability to speak clearly. Some words come out and often in full sentences but mostly it’s just frustration. The frustration of a woman so defined by her words now unable to use them, of knowing what you want to say, preparing for the words to fall out and then nothing. She has the words inside of her just no way of getting to them, like a library on Sundays. When I look in her eyes, I can still see the same strong woman never afraid to share her opinion. I see words, so many words, spilling from books. And even though words are so rarely exchanged now, I know that we will always have the words printed between the royal blue covers of that Anthology.
We are together even when we are not.
Terri Cameron is a Scottish Au Pair currently living in Paris, France. She spends most of her free time reading, writing and getting lost in Paris. She is currently working on the book of an original musical. Find her on Twitter as @TerriDactyl.