This year I was lucky enough to be taken on an amazing trip around Canada and Alaska for 3 weeks with my Nanna and my Mum. This is what I learnt.
- As I’ve grown older I feel an overwhelming desire and responsibility to protect my Nanna as she protected me when I was a child. My Nan is 84 years old, hits the gym 3 times a week and showed everyone how zip-lining was done through Whistler’s mountains, but I still found myself watching her step and reaching for her hand as she unloaded the coach. Although, no matter what my age a hug from my Nanna will always take me back to the time my hand fit nearly onto her soft palm, and her rosy perfume clung to my blonde curls.
- I learnt that traveling with me keeps my Nan young. From taking her on ghost tours through the rumoured haunted hotel, to doing the chicken dance with her in an empty ballroom, I have her giggling “like a school girl.” I can safely say she knows who Beyoncé is because of me.
- Family secrets and past lives are revealed. I always pictured my Nan as only the angelic, English woman who fed me boiled sweets and taught me tricks on the trampoline, until I read her life story a few months ago. Her stories shocked me, as I was yet to even hear a swear word pass her lipsticked lips.
She was a woman before her time – well educated and ambitious. As I urged her to tell me tales of her life on our trip, she revealed nights of dancing with “fetching” Denmark men, how she fell in love with my Grandpa, and how she fell out of love with him. As we strolled through the trails of Banff, arms linked and breathing in the scent of pine, I questioned her on experiences of the war and an abusive older brother. These are moments I will treasure forever, and stories that your own grandparents are desperate to tell you if you take the time to listen (and throw in a glass of wine, or two).
- You learn who your grandparents were before they were just your grandparents. They have had amazing lives and careers that most of us are completely unaware of. My Nan grew up in a time that I have only seen featured in films, under threat of bombing, and when love letters were delivered into a letterbox not an inbox. She was clever, cheeky and classy. A dancer, a singer, and a thrill-seeker. She worked with the deaf and the blind, and was a pioneer in her field at a time when women were only just beginning to infiltrate male-dominated work places.
- And she is that same young girl. Just with a pension and sun spots. She has been known to still crash Bollywood weddings in Banff.
- They get to really know you. For the first time my Nan saw me tipsy (and on cold and flu medication) and kept gasping at how she had never been me so “silly”, as I tried to teach her how to dance to Single Ladies. They see you, flaws and all – the flaws you are usually able to hide at family get togethers.
- It is hard to watch someone you love get older. As a kid I struggled to keep up with my active Nan, as she took me bush walking behind her house, on a search for blue tongue lizards. But now, I have to slow my step to walk at her pace. It can be frustrating, and it is scary to consider their mortality. But even though my Nan’s hearing has deteriorated, her heart remains young. And she will out dance you any night of the week.
- I learnt that there is a much larger generational gap between my Mum and my Nan, than my Mum and I, that didn’t allow them to have the same close relationship that my own Mum and I have. Things were different back then, and parents weren’t allowed to be your friend. Today, we are much more honest. I am probably a bit too honest for my Nan’s liking, but at least we can be real.
- It may be cliché, but grandparents really do hold an immensity of wisdom that can only be learnt over a lifetime. My Nan knows she has made mistakes; in her marriage, in her parenting, in her single life. Over Baileys and a decadent brownie Nan told me all the problems in her marriage could have been resolved if they had of had maturity. She also said to travel young, always wear layers, and pack a pair of fresh knickers in your backpack.
- You will create new memories. Traveling for 22 days through two countries, 6 hotels, and countless cities will always be time I will cherish. I know not many people can say they get that opportunity, and I hope I took every chance to hear her stories, hold her soft hand and try to piece together her life in an era I only learnt about in school.
You are never too old to become younger” – Mae West