I’ve tried to think of the best way to describe the last few weeks, and the best I can do is “different”. Earlier this year, my wife’s grandfather, Stan, passed away. He was 91 and had a short period of ill health before passing away at home with his family with him. When anyone passes away, it is sad and painful for those involved, but it was as good as it could have been.
Over the last few weeks the family have been helping clear out his home. It’s a big house in the depths of North Norfolk, surrounded by fields and within earshot of the coast. It’s far too big for his widow to keep clean and too secluded for her to be safe on her own. So she is in the process of downsizing. It is a house he quite literally built. The house was originally build by the Army to house the Medical Officer for the anti-aircraft training base but he significantly extended the building. The house, all contained within, and the surrounding area held many memories for four generations of his family.
I met Stan around 16 years ago when I was in my early 20’s. He was in his mid 70’s. He was probably fitter than I was. As a child, he grew up during the second world war, a time of ration and austerity. He embodied the values of wartime Britain. Resilient, resourceful and cheerful.
It was he who introduced me to growing my own food. His garden was massive and a good portion was set aside to keep him and his wife in fresh vegetables throughout the year. Every year he would grow tomato plants and leaks, and give these to me without expecting anything in return.
It was during those slow walks around the garden I heard stories of his national service in the RAF. He told me of times when he would cycle home from the base near Norwich (now the airport) in the snow and how he ran a small photographic company processing images for the soldiers at the Army base near where he lived, as well as the work he did in his local community from setting up their local football team to running their funeral home.
When he died at 91, he had not just made it to 91, he had lived every year he had and given back to those around him as much as he could, and probably more.
I was asked to start clearing out his garage. For many years it was a place of mystery with full shelves and classic equipment. It wasn’t until I started pulling out so many tools which spanned decades of DIY, that I realised how much this person, who was not directly related to me, had influenced my life and decision to spend time with my garden. Going through years of accumulated tools and equipment gave me a sense of the amount of time and skill he had put into giving his family a good life and home, but it was also a sad, there were items he had valued and stored carefully decades ago with the intention to return to them, but never did.
Once I had looked through the garage I laid out anything which was still working, and may have some financial value, for the family to look at and take anything they felt they could make use of. His widow was not going to be able to take it all with her to her new home. It could have been an uncomfortable grab for free stuff but, knowing Stan would have freely shared any of the tools with us, I felt the things we took and would make use of was more respectful than resigning everything to a dump or auction house.
So I am pleased to be able to give a home to old gardening tools which have been used in making a beautiful home, and I can now put to use doing the same. Each time I use these tools, I can remember a man who became a big part of and influence on my life.