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Daffodils

These are the daffodils outside my grandmother’s house. She died a little more than a week ago now and my wife and I went north, to Yorkshire, for her funeral last week. Stories were told and memories shared, all of which helped soften our loss a little.

The most familiar recollections were of my Gran’s eccentric side.

She was in service in Bradford during the war, and we often asked her to retell our favourite story of her hearing the air raid sirens and rushing the household downstairs into the shelter, only to discover that she’d slept through the bombing and woken everyone up for the all clear.

After working hard in various jobs from a very young age, she threw herself into a well-earned retirement in 1988. She took up gardening, teaching herself to mix cement in order to build herself a summerhouse in garden of her council house (which we subsequently bought). Gran was not one to wait for an expert to arrive.

It transformed her life, and was typical of her spirit. She refused to be idle, and had tremendous faith in people, including my brothers and me who used to spend entire summers with her as children.

Then about ten years ago my grandparents left their house in Bradford, for the village of Gargrave, near Skipton. It was easier to get around in a small village, which is on the edge of the National Park, surrounded by breath taking scenery. But it meant giving up her cherished garden.

My Gran refused to dwell on losing it. Instead she set about, well, “reclaiming” one.

Immediately outside her front door, covered in gravel, was a scrap of land the size of a small car. She set about transforming this unused plot into her brand new garden.

She couldn’t put turf down so instead she collected little trinkets and ornaments, anything she could find, to create a tiny garden that became one of the most popular stops on the Gargrave Open Gardens day, held every summer. It had on it everything from pot plants, to model aeroplanes, old scrap iron, to wind vanes. Neighbourhood kids loved it, as did my own son. There was always something new to find each time you looked.

But never idle my Gran couldn’t stop there.

Beyond this bit of land was a stone wall, and a small field that runs alongside the river Aire, mown every couple of weeks by the Council. My Gran thought the verges could look better. So she set about improving them.

The result was a fresh rows of daffodils that any passer-by would assume were provided from some civic budget, not the eager green fingers (and small pension) of an old lady who missed her garden.

She did have some help. Recovering from her second stroke aged 90 (her first, misdiagnosed as polio, was when aged 4), she could no longer use her one good hand to dig holes with a trowel, so she asked her neighbour to dig while she gave directions. Such was her popularity that no-one ever minded. The result was the daffodils in the picture at the top of this page.

So it was hardly surprising that after a long drive north on Wednesday my wife and I joined so many people from the village who had come to pay their respects.

It was sad of course, but also an occasion filled with warmth for a woman who inspired our whole family, and a few other people along the way. All of us treasure the memories she left us, and will do each time we see daffodils.

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