made contact yesterday. It is the first time we have heard from him for some months. Long before that he was becoming increasingly difficult. Whenever my father made contact his brother would be ungracious to the point of rudeness. He refused to speak to me at all.
His personality has changed with failing eyesight and other health problems, including several small 'strokes'. Inside the family he has never been communicative. My father can never remember him visiting us. He rarely visited his parents. When he did it was only ever on specific invitation. That was not necessary. He would have been welcomed at any time. More than once I heard my grandfather say, "Come more often. You mother loves to see you here." It never happened. It meant his children did not see their grandparents as often as they would have wished.
We were much more fortunate. Although we lived in "the bush" during term time we would head back to the city from whichever remote area we were living in at least once a year. There would be six glorious weeks of summer holiday. The only difficulty was that we had to share between maternal and paternal grandparents. We children unreservedly preferred staying with our paternal grandparents.
We were not spoilt there. If anything, the reverse was true. Our maternal grandparents would offer sweets, visits to the pictures and the zoo, rides on the train and all manner of other things. There was even television at their place.
Our paternal grandparents offered something quite different. My paternal grandfather was mid-Victorian in many of his attitudes. My paternal grandmother expected assistance with household activities before we went off to play. When we did go it was usually to the beach. The beach was at the end of the street. We would go with a bucket, a spade and permission to go in the water as far as our ankles until we were six and our knees until we were eight and our waists thereafter.
My grandmother could not swim. My grandfather swam every morning of the year until he was 88 and in the summer thereafter. He was living in a nursing home for the last two years of his life and his eyesight was failing too but the nurses would see him across the road to the beach. He would take his morning dip in the ocean and then wait at the side of the road until a nurse or passer by saw him across the road again.
My grandfather taught me to swim with what can only be described as "abrupt patience". I was never very good but he was determined that all his grandchildren should, as the descendants of seafaring Scots, be able to swim. All his siblings could swim and did so regularly.
My uncle can swim. He used to spend hours on the beach. His skin would turn mahogany in summer and he was told he spent too much time in the sun. Now he rarely ventures out. He refuses assistance to go to the beach or to do anything else.
He wants my father to meet him for lunch at a small beachside eating place. As Dad no longer drives the car it means his younger mate will go with him. Dad is not looking forward to it, something which makes him feel guilty. He dislikes having to ask his mate to help out. If I drove I would take him and return for him. (My uncle does not want any female company.)
His mate was here yesterday. He had a question for my father,
"What if we take our swim gear and head for the beach afterwards? It should be warm enough."
My father has been searching in his wardrobe for his bathers.