“Are you hurt, Grandpa?”
I remember that question well. You were just a little girl, Angie – although you prefer Angela now. You were four, or five, maybe even six. Perhaps a little bit older, but a long time ago. I can’t recall exactly but I do remember your face.
You were upset because scars can be painful and you didn’t want me to be hurt. You didn’t want anyone to ever be hurt. You’ve always been kind. Everyone said so, from when you were little right through school and beyond. That round face with those big blue eyes has stayed with me all these years.
A lot has changed since then. You’ve grown up and don’t ask those kinds of questions anymore. It broke my heart when, during your teens, you stopped wanting to spend as much time with us, even though I knew it would happen.
It might have only been for a few years, but I felt like I missed so much. When you started visiting more, I don’t think you realise how much it meant to your Gran and I.
Then life started to get in the way, as it always does when we get older, so you couldn’t visit as much but you found a way to keep in touch anyway. Sometimes it was a letter, other times a phone call. You taught us about e-mail, Facebook, the tweeting one – the one I can never remember the name of – and the rest, even if I still don’t completely understand them.
That question, about the scars, is one of my favourites. We tell the story at least once a year. You didn’t understand, at first, why it made everyone laugh but you were always smiling when everyone was happy. As a teenager you hated it, and thought we were making fun of you, but now, if you’re there, you correct me on some of the details – and that makes it even funnier.
The truth is, Angie – you’ll always be our little Angie to me – I wasn’t completely honest with you that day.
I told you they weren’t scars, when you grabbed my hand and turned it over and over again, tracing your finger over each wrinkle you could find. Wrinkles come with time and age. The world seems obsessed with looking younger, so they try and sell you everything they can to prevent and cover wrinkles. Absolute tripe, if you ask me.
You see, Angie, wrinkles are evidence of a life lived, the good and the bad. They’re proof of everything you’ve done, and all that you’ve survived. In a way, they’re like battle scars.
Yes, that seems like a fitting description. We’ve weathered the storm and come out the other end stronger, but it left its mark. Each wrinkle has a story to tell, if you think about it. When did each line appear, and what did you do to earn it? It doesn’t always have to be something bad. Laughter causes wrinkles too, and God knows I’ve laughed a lot in my life.
I told you the wrinkles were proof of my wisdom and knowledge and laughed when you turned your nose up at the idea. You told me you’d never, ever, ever, ever have wrinkles!
“Stop laughing, Grandpa!” you would say whenever I laughed at one of your declarations. I’d even say it was your catchphrase, although you would always climb onto my knee afterwards for a hug. You never did like telling people off.
I didn’t lie, but there’s something I didn’t tell you back then. You were too young to understand the meaning behind the wrinkles, and I didn’t know how to explain it. While I still have the chance, I want to try and find the words, now.
We all go through challenges, and there are times when we ask if we’re strong enough to make it through. This is all a part of growing up, but it never ends, not really. Even I’m still learning and growing – and I’m a lot older than you! You handled adversity a lot better than I did at your age, and that made me so proud. No, it still makes me proud.
When you asked that question, all those years ago, I decided to do something. I wanted you to have something to remember me by when I’m – more than just a photo or a piece of jewellery.
You always liked my stories and listened carefully to every single one with those big, wide eyes. You asked questions I had never even thought of. I started making a map of these wrinkles and the stories that came with them, just for you.
Do you remember Ben? You met him a couple of times when you were young. Ask Gran for a picture if you don’t. He died when you were about ten but you always liked him because he let you have an extra biscuit (after the extra biscuit that I gave you, after the one Gran gave you, which was after the original one that your parents let you have). You didn’t understand why he stopped visiting.
He was also the first person I told about the wrinkles question. He laughed so hard that beer came out of his nose! Everyone in the pub turned and, for a few moments, everyone was happy and laughing.
You caused that, Angie, with your innocence and curiosity. It’s the gift you gave us – and keep giving us.
We’d always told stories, sharing our memories with friends and family. We lived those years and it was nice to relive those stories with each other. That night marked a change.
We started bringing photos from our younger days. You know the ones; the black and white pictures that Gran liked to look at with you. Our stories started taking new lives as we looked at our appearances from those days and talking about what had changed.
Those photos aren’t like the ones you have today. They weren’t taken with a digital something-or-other camera or those so-called smartphones the kids never put down. Gran’s photos look more like pieces of art. I can see that I used to have more hair than I do now, and it wasn’t always grey! I didn’t have a beard back then either, but you can see the first wrinkles appearing.
Sometimes your Gran would join me on the nights where we’d tell our stories – and you know she was never much of a drinker. It was a way to remember our past and relearn more about the world we used to live in. For a while, we become those youngsters again. I even got my old suit out, the one that I met your Gran in – although it’s definitely a lot tighter than it used to be!
That all started because of you, and while it was always a great story for the family to enjoy, I want you to know how much of an impact it had on so many people. Yes, it was funny but it renewed our love of the past, of history, of our long-lasting friendships.
It’s so easy to get swept up in the changing world of technology, and internet, and social gadget-app-things. Sometimes it’s good to just stop, breathe, and take in the world around you.
Sometimes, taking our time means we see things we’d normally miss or forget about. Sometimes…holding on to what we love makes everything a little easier.
When I told your Gran I wanted to do this, she laughed and said I never would. Apparently I’d forget, or it would be on that list of things I never finished. You know how much I hate it when she’s right – don’t tell her I said that…
Especially don’t let her find out I’ve written it down. I’ve heard doing that makes it true – so she must never know!
All of this helped me write this book for you. It was the perfect idea; some pictures of me then and now, and the stories I‘ve collected. You were a little girl when I started, and now you’re all grown up. I saved this one for last, even though it’ll be the first one you read. I have more wrinkles now than I did then, more battle scars to prove a life lived, but they’re worth it.
So, this is my gift to you, Angie.
This book is full of all the stories I’ve told you – and many more I’ll never get the chance to. Each one has a line, a wrinkle, a battle scar, to remind me of what happened and now they’ll do the same for you.
There are photos of my hands, arms and face over the years, from when you asked the question until I went into hospital – because hospital stories aren’t as much fun to tell – so you can always remember which story is behind what wrinkle.
And I wanted to start with this one because I know how much it will embarrass you, but it’s also my favourite. The characters I’ve met, the places I’ve been, the mistakes I’ve made – even meeting your Gran – it’s all in here, and more.
From the first moment I held you, I fell in love all over again. All I’ve ever wanted to do is keep you safe, but that wouldn’t have let you grow into the fantastic young woman you are today. It broke my heart every time you were upset but I’m glad you knew I was there when you needed a shoulder to cry on, some advice or just to chat about what was going on.
I know you’ll be sad for a while and I won’t ask you not to be. Cry until you run out of tears, laugh at all the bad jokes I’ve told and then come back to this book and pick your favourite stories. Later on, you’ll remember your own stories, and then live through even more. By then, you might have children or grandchildren of your own and you can pass them on as I did to you.
Your battle scars hold the key to your own life, which, as I’ve always told you, is one great story made up of many little adventures.
Don’t be afraid to collect your wrinkles. Take a photograph today and start writing them down, so when your children ask you can tell them where each one came from. You can show them that living life is more important than looking young forever, because no matter what happens, you can’t beat the clock.
Every wrinkle I have, every scar, every story, is proof of the things I’ve done and seen, the people I’ve met. I wouldn’t change them for anything, and if I could add a few more, I would.
This story, like mine, is coming to an end, but it’s only the beginning of a new adventure, the next tale – I’m going to run out of space for new wrinkles soon! That’s why I did this now, while I still had time.
Some of these stories are sad, and some difficult. More are happy and exciting while there are a few which are dark and angry. I want you to know them all, to remember me properly.
I’ve always been proud of you, and I wish I could see how the rest of your life unfolds, but I’m confident that you’ll make the most of it. Through these stories, we’ll be closer than ever, even when I’m not with you. I hope they don’t change how you remember me, but I want you to know everything that I couldn’t tell you before.
Because, in the end, Angie, no one lives forever.
This story uses the letter format, and I wondered how I could convey so many feelings on a personal level. I found it difficult to connect to Angie, as all we know about her comes from Grandpa’s words. It took a long time to for me to feel confident that I had given the reader a real sense of who she is, even if it’s not a full picture – but given this is a letter to her, finding that balance between informing the reader and holding onto that personal relationship was one of the most of the most important things for me.
I’m happy with how it turned out, even though I hope in the future to do this better if the situations calls for it.