Today has not been an easy day for me for the past 12 years. My grandfather, Terrence Barton Kelly, was a great man.
I can remember it is clearly as if it were yesterday. I had just started my third year at Reading University and had moved into a house my friends and I had found towards the end of the first term together with my great friend Laura, Mel who was in some of the classes I attended for my geography degree. We’d had to advertise as there were more rooms in the house than we needed, and so we ended up with two more flatmates: Annabel and Marlisa.
On the day I found out I’d never see my grandfather again, I’d had a busy day with classes and was relaxing in my room, which was thankfully on the ground floor and was tastefully painted a pale yellow with pale wood IKEA furniture. For once, we had a great landlord who had bothered to make the place look cosy ( far from the place I was in in my second year, also with Mel Laura and two of Mel’s friends). We were all really busy with various things as well as getting through the mountains of work that each of our degrees provided us with, but we always found time to relax. On this day, I clearly remember that Marlisa and Annabel were in the lounge next to my room which was where the phone was . I had some music on so I didn’t really hear it ringing, and so was surprised when Annabel came in to my bedroom with the phone in her hand and told me someone wanted to speak to me.My surprise was because hardly anyone spoke hardly anyone apart from family phoned to speak to me doing my time at university. I answered the phone and that person was my Gran, Patricia Kelly.
I can remember that after we said hello to each other,the conversation went smoothly until I asked how my grandad (or Pa as us grandchildren affectionately called him) was doing. That was when my usually very chatty Gran went quiet and said he was in hospital. I had that funny feeling that my stomach was not connected to the rest of my body as it plummeted like it always used to do when my mum drove her car over Appleford Bridge, which was humpbacked.
Hospital visits had already been a norm for my grandad for years, ever since he tripped and fell on the stairs at my grandparents’ home a few years previously. He was a very keen golfer and had gone upstairs to get his golf clubs. Since that time though, he had been diagnosed with Peripheral Neuropathy, nerve damage which affected his balance and mobility. From that point on, he had to use a walker, walking stick and wheelchair. His health was further complicated by colon cancer. I never lost my affection for him at any point, and so, just like the rest of the family, was really shocked by this, let alone what my Gran was about to tell me on the phone.
As I listened to her, I can remember all sorts of scenarios going through my head and I am usually a very positive person and also take things in my stride when I receive a response I wasn’t expecting. Unfortunately,this time it was a response I wasn’t expecting. My Gran told me that on top of his other health problems, my grandad had suffered a stroke and had been taken to hospital where he was not very well attended. I can remember asking her whether she was going to go and see him and she said that it was too late and told me that he passed away. I broke down and the tears began to fall.We ended the call and I immediately called my mum. There was part of me that didn’t believe what I was hearing until she confirmed it and then grief and sorrow came down on me like a ton of rocks from a landslide. At that moment, nothing mattered to me and as soon as I got off the phone my housemates were consoling me and hugging me.
That was how, on 15 October 2003, I lost a really important person in my life. This day was, and is, still especially significant for me because it is also my grandparents’ anniversary. After that call, it was like my body went into overdrive: I made the decision to leave my friends and the house I was living in and go back to my parents house for the remainder of my degree course but I would commute to university for lectures. This turned out to be the best plan of action for me really because I just wanted to give up my degree but I couldn’t stand the thought of giving up all those years of study when I’d purposefully transferred from Swansea University to Reading with the conviction that I was going to get a degree at Reading. I knew I’d not only be letting myself down, but also be letting my grandfather down because I could imagine how proud he would be of me if he knew that I’d managed to get my degree.
I spent months travelling between Reading, Wallingford in Oxfordshire (where my family home was) and Gerrards Cross in Buckinghamshire where my Gran lived as I needed to be there for my family. Wallingford and Reading were about 25 minutes to half an hour away from each other and Gerrards Cross was a 40 minute drive from Wallingford, cross- country and then on the motorway.
My grandad’s funeral was the first I’d ever been to and I also remember scouring the shelves at my favourite Mango store in Reading for something that wasn’t black as he didn’t want us wearing black. The wake was held in The Bull Hotel, a very fancy hotel in Gerrards Cross not far from my where my grandparents lived.
Yes, those days are in my memory still, and will always be, but what is most important for me on this date now is the memory of my grandfather. Born in Dublin on September 4 1921, he was the son of a housewife and his dad had a jewellery shop in Dublin. He, like my uncle, attended Ampleforth, a boy’s boarding school in Yorkshire. He studied architecture at Trinity College Dublin where he graduated from. He worked in Dublin after he graduated before working for an Architect for Jacob’s Biscuits, then in London for Giles Gilbert Scott on the House of Commons, then went back to Dublin. His other jobs were in London for Beard, Bennett, and Wilkins for Smiths Crisps, and a few other jobs before he retired at the age of 69.
My grandparents met in 1948 in Zuoz, Switzerland, in 1948. They married in 1949 in London at Brompton Oratory. My Gran’s mum was a doctor and her dad was a banker. From the approximate dates my gran gave me, they moved to Dublin in 1949, during which time they lived in Sandymount, Blackrock and Ballsbridge. My uncle, aunt and mum were all born in Dublin. When they moved to the UK, it was to Quenby, a house that was in Gerrards Cross in 1959. Quenby has since been knocked down and there are other houses in its place.
The houses I remember them living in were a house called Cedars, which I remember had large windows, a huge garden with tall trees and box hedges which reminded me of the house from The Secret Garden where my grandad often had bonfires. They moved into my Gran’s current house, The Chalet, in 1988 when I was 7 years old.
I’ll always remember Pa as a happy, popular man who was positive and loved his family. He was always there to listen to us and interested in what each of us had to say and was doing. I never felt singled out by him because of my disabilities. He was traditional but fun and had a great sense of humour. He had a love of French food, a dislike of anything too spicy and loved his meat and two veg with a traditional pudding. He was just 80 years old when he passed away.
Even now, 12 years on, I miss him so much.
Thanks go out to my grandmother, Patricia Kelly, for her wonderful memory for facts and dates that help make this blog post a true tribute to a wonderful man who’ll always be in my, and the family’s heart.
*More photos to follow