My grandmother didn't dwell on the past, but there was so much we wanted to know

I want to know how it felt to be a child in the 1930s and a young woman in the 1940s

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The Independent Online

There are lots of things I want to know about my grandmother’s life. I only found out the other month that while Doris was her first name, she preferred to be called Ruth, her middle name. My most recent cards to her, therefore, have been addressed to Ruth (I always worried that if I sent letters addressed to Nan, they might get delivered to someone else on her street who had grandchildren).

I want to know how it felt to be a child in the 1930s and a young woman in the 1940s. How she coped with the heat of living on an airbase in Aden and what life in 1950s Germany was like. Did she ever leave the base to investigate? Did she have any German friends, or was that frowned upon in the years after the War? I want to ask her what it was like to be widowed at 40, with three children to bring up.

It’s always been tricky to get information out of my nan but I thought that one day I’d manage to get her to open up and tell me more than the odd aside about life abroad, or what my mum was like a little girl.

But my nan, Doris, Ruth or Girlie to her old friends, died last week. I’m furious with myself that I didn’t ask her more when I saw her, but she wasn’t someone who dwelled on the past - she preferred to live in the present.

I spent yesterday afternoon with her three children; my mum and my two uncles. We were sharing our memories with each other, and with Caroline, the funeral celebrant (she writes the words for the service, we do the crying). I found out that nan had been a hairdresser by trade, and had gone into the Airforce in the late 1940s in that capacity.

Once she met her husband, the grandfather I never knew, she would ride on the back on his motorbike and take to the skies with him in a Tiger Moth. That she was as patient with her children as she had been with me and my cousins, endlessly helping to build Airfix kits, read stories and do jigsaws. I also learnt not to be too upset that I hadn’t managed to pump more information out of her - all my family said that they felt the same way but that she just kept some things to herself.

But what I would say is that if there’s something you’d love to know about your parents or grandparents, put this down and, if you’re lucky enough to be able to, ask them something you’ve always wanted to know about them. You never know, they might just tell you.