Posted in Family

In Praise of Pine Cones – and Grandpa

Pitch Pine. Pine cone.
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

(A new blog post about autumn, my father, my daughter and family relationships that bridge generations)

On my way to a routine hospital appointment, I’m strolling down a suburban street when I spot a perfect pine cone lying on a grass verge. Now, I cannot pass a nice pine cone any more easily than I can ignore a conker, freshly dispensed in all its shiny glory from the spiky lime-green case in which it’s been lying, fattening, since Spring. I slip the pine cone into my pocket, glad to be distracted from my imminent arthritis check-up. I’ve been a bit creaky lately and I’m not looking forward to my consultant’s review.

Pine cones, in contrast, are full of the promise of good things. Promise of cosy, autumn firesides; of sustenance for small birds in winter; of nourishment for squirrels as they bulk up for hibernation. Pine cones are a forerunner of Christmas, but in a more subtle way than the charity gift catalogues that have been landing on my doormat since July.

I always plan to collect and decorate pine cones and string them on the Christmas tree with tartan ribbon. If my daughter gets her way, they’ll be adorned with fake snow and glitter too. Or else we’ll douse them in melted fat, roll them in seeds and crumbs, and suspend them with string from trees outside our living room window. They provide an oasis for hungry birds on short, dark winter days and it’s a pleasure to watch from inside a warm house.

There’s an unnatural neatness about the shape of a pine cone. They’re reminiscent of the children’s drawings of Christmas trees that subdue nature’s disorder into a more manageable form. But even so, a pine cone is a pine cone is a pine cone.

Grandpa on his 80th birthday with a "Keep Calm You're Only 80" balloonOr so I thought until last weekend, when, on a walk in a Penzance park with my father, I learned to appreciate the pine cone in a different way. Just turned 80, he is a long-time lover of trees and their diversity. Stooping to collect a pine cone from the ground, he gives my nine-year-old daughter a spontaneous lesson in the identification of the originating tree, based on the arrangement and distribution of its spikes.

Unlike me, my father has an artist’s eye, full of wonder at the natural architecture of the world about us. An accomplished watercolourist, woodturner, carpenter and calligrapher, he has a keen understanding of the complexity of the tree’s task in creating what it has so casually dropped in our path. No matter what your religious beliefs, when you’ve heard my father hold forth about trees, you can’t help but be in awe of nature. His childlike sense of wonder is not restricted to trees. He’s ready to detect a miracle in everything he sees in the natural world.

Pair of watercolour paintings by Grandpa and Laura
Laura’s garden by Grandpa and Grandpa’s garden by Laura

I believe this attitude is one of many reasons why, at the age of 80, he remains so youthful in spirit and outlook – and why my small daughter relates so readily to his world view. She is as close to him as his shadow. They spend many happy hours together. Lately he’s taught her to paint in watercolours. We have a pair of paintings, one by him, the other by her, hanging in our living room, natural companion pieces. This summer, each of them took first prize in their respective age groups in the “original painting” category of our local village show. I see echoed in their relationship the closeness of my connection with my own Grandma, my father’s mother. It seems the baton of the bond is being handed down the generations.

Grandpa and Laura
Having fun with Grandpa

So, with my pine cone resting snugly in my pocket, I settle down in the hospital waiting room, beginning to feel a little more optimistic about my appointment. I know I can depend upon my lovely consultant to be supportive, and I’m sure she’ll have some sound advice for keeping me young by nature, as well as young by name. I want to make sure that when my turn comes to connect with my grandchildren, I’ll be ready to rise to the challenge. Goodness knows, I’ve got a hard act to follow.

This post originally appeared in the Tetbury Advertiser, October 2012 edition.

If you enjoyed this post, you might like to read about my relationships with some of the women in my family: Bowled Over By Fond Memories of My Grandma   The Scent of A Mummy  

Posted in Family, Type 1 diabetes

Father’s Day to Follow

Enjoying my Mother’s Day cup of tea in bed with my small daughter this morning, we discuss the nature of this event, once I have finished opening all my cards.  I have just the one daughter, but she’s made enough Mother’s Day tributes tto serve a set of quins.

Never one to travel light, she has also brought into my bed three large teddy bears.  These go by unusual names. Diabetic Bear was a helpful free gift from drug manufacturer Bayer to all newly diagnosed diabetic children, complete with colourful felt patches to indicate insulin injection sites. Romantic Bear sports a smart oriental karate outfit.  Glowy lights up in the dark.  Being slightly smaller than the other two, Glowy is introduced as the daughter of Diabetic Bear, who, because she is a wearing a dress, must be the mummy.  I query whether Romantic Bear is therefore Glowy’s daddy.

“No, not yet,” replies Laura, introducing a whole new notion of the family dynamic.  “But he might get married to Diabetic Bear this afternoon.”

How many marriages would be saved if the mummies had the babies first and then recruited the daddies, appointing only the most compatible candidate for the post?  I think she could be on to something.

“When’s Father’s Day?” she asks.  “How many more days?”

Though Mother’s Day is an ancient tradition, I have a feeling that Father’s Day was a twentieth century invention by Hallmark, always keen to create a new card marketing opportunity.  Pleasingly, it was designated to fall precisely nine months before Mother’s Day.

“It’s in June,” is all I choose to tell her.

I look down at the little collection of treasures spread over the duvet: red handprints made at Rainbows, a card full of hearts and hugs and kisses created at school, a colouring sheet completed in the changing room at Gym Club, smuggled into her kit bag so that I wouldn’t see it before the big day.  She cuddles up closer and gives me a long hug.

Hallmark really ought to start up a Daughters’ Day, too.  Well, I’d be the first in the queue to buy a card.