Last Sunday we had a big party. Its core was five children, 14 grandchildren and three great grandchildren – together with spouses and established inamorati. And we were joined by three other guests who had been present at our wedding exactly sixty years before the date that I post this on the internet. That’s what we were celebrating. But there was another celebration too: Eleanor Rose Lark Huchet de la Bedoyere, five weeks old, had her first introduction to the family. Being loved by so many people she can hardly go wrong: her only problem will be fitting her name on to a credit card one day.
So I am now very aware of the importance of family – and thankful we have been blessed with such a full quiver. Not everyone is so favoured. There was a little concert – Eleanor’s mother is a leading West End singer – and a sketch figuring the memories of being our grandchildren. They remembered so many things they were grateful for, but I had forgotten.
I was reminded that grandparents are not just the old people – helpful for baby sitting. They play a unique part in the upbringing of the young. They do not have a parental relationship with the children, which can be limited by the tensions of achieving autonomy, but a freedom and openness that allows for exploring territories in ways that parents cannot cover.
I spoke a few words – most of it was what you would expect. But, given that several of the older grandchildren are in different stages of relationships, I turned to the marriage vows: ‘For better for worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness or in health etc’. And I told them that in a long marriage you encounter several of these, and when you do, you are sometimes only sustained by the unconditional commitment you have made. It was not a day for critiquing those in serious relationships, but are not married. I just hope that one or two will think more deeply about their options.
So what do you think of the rôle of the grandparent – either as a grandparent or as a grandchild?
At the end I gave them a little poem which I wrote as a Valentine to my wife a few years back. It seemed to sum up what I felt.
What right have you and I to talk of love,
Ex-patriots from the country of the young?
Our thinning blood’s at leisure in our veins,
The sharp tuned nerves of Eros all unstrung.
We fondly watch the relics of our love
Who propagate anew, and – in our place –
Do forge bright links along the endless chain
To join the rusting link of our embrace.
But echoes from the anvil of your loins
Greeting my hammer blows with rousing rings
Have not yet faded from the quivering iron;
And still it sings.