Portrait 4: My grandmother at 80

Words by Chris Somerville

Pictures by Chris Somerville

Published on August 30, 2013

I was raised by women or spent a lot of time with women in my family. I never knew my grandfather, only my grandmother without him. Sometimes it’s hard to avoid being sentimental about these kind of things. Whenever I wrote about a mother in my book, it was usually half made up and half based on my grandmother. We spent a lot of time together back in Hobart, when I was young. She once hit black-ice while driving across a bridge with my brother in the car, and spun out, and then didn’t tell anyone about it until last year, almost eighteen years after it happened. I used that anecdote in a story and we haven’t talked about it; maybe she read it and then decided not to mention it, or maybe she did read it and didn’t think it was about her because I missed a detail. In any case I still haven’t brought it up.

She’s told me she doesn’t want to die, not because she’s afraid of dying, but she’s worried she
won’t know what happens next. She’s said this to me at least five times. She had a car accident years before I was born, a crash where her teenage daughter was killed. She has a barely visible scar from this accident that runs across her forehead and she worries sometimes that this makes her look like she’s frowning all the time. I was told this story at an early age, but it becomes more horrific the older I get.

I suppose what this all amounts to is love. I don’t call her as much as I should. I’ve had it pointed out to me more than once that I’ll often let my grandmother order me around when we’re together. We disagree more than we agree. She went back to university as a mature-age student and did a degree in fine art. She says pretty often that her teachers there were morons.

Quote from my grandmother I wrote down in a notebook when I was twenty one: “If I want to do my garden right I’ll get one of those large blue bowls and put it back there in some ferns and put fish in it, but maybe birds will eat the fish. Maybe that’s not such a good idea.”

Chris Somerville’s first book, We Are Not The Same Anymore, was published earlier this year. He can be found at www.chrissomerville.com.