Creative Nonfiction

"My grandad used to teach me about history, not in a lecture way or even in telling stories himself kind of way, but with books. 

He gave me the first Sharpe book, chronologically not in release order which was weird when I made it back around to Sharpe being in Spain cause Bernie C didn't fill out Sharpe's back story until after he'd finished the Peninsular War. 

Reading about Dick Sharpe and his riflemen really sparked my interest and from that I learnt as much as I could about the war, Napoleon and Wellington. After that he gave me more books, other historical fiction and some that were actually just history books. Every time he came to see me he’d give me more and take the ones I’d finished. Joan couldn’t believe that I was reading them as quickly as I was. But Grandad believed because it was special and it was ours." I paused and cleared my throat.

The notes in front of me had gone mostly ignored, something about basketball and that he’d been disappointed neither me nor my brothers had been particularly into sport. Another line about him taking us to see films as we were growing up and that because he always visited on Tuesday’s we had pancake day with him every year. How I’d only arrived at martial arts and weightlifting in my early twenties and it was too late for him to take me to training because I was grown by then and I drove myself.

I'd practised the speech enough times to know it well, to know what I would and wouldn’t want to say. The trick was to practise a little but to learn the subject matter more, so you wouldn't obsess over meaning to have said this or that and then stumble over the actual words. The other trick was to say what you had to say and then be done. Don’t overstay your welcome, I’d learned that at my brother's wedding giving a best man’s speech, when my Grandad had been seated two spaces over from me. At least he'd laughed at my jokes, even if no one else had.

I swallowed and carried on.

"It didn't just spark a love of history, but also love of writing. I wanted to tell my own stories, so that one person, just one, could have that same feeling that Bernard Cornwell and my Grandfather gave to me.

I've done scribbles and tried, but you know what creativity is like. I spent more time thinking and worrying about what people would say and think than I ever spent on my actual writing. 

Even calling it a craft or an art now, makes me cringe. The idea that I'm a writer, an artist, just isn't something my mind will let me accept. Imposter syndrome I think it's called.

My grandad never made me feel like that though. He was kind and encouraging and I always wanted to write a book and give him a copy of it. Not even for him to read, just for him to see how much he impacted me. It could have been the most derivative tripe, about John Edge, a down on his luck British cavalry trooper that goes on adventures, which seem suspiciously similar to those of Richard Sharpe. I know he'd have loved it anyway, because he believed in me. He wasn’t perfect, no one is. When I was little he picked me up from school once and drove off before I’d gotten in the car. I was running along after the open door shouting ‘Grandad! You’ve left me behind." I paused again and waited for the laughter to stop. This was the hard part of the speech. Going away from jokes and being honest about how I felt. I took a deep breath and fought back the sting of tears in my eyes. 

"I'll never get to give him a book I’ve written, because my grandad is dead. I dithered and doubted and didn't do it because I was afraid. I was more afraid of the opinion of strangers than I was of not having tried to make something. Now he really has left me behind." 

The rows of mourners were mostly silent. A few were crying but most were just watching and listening. A room full of people that I didn't know and that didn't know me. It was a strange day for a funeral, in the height of summer with the sun beating down and birds singing. My grandad would have sat in his garden having an afternoon nap or tending to his plants. I was suddenly very aware that his body was so close to me, in a closed box ready to be cremated after the service. My suit felt too tight and I could feel sweat on the small of my back. Maybe it would have been worse if it was grey and raining. Maybe there isn’t a good day for a funeral at all. 

I took another deep breath and wiped at the corner of my eye. My family were in front of me, some of them crying and some of them smiling at me with encouragement.  My mother was crying, she had been on and off all day. Even with him having been ill for as long as he had, it had still come as a shock to her. It hadn’t been a shock to me, the last time I’d seen him, just a few days ago, I’d known. He was dying. 

I was the last person to speak at the service. After I was done the nice people of Vale Crematorium would take his body away and do whatever it was they did. I just had to finish saying what I had to say.    

"It's okay." I said. It was as much for myself as anyone else. My aunt, who had spoken just before me, touched me reassuringly on the shoulder.

"I didn't get to have a last talk, like they do in the movies, but I know what Grandad would have said if I'd told him about my self-doubts and my silly fears. I know because he always knew what to say. He'd tell me that he was proud of me and he knew that I could do anything I set my mind to. When I told him that I was worried and afraid I'd fail he'd give me a big warm hug and tell me, ``You'll never know if you don't try."

March 08, 2022 12:49

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