A long time ago, my grandparents moved from their picturesque town in the north of England to a bustling suburb just outside of London. It was an adventurous move for a couple that were well into their 80's (and I still don't know if I would have been quite so brave) but they faced it head on, and learned to adjust to endless streets of concrete and walking down the road to plant their own veggies and dig in the dirt.
They created a comfortable home in a small, walk-up apartment, learned to navigate the busy streets, read the maps, and rediscovered the magic of finding something new. They found unexpected castles nearby, made friends at the local shops, and found that they could grow the world's sweetest strawberries in a busy, rented London garden. As my mum often says, "needs must", so they found what they needed, forged a new path, and never complained about what might have been missing
But, every now and again I would get a call. I'd answer, not knowing who it was because it was from overseas, and my grandad would be on the other end of the line. "We just called to cheer you up!", he would say, then he and nana would take turns on the phone, telling me about their day and asking how we all were.
The first time he said that they were just calling to cheer me up, I actually stopped and wondered if I was okay, and why did I need cheering up. Had I temporarily forgotten about some great sadness in my life, or was there some dreadful family secret that was about to unfold? But, as we talked, I realized that they just wanted to know what we'd been up to that week, and what we'd had for dinner. In turn, they told me stories about the nice man at the fish and chip shop and how nana had gotten lost coming home on the number 57 bus the day before. We talked about the weather, and if the tulips along the cracked pavement were going to grow again this year. Small little anecdotes about each of our lives - nothing exciting, and never for long, but these brief conversations always left me with a smile on my face.
After a while, I would begin to call them more often. The roles had been reversed. My grandad would always answer, and I would tell him that I had just called to cheer them up! He would say a few hello's, then quickly passing the phone onto nana. Sometimes, she would get a little confused, and grandad would have to explain where I was, and why I couldn't come over that afternoon for a cup of tea and some cake. Phone calls became a little more difficult for grandad, as he tried over and over to explain who I was; nana would often pretend, and say she remembered me, but we all knew she didn't really.
As time went on, the calls were shorter, but it didn't matter at all. It didn't matter if nana knew who I was from one week to the next, or if I answered the same questions every time. When grandad answered, I still told him that I was calling to cheer them up, and he still called nana to the phone. The sameness was what kept us connected, and after they were gone, deep down inside, the grown-up part of me knew that it was never really about them calling to cheer me up at all.