I have come to appreciate a great many things this year that I didn’t truly do before. My father’s passing after his battle with cancer and my brother’s fight against leukaemia, which we were recently told has returned, has given me a new appreciation for simply growing older. No more am I waving mournfully goodbye to the years that pass me with each year, but I have learnt that I need to appreciate the privilege of reaching yet another birthday.
The thing about growing older is that you have more memories. Memories about things, about people, and the time someone did do something they shouldn’t have or didn’t do something they should have. Some memories you never want to forget and others you do but can’t. Shortly after my father’s terminal cancer was diagnosed I spent a while walking through a park from my childhood near to where his home still stood, giving long dormant memories a nudge out of hibernation.
I remember how the town I was raised in once was. I think of the people who all lived there once, on a road where everyone knew everybody else. My parents and I lived with my grandparents on this road until I was about three. A Greek and Turkish-speaking household, I didn’t speak English until I began nursery school. As a very small person I would be passed over the tall fence to our next door neighbours who would fuss over the chubby baby. The two daughters of the family were a few years older than me and I remember one made fake teeth out of orange peel and chased me around the garden. Over forty years later, we are still in touch today.
My yiayia (Greek for nan), used to take me shopping with her. She would always buy me a token gift, a pencil case or a small toy.
‘Don’t tell Papu,’ she would tell me, knowing full well I would run into the house to show my grandad my new gift. He would then pretend to be annoyed at my yiayia for spending all their money on me. You would think I learned my lesson for the next time but no, the story was always the same!
The house was on a main road overlooking a common and a pond. At the end of the road, on the other side of the traffic lights stood a little cobbler shop. Its wood panelled front was painted a buttermilk yellow with trims of green. I say it was painted a buttermilk yellow but it could have merely been where the paint had faded over time. As you walked in the counter stood on the left hand side. I don’t remember the cobbler’s face very well but I do recall tip-toeing up to peer over the counter at the vast collection of shoes behind him. This was a time when everyone took shoes to be renewed with fresh soles and new heels. You couldn’t help but feel a sense of stepping back in time even then every time we took in and old pair of shoes that would magically emerge looking, and often also feeling, brand new.
The cobbler seemed to remember people, though. I guess back then customer service was different and shopkeepers knew everybody. Few houses had phones and despite modern technology and all it offers, I still believe this was the time that customer service was best. It was simple yet personal and a far cry from the automated systems and the zillion and seventy three company phone numbers to choose from when you just need a simple answer to a simple question.
We moved a ten minute walk away but moved back to the road when I was nine. My parents bought the house that old Harry owned. Old Harry had always given my cheek a gentle pinch and made a fuss when I was small so it was lovely to be buying the home of someone who had been so kind. Best of all though, was that the house was only three doors away from the home of my grandparents.
Since my dad died I have avoided the town. I see him everywhere. I see my grandparents walking into the cobblers. I see my dad scuttling into the bookies to place his five pence bets. I see the ghosts of my past and the memories that come with it. Some people have died, others have moved and time has stood still for no-one.
I appreciate the chance I have to make new memories every day. I appreciate the honour I have been given to be getting older. That grey hair that peeks through, that wrinkle that I am sure wasn’t there yesterday, that chance to tell someone I love them, the ability to make a decision about my life, the chance to do something I’ve never done… it’s all here for me and it’s all now.
Times have changed since those days but rather than mourn them I can treasure them and keep them safe in my heart.
But me, I’m still alive. Being alive isn’t the same as living. We shouldn’t wish for Fridays and dread Mondays. We need to live life now.
We have one life.
Let’s not waste it.
We are currently running our campaign to raise money for Bloodwise. Just post a photo of yourself with a big smile on social media with the hashtag #SmileforJimmy, tag two friends to join in and send a £2 donation to http://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/smileforjimmy. The money raised will be donated to Bloodwise who will hopefully find a cure for blood cancer. Together, smiling saves lives.