For the love of grandparents

I have a scar on my left forearm where I burned myself on the bathroom hot tap when I was knee-high to a grasshopper, as Grandpa Swallow used to say.

Grandpa Swallow was a lovely grandpa, although of all the grandpas I had he was not one of mine. He was my uncle’s wife’s father, so technically not related at all.  This is him and my aunt, in 1963.

Aunty M and Grandpa Swallow

Grandpa Swallow taught me about growing tomatoes. He lived in Canada, with my aunt and uncle, and they had a huge garden backing onto the Canadian Pacific railway line. We visited them when I was two and again when I was seven. The second time was in the summer and tomatoes were growing, along with corn and squash and carrots and runner beans and all sorts of goodness. The thing I remember though is the smell of the tomatoes. There’s nothing quite like it. Every time we try and grow them in our garden, in the sullen English summer, even the slightest hint of that smell wafts me back to that Montreal sunshine.

He showed me how to pinch out the tips of the plants, how to tell when the toms were ready and let me pick them and eat them straight away, squirting juice every which way, tasting the sunshine on the warm flesh, feeling the fuzziness of the plants in my hands.

He was a lovely man who lived so far away I only met him twice. Still he made an impression on my little life.

He did not, however, give me any outward scars to remember him.

The scar on my forearm from the hot tap was caused by an act of love towards my grandmother. She used to have a nap after lunch and then have a wash to freshen up when she got up. Every day she followed her routine. One day I heard her getting out of bed, creaking and hobbling, and I decided to help. So I rushed into the bathroom to run the water into the sink for her wash.

This is what the sink looked like.

Young EBL cleaning teeth

I was quite small and the taps were quite hard to reach. The hot tap was the old fashioned kind that became very hot to the touch, and as I ran the water it burned my arm. I was like the frog who boils to death; I didn’t notice it getting hot at first until it became so bad that I yelled.

It seems that I discovered a cure for old age and rheumatoid arthritis that day. I should get a Nobel Prize, not a scar. Grandma absolutely galloped into the bathroom to rescue me and we cried together over my poor arm. I think I cried more for upsetting her really, once the shock wore off.

Every time I see the scar I remember her and I’m glad I tried to do a kind thing for her. It’s quite hard to see it now, after almost half a century, but it is still there.


I hope you all had somebody in your life you loved and who loved you too.