“It wasn’t until I started writing a book about my grandfather that I realised that all those things I had kept through the years were important because of the stories they carried, that they were the missing pieces I needed to become a whole person.”
Our lecturer and workshop leader Anna was recently a guest in the Swedish radio programme Thoughts for the Day, where she talked about her book I skuggan av ett geni – arvet från uppfinnaren som tog hissen upp till himlen (In the Shadow of a Genius) that deals with the story of her grandfather and the effect of his legacy on generations to come.
Here you can listen to and read Anna’s story:
It is close to fourteen years since my love and I moved to our dream house in the countryside. It was love at first sight, for him, for the house, for the whole village. It was the answer to a longing – to be able to settle down and tend to the soil beneath my feet instead of constantly chasing something that seemed shinier from a distance.
There was relief, of course. Not having to move between student dorms and sub-let apartments the way the housing shortage in the big city had forced me to – moving every third month for five years.
I didn’t mind the variation; I quite enjoyed the always-changing views from my kitchen table, new grocery stores, new bus lines, new roommates.
There was something else that gnawed on me. The lack of freedom I felt when I lugged around my boxes and my furniture. All those belongings I’d inherited, that carried a sentimental value I didn’t quite understand.
I had kind friends who helped me carry, but I was ashamed that I couldn’t bring myself to get rid of some of the stuff. When I tried, it cut me to the core. It hurt in a way that seemed unreasonable.
Then, fourteen years ago, the lugging and roving came to an end. All my furniture fit into our spacious new home. All of a sudden there was room for my eccentric grandfather’s organ, the guilt-edged Bible, the table from a boat he owned, that according to rumour, Greta Garbo had sat at. This was the stuff my inheritance was made up of.
Our house also came with plenty of storing space, where I could put away the old cardboard boxes full of long forgotten childhood memorabilia.
A few years passed by before it all started coming together. It wasn’t until I started writing a book about my grandfather that I realized that all those things I had kept through the years were important because of the stories they carried, that they were the missing pieces I needed to become a whole person. There was grief stored in those boxes, grief for those who died too soon. My grandfather, my grandmother, my father.
One summer day I realized that the mice had helped themselves to pieces of my childhood. They had nibbled away at my first schoolbag, the leather cap I had as a baby. And my old jodhpurs. My grandmother had given them to me when I was nine, when she had already taken ill. I hadn’t realized that the cancer would take her life, but before Christmas that year, she was gone. Maybe that’s when I learned that death is forever.
Before I threw the jodhpurs away, I captured the memories on paper. The smell of horses, the stables. The smell at the hospital where grandmother lay. And the difficult part – that I didn’t want to be there when my grandmother grew thinner and eventually disappeared altogether. We celebrated Christmas in her big house, without my grandmother but among all her furniture. Those very things that became so important for me to save.
Anna is a writer, lecturer and workshop leader at Write Your Self. She believes in play as one of the most serious/important things we as humans can devote ourselves to, and that imagination is necessary to understand and repare our reality.
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