My granddad passed away recently. He was one of the few people in my family who I liked and respected for who they were, rather than out of a sense of obligation. This is because he taught me how to fry eggs.
I must have been about 12 or thereabouts, and we were visiting my grandparents. We were sat around in the dining room, as we usually did, and the conversation turned to whether I would like something to eat. I eagerly asked if I could have a fried egg sandwich (still one of my favourite foods to this day), and the reply from my mother was that I could make my own.
I was bullied alot as a kid, so I was quite shy and withdrawn. This meant that I was rather shaken when both my mother and grandmother reacted with outrage, on hearing me declare that I didn’t know how to cook an egg. “How can you not know how to fry an egg?” they cried.
At this point my granddad looked up from his crossword and shouted down his wife and step-daughter. “Hang on a minute,” he said, “Have either of you ever taught him how to fry an egg?” Both women confessed that they had not, so he looked at them curiously and asked, “Then how do you expect him to know how to do it?”
So up got my granddad, who took me into the kitchen and taught me how to fry an egg. I still think of his instructions whenever I fry an egg – which is quite a lot, so he’s regularly in my thoughts.
He spoke up when faced with something he thought was unfair. He mucked in to help someone when they were at a loss for what to do. He taught without prejudice. He wasn’t ashamed of ignorance, and felt no-one else should be either.
My granddad did a lot of things with me that other members of my family didn’t approve of. He gave me my first pen knife, which I still have. My father said it was not allowed, but grandad insisted that every young lad should have one. He taught me how to close it safely, always to cut away from myself, and to keep my body parts clear of the business end. He taught me to be responsible for myself, even when dealing with dangerous things.
One night, when I was in my mid teens, granddad and I sat up until 1am, watching Fargo together. My grandma disapproved of me staying up so late; my mother scolded both granddad and I in her own good-natured way; I don’t think my father was ever told. But granddad just checked I wasn’t too tired during the ad breaks, discussed the director’s techniques with me, and we shared our thoughts on the beautiful cinematography. He treated me like an equal human being; recognizing that I could make my own decisions; trusting that I could tell fiction from reality. He taught me to respect those things in myself.
My granddad liked to sup the odd beer now and then. He liked his ale, a bit of lager – wasn’t fussy, but he was never a big drinker. From my mid teens he would ask if I wanted a drink whenever my elders were having one. My dad forbid it for a while, but eventually he caved, and would let me have a shandy – but only a weak one, mind. So granddad would take me through to the kitchen and pour me a pint that was usually about two thirds beer and a third lemonade. Because after the first couple of goes we came to the conclusion that was what I best liked the taste of, while still being able to happily drink a couple without a problem. That’s how he showed me that the real way to teach someone about responsibility is to give it to them.
When we argued, as every teenager does with their elders, my granddad didn’t patronise me. He didn’t tell me I’d find out later, or that anything was just a phase. Sure, he would occasionally be sarcastic, but that was just his nature. He wouldn’t call me stupid, or immature – he would simply argue his point, and let me figure it out for myself. He understood that we only learn from our own mistakes.
He also had a big jar of humbugs, and he would give me one when I was good. I love humbugs.
One day I hope I’ll be as wise as my grandad was, and die with as many people loving me as he had. I also hope that if I reach his age, I’ll be free to live on a diet of mostly egg and chips, too.
Dedicated to Fred Park