My grandmother fled France at the end of WWII, immigrating to Australia in her late 20s. A wonderfully intelligent university professor, she taught modern feminist thought when it was still taboo, divorced her husband when it was frowned upon, became a Buddhist in her 50s and advocated that a biscuit in each hand was the answer to all the world’s problems.
We were a pair, Grandma and me. Our Christmases were spent licking brandy cream from the bottom of the jug. Weekends were spent watching videos together and eating entire packets of pfferneuse (traditional German biscuits), and when summer holidays rolled around, Mum and Dad would pack me off to her house for a few days.
Those long summer days at Grandma’s were some of the happiest times of my childhood. She’d grind her mustard yellow Volkswagen Beetle into gear and we’d head to the local cinema (untouched since its heyday in the 1920s), feed the ducks in the park, or visit Tara House – the Buddhist temple where she practiced meditation, bought incense and joked with the nuns.
I loved Tara House. It was filled with the most amazing smell, which to this day I cannot seem to replicate. And the monks and nuns who walked its halls never seemed to mind when I used their prayer room to practice my handstands. I remember my grandmother telling me that Geshe Doga, the head monk, would always smile when he saw me playing in there. "It makes him happy to see that not everyone takes things so seriously," she would reassure me. Just as long as I took my shoes off at the door, that is.
Relationships like the one I had with my grandmother are rare. Fostered with love, humor and understanding, it would not be a stretch to say that we were best friends. But like all good things in life, such relationships take work. This month our feature (p53) is about how to start, nurture, mend, and even finish important relationships in our lives.
Though my grandmother died many years ago, her life lessons have stayed with me. My favorite one always being: "If you can’t be good, be careful."