I went and dug this photo out earlier this week as my Papa Harvie died on Tuesday, just a few weeks past his 99th birthday. For the past few years he’d been bedbound but at at home – fed, washed and wonderfully looked after by a mixture of carers, the indomitable Wilma (who we lured away full-time from the care company because my strong-willed granny liked her and would tolerate her ministrations), my dad and his siblings.
I wanted to remind myself of what my grandfather had been like before the latter twilight years set in. More recent friends will probably only know of him as the reason I’d stoically set off north of the border every Christmas, and the incredibly aged reason the Prof lived in the Borders, and always had to be mindful of bus and train times so he wouldn’t be late home to take over from Wilma.
But Papa had been so much more for so many decades. A spitfire pilot – albeit a rather inept one who thankfully never had to fire a shot in anger, a natural born teacher to so many hundreds if not thousands of pupils, an enthusiastic actor and singer. At their diamond wedding anniversary he brought the whole room to tears as he serenaded granny with a rather querulous version of My Love is Like Red Red Rose. Carried away, he then followed it up with a song that that appeared to feature wife beating in it, but we gloss over that.
He was a born community organiser, and everywhere he and granny lived still bear the mark of their presence – from literary societies and choirs to new buildings and systems of education. He was the one who had to sit me down aged 7 and explain the meaning of a ‘legend’ – as dad had told me one too many Scottish nationalist bedtime stories, and I was CONVINCED there was a fairy gold mine in the local Eildon hills, and was forcing the family to climb and fingertip search each of the three hills in turn.
He and granny were married for over 70 years, and their love for each other was probably only nearly equalled by their loyalty to the Liberal Democrats. The only time granny ever voted anything but Liberal was when the local minister’s son was standing for the (then fledgling) SNP. He got in and she never quite forgave herself. This shrine to David Steel is still to be found in the Melrose home they spent their retirement and the end of their lives in, and the man himself came to visit my grandfather in his bed overlooking the same Eildon hills just last year upon the occasion of the re-opening of the Borders Railway.
I love this photo for so many reasons – Papa’s tie, granny’s handbag, my tank top. I was born in Germany and my grandparents “just happened” to be holidaying in the vicinity as my mum went in to labour. Given I was two weeks late, they must have been loitering in Swabia for some time. They were bedside within 12 hours, determined to greet their third and final grandchild promptly. I was lucky enough to have a wonderful relationship with both of them – they took their grandparenting very seriously and cared about family above everything else.
And on Mother’s Day it’s also in an excuse to share a photo of my beautiful mother, who I’ve been thinking of a lot recently as I finally, over a decade after her death, start to make my own mark on the flat and belongings she left behind. She looks rather scared here, possibly as she realises the strength of the Harvie genes she’s taking on.
Everyone in this photo apart from the yowling infant is gone now, but their influence echoes on – in stuff, and principles and strong foreheads and eyebrows.