When I was 13 my grandfather died. Pop, as he was known to his grandchildren. There was a lot of grief and a lot of sadness because he was, as his gravestone observes, a very special person. He was a craftsman, a businessman, and a true family man. It was a huge change for our big family, the Leason Clan. And obviously, for his wife, my Grandma. Ma.
Not long after Pop’s death my small cluster of the clan moved overseas and a few months later Ma came to visit us. She was still sad, still reserved. My teenage self wondered if she would simply fade away into her grief and (because as fourteen year olds know, everything is about them) that thought made me feel a sense of loss. Ma had always been part of my life. For a great deal of my life she had lived around the corner from us and I visited weekly after school. It was a scary thought that I might lose her one day.
Sometime over the Summer we made the trek to Disneyworld. I was too old for a lot of the Princess and Mickey Mouse stuff that my sister was keen on, so I made an effort to convince family members to come on roller coasters with me. It took some lobbying to cajole Ma into Space Mountain. She wasn’t keen at first, but ever the peace keeper she begrudgingly agreed, waiting in line for forty five minutes after a hefty climb to the top of the mountain.
I wondered as we sat waiting for the other passengers what I had forced my 75 year old grandmother into. I had no idea how terrifying this particular ride was, no concept of how many times my belly would lurch downwards to the floor only to scream up again at equal intensity.
When we got to the bottom I was breathless with uncontrolled laughter. I turned and looked at Ma, hoping she wasn’t green with nausea, but to my surprise her grin was as wide as mine. And then she said a sentence I’ll never forget: “I want to do more of that.” Roller coasters I wondered? Space Themed activities?
And so began the legend of the grandma in her late seventies that went for a joyride on a Harley Davidson and flew in an Ultra Light over Palm Beach. Followed by the grandma in her eighties that frequented aerobics classes, climbed the Harbour Bridge, walked five kilometres a day and travelled all over the world. Until she became the great grandma in her nineties that kept travelling – to Antarctica no less, where she gave the ship’s captain a mouthful for not letting her (or anyone else) above board during severe weather. “Just because everyone else is sea sick, doesn’t mean I should be punished!”
The same grandma that was fond of saying “Be good, or be good at it!” and met with me every Friday for lunch rain hail or shine for almost twenty years. She still walked every day until she was almost 98 and she never lost her spark. Who knew, life could begin again at 75?
This was the Ma that I loved. From honey soldier breakfasts in bed at much anticipated childhood sleepovers to conquering the seventh continent, Ma was many things to many people. To our Leason clan, she was Mum, Grandma, Ma, Little Ma and Gemma. To her brothers and sister, she was Biddy. To others, she was Lynne, the old lady at the gym, the cappucino drinker, the crossword enthusiast.
She saw off 24 prime ministers, watched the Harbour Bridge being built, climbed it some seventy years later, and travelled every continent. But to me, she’ll always be the woman that picked up her life after the devastation of losing her husband and best friend to cancer and found a way to suck every minute out of her 100 years on this earth. The grandmother that waved goodbye to me from her front lawn when I was five and wouldn’t stop till she was a speck in the distance. This tradition lasted decades, until she could no longer walk on her own.
Yesterday, after a century of life and love and kindness she passed into stardust and the Leason Clan was a member down. And today, I went watersliding, surrounded by kids and laughter and infectious happiness. And I thought “I want to do more of that.”
We will always miss Ma, but her presence will be felt at every family gathering, every plum pudding lighting, every birthday, every piece of toast with honey on it, every wave goodbye. And at the top of every waterslide.