When my grandmother was 22 and a young beautiful girl growing up in Ghana, she fell in love with my grandfather; he took her out for fish and chips and wooed her continuously, despite a long-held indifference towards him. She soon caved in and fell pregnant with my mother. She was the youngest but apparently she was also the ‘good child’ of the 5 siblings, so her scandalous pregnancy was accepted quickly and my Grandfather was allowed to be in my grandmother’s life. After my mother was born, my Grandfather took a turn of character, My Grandmother professes that, up until the birth of my mother, he had been attentive and loving. He was a great father to my mother, a quality in him she has always maintained, but he told my grandmother he didn’t “want her” and soon she only ever saw him when he came to pick my mother up for weekends. Till this day, she still doesn’t know why.
My grandmother is strong. She said, because she was young, she didn’t care – she moved on with her life and worked hard. Eventually she qualified as a teacher, then a nurse. She moved to the UK; sent money back home to make sure my mother had a comfortable life. When my grandfather passed away suddenly, my grandmother flew immediately back to Ghana to pay her respects. It wasn’t long before she met and married another Ghanaian man and they lived between London and Ghana. However that didn’t last either; this was more to do with Voodoo and West African superstitions than anything. She said her husband fell gravely ill and that his sister was mad and did everything in her power to ruin their marriage. She even told people she was his true wife in another life and that she would never let my grandmother have him. Fearing for her well-being, and wrapped up in guilt for his sick sister, my grandmother’s husband begged her to leave him for good. He was dying and he was convinced his sister had performed spells on his soul. My grandmother refused, but when she returned to London she later found out he had died. Few years on and my mother had joined my grandmother in London. Having spent more time apart than together a mother/daughter relationship was a little foreign to the both of them. Now a young woman herself my mother had already fallen in love and had secretly married my dad back in Ghana. She’d found out from a family member, over the phone. Instead of berating her, she listened: my mother told her how she had met a young science student in Kumasi, they had been together for a while, she knew his whole family. Soon he had to leave to study abroad so they got married with the intention of raising enough money to be reunited soon, but not long after she had been sent for by my grandmother to live in London. She was planning on telling her …eventually. So my grandmother sent my mother to Germany to be with her student husband. Two years later – my sister was born.
We actually call my grandmother ‘Omi’. It’s German for ‘grandmother ‘ – on account of my sister being born and raised there till the age of 7 (blissful only child years – as she recalls) and it kind of stuck. My sister had marginally been surrounded by white people at that time. My parents were young and were taken in by a wonderful family. They helped raise my sister, accommodate my parents and help integrate them in a predominantly white and conservative German town.
After a time my sister started referring to the matriarch of her adopted extended family as ‘Omi’. Fair enough, it was all she had known at the time. Meanwhile my grandmother had been residing in London since the 60s and had only met my sister a handful of times.
When my parents returned to London, my grandmother had been living in the UK since the 60s; she made sure they were looked after while my father went back to Germany for work. She raised my sister whilst my mother went out to work; when I was born, it was her house I remember when I think of my childhood; she worked hard to make sure we were good, happy and loving kids so that by the time my brother came in to the world he would never know such stifling love as he does from the four women in his life. She’s the best person I have ever known, I can’t believe I get to have someone like this in my life. She really did help to shape us into the adults we are today. I love to take photos of her; beautiful, strong and content. This is success. All the lines, the subtle smile and the distant look in her eyes – she’s always talking stories. Memories bring allow her to contemplate .This is a picture of a life well lived.