My Nan Rita
Words by Stella Gelardi Malfilatre.
Meet my Grandmother Rita, ‘Mormor Rita’ in Danish (essentially ‘Mum Mum’), or ‘Mémé Rita’ in French, which we shorten to Mims. We were really good friends when I was a kid. She and my Grandfather Jacques lived in Copenhagen and spent most of the year on a small Danish island called Fanø. I often went there alone on vacation in the summer time. My Grandfather would busy himself with handiwork, sorting out the garden or sitting in his studio painting, while my Grandmother fussed around the house preparing lunch and dinner. I used to record cassette tapes of them singing Danish and French songs. They were very traditional in many ways, but I now know from some of her more recent stories that Rita and Jaques spent their summers swinging with their friends on Fanø.
My Grandmother had this wooden box in a big closet where all the silverware was, and I was allowed to take it out and unpack all the little things in there. It was filled with objects from her younger years: a small pearl mirror, a photograph of her with some boys, a small handkerchief, and a gold ring with a blue stone in that she gave to me years ago and I still wear every day. I also remember forcing her to take out her teenage diaries and read them to me. I have many fond childhood memories from the island – bathing in the sea, playing war games with the neighbours’ kids and collecting seashells. Later, however, I became a highly depressed teenager who wasn’t very interested in visits to Fanø. My parents got divorced and, before I knew it, many years had passed. By this time, my Grandfather had passed away and I suddenly felt very distant from the lady I was once so close to.
"Sharing the same boy issues makes us seem not that far apart in age. Even though I’m younger and she’s older, a heartache is still a heartache."
Going through a period of self-discovery, I realised that older people aren’t here forever, and that I was growing up as well. I found myself becoming more and more curious about who Mémé Rita was as a person. I started asking her about everything and we became friends again, in an even better way. Suddenly I realised that the old lady and I were actually very similar. We discovered that we share the same kinds of boy issues, even though she is way better at flirting than me. I began to think that I might have inherited more from her than I realised, and that made me feel close to her again. I always loved when she read her diaries to me as a child but I probably didn’t really understand them. When she reads them out to me now, they make sense in a totally new way. The entries describe things like how she went out in the dark to throw eggs at the German soldiers houses during World War II and how she flirted with all the boys in town. My Grandma’s funny stories about love and life in general made me desperate to document everything she says and does. I can sit in her kitchen and listen to her tell stories for hours and hours. She goes into great detail, and I enjoy watching her expressions as she gets excited looking back on it all. I don’t think it’s something she talks about with many people. She still writes everything down in small notebooks or pieces of paper that she keeps safe. She has told me that for as long as she can remember, she has wanted to write a book to tell everyone about her life, but it’s never happened.
My Mormor stays in touch with a long-lost love that she could never have. She sits around and overanalyses text messages from him. When she shows them to me, we talk them over like two girlfriends: ‘What does he mean when he says that? Why did he not say that?’. Sharing the same boy issues makes us seem not that far apart in age. Even though I’m younger and she’s older, a heartache is still a heartache. She once told me: “People forget that I am also a person with a past, memories and personality. It’s as if people are too busy to remember that even though I look like an old woman on the outside I am still the same young Rita on the inside.”
Since I moved to London about 3 and a half years ago, we have been writing letters back and forth. We update each other on our love lives and give each other advice. I remind her to drink more water and she writes me poems about love and tells me about her day-to-day activities.
"People forget that I am also a person with a past, memories and personality. It’s as if people are too busy to remember that even though I look like an old woman on the outside I am still the same young Rita on the inside."
Recently, I asked Mémé a few brief questions about her view on love, life and boys:
Stella Granddad Jacques passed away in 2001. Don’t you miss him?
Rita Yes I do, a lot! I often think about how wonderful our golden days together would have been like in Copenhagen and on Fanø.
"My Mormor stays in touch with a long-lost love that she could never have. She sits around and overanalyses text messages from him. When she shows them to me, we talk them over like two girlfriends: ‘What does he mean when he says that? Why did he not say that?’. Sharing the same boy issues makes us seem not that far apart in age."
Stella You were married for fifty years, but you once told me that you weren’t in a monogamous marriage?
Rita No, we weren’t. We switched partners with friends throughout our entire marriage. Jacques also had the same lover for twenty years and she often came with us on holidays.
Stella You have many admirers who want to take you out on dates. Why don’t you ever go?
Rita I do but it doesn’t work out for me. They are lovely friends, but it’s better when they stay away from me romantically.
Stella Hmm, that’s a bit sad. I think it’s because you are still in love with that man from your younger years. The one you still talk to on the phone, who sends you sweet and sexy messages.
Rita Yes, with him it was always like being in love, it has lasted my whole life. With him, it’s blindness and sinful but we could never be together. He is married.
Stella The texts that you send to each other are really cute. Can you tell me some of your favourites?
Rita He has written me around two hundred and fifty messages over five years.
Texts from Mémé’s Rita's long-lasting love: ‘Rita, I thank you for your loyal and amazing way of being towards me’ ‘Life is intense when we are close to each other’ ‘I LOVE YOU my love flower’ This story was originally featured on www.accent-magazine.com
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