By Tim Porteus

THE old man watched his grandson running about, playing on the beach and climbing the rocks. It was a wild autumn day and the wind was whipping up foamy waves which crashed against the shore. It wasn’t summer warm but neither was it cold. The wind had a strange mildness in its touch.

His grandson was in the joy of the moment, finding shells, climbing rocks and throwing stones into the sea. His grandfather watched, wishing he too could join in the fun. But age had crept up on him. His joints tweaked with pain every time he tried to behave like his younger self, making him very cautious. So he found a rock on which to sit and watched over his grandson as he explored.

His thoughts were taken away from the beach and he began to think of his wife. She had dearly loved their grandson but sadly she was only an image in a photograph for her grandson now. He was too young when she died to have any real memories of her. It was at moments like this that he missed her most, for she loved the beach. And at night, of course, for he was still unused to sleeping alone after 40 years of sharing the night with the woman he loved. It didn’t seem right, men were supposed to be outlived by women, not left behind like this.

Suddenly, his attention was caught by the sight of his grandson wading into the sea, still wearing his shoes and socks.

“No lad, you’ll...”

Too late, he was jumping in the waves, splashing and laughing. His granddad rose from his rock and walked over to him.

“Come on granddad, jump the waves with me,” he called out, his face beaming with joy. The boy’s shoes were now completely soaked, as were the lower part of his trousers. The old man knew he would be in trouble with his daughter for allowing this to happen. Common sense told him to get annoyed and tell his grandson to come out immediately and return to the car.

“I don’t think your mum will ever trust me again to look after you,” he said.

Another wave rolled in and the young lad screamed with delight and jumped over it.

“Come on granddad!”

The old man reckoned that the boy’s shoes were already soaked and a few more minutes in the sea wouldn’t make things any worse. He couldn’t bend down properly to take his own shoes off, but he waded into the sea anyway. He kept himself steady with his walking stick in one hand, and took the hand of his grandson with the other.

They stood together and watched as a wave rolled in. The boy yelled with delight as he jumped over it, holding fast onto his granddad’s hand, who made his walking stick jump over it.

“Again granddad, again,” the young lad called out, laughing. Wave after wave came in and they faced them together.

“We need to go now and get dry and warm up,” said his granddad after a while.

“Just one more, please!”

And so they had one more wave jump together and headed for the car, both equally soaked. When they arrived at the car, their shoes and trouser bottoms were coated in sand, like breaded haddock.

The boy’s mother was waiting in the car.

She looked at their shoes and trousers. “Dad, what on earth have you been doing? His shoes are soaking and so are yours! I don’t believe it, what were you thinking? And now my car will be full of sand.”

“I was thinking of your mum,” he said. “She loved the beach and jumping the waves when we were young, and so did you when you were wee.”

“Yes, but not with our shoes on!” said his daughter angrily, peeling off a sock from her son and pointing to his sodden shoes.

“Look at your shoes, dad, you’re not a child, you should know better.”

“It was so fun, mum,” said her son, as if to explain the state they were in.

When they got back to the house, the granddad went to a cupboard and took out a box. He rummaged in it for while.

“Ah, here it is,” he said, holding an old photo album.

He gave it to his daughter.

She looked at it and smiled.

“Can I see?” asked her son.

So they all sat together with the photo.

“Well, that’s your granny and that wee girl whose hand she is holding is your mum,” said the granddad.

“That’s my mum?”

“Yes, and her mum, your granny, was loads of fun. They are jumping the waves together.”

“Like us.”

“Yes, except your mum fell over and got her clothes wet.”

The old man’s daughter smiled. “I remember that day so well,” she said, “it was so funny, didn’t mum fall and get her clothes wet as well?”

“She did,” said her dad.

“I’m sorry about the shoes,” he said, “but I wanted the memory of today to be of fun, not of being told off because of the state of the clothes. Your mum always used to say ‘muddy clothes means a happy child’.”

They put the shoes on the radiator and the granddad stayed for the bedtime story.

“What story would you like?” he asked his sleepy grandson.

“Can you tell me the story of my granny at the beach with mum again?”

And so the granddad told the story of his grandson’s granny at the beach. And the simple story gave him a memory of his granny he couldn’t remember, but who he now knew.