Read the runners up from the ELLE Writing Competition

When you are young, they have always been old by Lauren Potts


In the mind of a five-year-old, they have simply always been there; the reason for your parents’ existence explained in simple terms.


They are the embodiment of comfort: the laps you crawl into for a cuddle or the safety net you ran to after a fall in the park. Certainly, they have never been grounded, too drunk, or fallen in love.

Because grandparents did not have lives before you were born.

The idea these people once had identities other than the ones you grew up knowing never occurred to you, even as you grew older and made memories of your own. That notion ceased to exist for me ten years ago - the day my grandad got his ear pierced, aged 72.


'It’s a cubic... zirconia,' he said proudly, searching for the right word for the glittering stud in his left lobe.

I stared at it, incredulous. 'But... why?!'

'I always wanted one, but your grandmother wouldn’t let me.'

So foreign was this concept – that grandad had wanted an earring for forty years – it was like discovering something you’d always thought flat was polyhedral.

I made a decision to get to know this newly multifaceted person, whose life was a complete mystery to me. I went to visit him – the first time I had spent any time with him alone as an adult. Not really knowing where to start, I asked the first thing I knew very little about: 'So, what happened with your first wife?'

'She was an alcoholic who ran off with another man and left me to bring up your aunt on my own,' he replied candidly.

What followed was the story of a man who defied expectation: a former soldier who zipped around the country on a Vespa; a father who, unusually for the 1950s, won sole custody of his daughter; a man who brushed off the stigma of divorce and married twice – happily this time, to my grandmother.

Every story was an illuminating piece in the jigsaw of a life I’d never known about, let alone contemplated.

Fascinated by these revelations, I’ve quizzed him ever since, not just about his family, but my grandmother’s too. Her death 12 years ago taught me he won’t be around forever and as he often likes to remind me, he is 82, so I’m all too aware time marches on.

Too often the young fail to appreciate their elders, but I won’t squander the chance to enjoy this new side to a relationship that’s always been under my nose.

My goal now is to fill in the blanks of my knowledge – to say I really knew him. So I keep calling him, even when all he has tell me about is the latest funeral he’s been to, because each conversation is an irreplaceable moment I could so easily have missed.

Oh and in case you’re wondering, he now sports a gold hoop in his ear; like an ageing pirate.

Words by Lauren Potts

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