Grandmothers: Not always sugar and spice

grandmother_sage_duckettMy less than endearing memories of my maternal grandmother was her opening the door when we visited shouting, “come in you so and so and don’t step on my floor, I just polished it”.

Her approach to life had been honed by a tough childhood, and a lot of hard times during the depression. I was scared of her most of the time. Yet she used to cook lunch for me every Friday when I came over from my nearby school. It was always a horrible dried fish that my irreverent grandfather called ‘Toe rag’.

She died before I was eight, and I was sad I never got to ask her more about her life, and found out why she was so forbidding. I think the fact that she lost a child with measles, and had to re adjust when grandfather’s job as a glass blower was killed off by the depression. Both happenings would have been devastating.

My maternal grandfather was a delight though, he read Enid Blyton stories to me and really was the encouragement I needed to read, and to late, to write. He gave me my love of words. I used to plait his thin hair, and one day when he had three plaits sticking up he had to answer the door.

He was of Irish extraction, had seen horrific things in his first country, and then the family ran from Ireland in about 1900, and changed their name to an English version. He liked to drink, to sing and to laugh, a tradition worth continuing.

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My paternal grandma was a little more like me, a bit scatty, and she made dresses on her sewing machine. I was doing ballet at the time so she made my tutus. She sang to me when she came to visit. ‘Bobby Shaftow’ was a favourite.

She was still alive when I returned with our first two children after living in NZ for five years, but her health had been damaged by a stroke. At least she saw her great grandchildren. My cousins, who are scattered all over Australia, often share stories of our times at her house, of pickled onions she made lined up in jars. Of the cakes she made, and the sewing machine always ready. Strange the things you remember.

My paternal grandfather was the favourite though. He loved me and treated me like a princess. I was the first grandchild after all. He called me “Jacko” and always had time to talk, he was gentle and mild and loving. He had been gassed in the First World War, but never talked about it. He was an active man who loved to work. He carved the chair for the Welsh Eisteddfod. So I often wonder if our son who became a mason, and works on churches, has inherited those carving skills. It seems likely the skill would be inherited.

Grandad spent his time looking after gardens for the Nuns, or anyone who needed help, he was still climbing trees when he was almost ninety. Then he fell from one. My biggest regret was not getting to see him at the end. I had three small toddlers, and lived a distance away, I didn’t drive and no one could help me to get there. I hope he forgave me, knowing that beautiful man as I did, I think he would.