For she’s yer mammy’s mammy

The problem with getting to 60 is that your try to find relatable women to work out how you might behave in this new decade. One woman who’s been the basis for my transformation into a ‘Granny’ is intrinsic to my own experiences of Granny’s in my past. I became a Granny at 50, my mother was 45 when I made her a Grandma so we have experienced, in our family at least, being a Granny at a relatively young age ( speaking contemporarily). But the only actual tangible experience of being a 60 something Granny, the provider of the framework for my future role, is the only one I had, my mum’s mum.

Jemima Henderson Mark was born in 1900, so when I was born she was 60. You can see why I’m drawing these comparisons as I approach the Golden Girls era. Obviously I don’t remember her when I was born, but my earliest memories do start when she was probably around 65years of age. I called her Grandma; I don’t know why that particular name was chosen but that is what she was to me and my sisters. I was not the first grandchild, so perhaps the first two had determined what we would call her. I know that my son named all his grandparents by different names while his words were still forming and the 14 or so grandkids that came after him followed suit. I myself have chosen Gran. I feel this reflects the sophistication of what I am trying to achieve as the older person in my grandchildren’s lives and tones down the ageist commentary that is commonly associated with status and responsibilities. My mother is GG (GreatGran) typically reflecting her personality, but more of that later.

At 60 my Grandma was deaf and wore a hearing aid. None of your minute concealed microscopic ear pieces, oh no this was a full on draw attention to your disability apparatus that, despite being stealthily coloured beige to blend with the skin ( if you were even beige in the first place) and therefore conceal it, was of monstrous proportions. This less than discrete apparatus, (Tena the brand of discrete was yet to be discovered- remember this was the 60’s) was operated through a clip on box designed to be worn on your dress like a brooch, however it measured about 6 inches by 2, and was the size of a small radio. It often dangled down in the creases of her bosom, which was ample and could swallow it up threatening to disappear forever. This box then connected to an ear piece, exactly the same as that used by the NHS today (things haven’t moved on much), by a slim but obvious lengthy wire. I know quite a lot about this hearing aid because it whistled constantly like R2D2 and you could not avoid looking at it as she fumbled with the volume to turn you up and it down. You couldn’t play hide and seek because you would hear it whistling giving away the hidey hole she had managed to squeeze herself into. It was constantly a source of inconvenience for her.

I experienced great sympathy for my Grandma, she seemed so vulnerable, probably due to the hearing aid, and she was so embarrassed about her disability, particularly if it whistled. When she went to Church she wouldn’t wear it because it threatened to squeal and she’d get embarrassed about that. Instead she’d go without the hearing aid and of course not hear a word that was preached, sung or whispered. I also knew she wore bloomers, but not the ‘Gone with the Wind Southern Belle’, style with ribbons and frills. In fact these were pre-Tena brushed cotton and elastic and beige that covered the leg from the hip to the knee. As a youngster I wondered if this was linked to the fact that my grandad had died in 1961 so she lived alone, and perhaps bloomers had sadly replaced the satin knickers that might have been worn if he was still alive. Or perhaps it was because there was no central heating and she just wanted to be warm. What ever the reason these memories were the realities, the very foundation for fearing my impending age.

On the other hand I often went to spend the night with her. I loved that. The big feather quilt puffed in pink satin squares floated on top of the bed, which was a big double. There was a stone water bottle that was filled with boiling water and laid into the bed about half an hour before you were due to bed down. On the fireplace you were guarded through the long chilly night by 2 magnificent Wally Dugs proudly asymmetrical at the fireplace ends, spooking the life out of me in the dark. The sleepover bed was a joy because I had a bedroom all to myself and didn’t need to share the bed with either of my sisters. A sleepover at Grandmas always meant smarties and dumpling with tanners in greaseproof paper and tomato soup for tea. I’d snuggle up along side her on her small two seater sofa and watch TV. In the 60’s that was a small square about 10ins x 10ins screen contained in a walnut cupboard. We watched the Titanic on that set and I broke my heart when it started to sink, going to the back of the TV to try and salvage a lifeboat or two. I remember she was worried that I’d get bad dreams from that experience so she sat beside me on the big comfy bed till I fell asleep.

My Grandma was a member of the Eastern Star, a female version of the masons. She had an orange sash, with brocade and embroidery, laced with golden tassels that swung in time with the music as she marched. I saw her walking with it on once, she wore it with pride and I thought how grand she looked in her smart coat and sash. In Lanarkshire you were generally one thing or the other, Protestant or Catholic. The pathway of my birth took me down the blue route. But she was not a bigot, her heart as big as a lion’s she embraced everyone whatever side they were on. When I was 7 while walking past Carfin Grotto on the way to her house, she took me in to show me Mary and all the other statues and grotto there. I loved that place and begged her to take me on a picnic there the next time I visited, its a memory that stuck with me when as an adult I made the decision to become Catholic. I know she’d have approved.

My Grandma’s brother, James, affectionately known as Shemi, came calling one night I was staying over. I knew when he arrived he’d been drinking, it was probably the half bottle of rum hanging out of his pocket that gave it away. Grandma loved her big brother and welcomed him into the sitting room where she provided a glass for each of them to share the rum. Before long, something I had never seen before was brought out from the depths of the hall cupboard. It was a fiddle and Shemi put on a green velvet coat covered with badges and ribbons and they started to Irish jig. It was a side I had never experienced of my Grandma and what a delight it was to see her so happy and playing her fiddle with such fun in her eyes. Just as well that hearing aid was lying in the bedroom, there were a few notes not quite what they needed to be with all that rum!

She died when I was 10 years old, I was devastated. I never knew pain like that before that moment. The loss was more than I could bear. Not the whistling hearing aid, or the bloomers, her grey wiry hair, her spectacles, the stone hot water bottle or the big comfy bed. The enduring thing I learnt from her was love; relationships and family were all you really need to help you develop your behaviour in this next phase of your life and as the song goes there is no way I’d shove that Granny off the bus. I hope my grandkids spare me that delight now I have my bus pass!

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