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!

Rehearsals for Christmas have been curtailed. Chapter 2 Christmas

It has always been my favourite time of year, from a very young age I was mesmerised by Christmas magic and it’s never left me. My earliest memories of Christmas were full of joy and excitement reinforced by the happy times when we lived with my Grandad, my parents and two younger sisters in Shotts.

The Christmas season kicked off when we began preparations for the end of term school party. From the end of November we learned Scottish country dancing and were introduced to the delights of the Gay Gordon’s, Strip the Willow and the Military Two Step. If you were lucky (and your parents could afford it) you got a new outfit for what felt like a never-ending run of Christmas parties. It was such a busy time for budding socialites like me. Largely dependent on the social standing of the organisations that you attended and their predisposition for throwing parties, like the Salvation Army, the Sunday school or the Brownies.

As is true with every fanatic there are bizarre unexplainable behaviours associated with your obsession. For me these centred on precision planning for the Christmas discovery that Santa had been. In my opinion this required a finely tuned and masterfully orchestrated plan to reduce all possible margins for error for such an important occasion. To suppress any anxiety I had that I might miss Christmas Day (hardly likely) I organised weekly rehearsals. These were much to my sister’s consternation, as the rehearsals ran for four weeks up to Christmas Eve and were always in the middle of the night. As an adult you could never understand nor appreciate the necessity for such a rehearsal. However for a childhood fanatic like me it was essential; the order in which we awakened and the precision timing associated with the start of the big day was a matter of significant importance.

This was one operation which in my view could never be left to chance, nor could I ever envisage the circumstances that would mean I was not the person to announce that Santa had been. So in addition to making sure we were up, my priority was all about being the person who made the Christmas discovery. Such was my obsession I was unable to contemplate the scenario that my younger sisters would be the first to the scene. So the rehearsal was designed to reinforce the prevailing status and order among my siblings and that it was absolutely my responsibility to make sure this happened.

After all Christmas was such a rare but exquisite event when you were wee that you couldn’t afford to miss a thing or sleep in. Getting my sisters (who were not yet at school) out of bed in the middle of the night proved to be a very difficult task, they’d rather be sleeping than creeping along the corridor in the freezing cold. Because we shared a room they had no way to escape this drill, but at least this ensured that no-one else was disturbed. However they were sleeping so soundly (and one was in a cot), that it was almost inevitable there was a bit of a racket when I was getting them up. So much so Dad heard us one night and, although we did our best to blend into the wallpaper in the hall ( just as we had been practising), his late night discovery curbed the remaining schedule of rehearsals I had planned.

Therefore I had to find other ways to satisfy my longing for all things Christmas until one year the ultimate happened- I was awake when Santa called. It was Christmas Eve, outside the heavy snow had become hard packed under foot and was glistening like diamonds in the moonlight. I’d been up at the window on numerous occasions that night hoping to catch a glimpse of the man himself. Our fire was smouldering in the room creating a fiery glow at floor level. The windows were frozen on the inside, but the laughter of our neighbours making their way home from the pub caused me to scrape a small viewing pane. They were sliding, throwing snowballs and partaking in other festive foreplay on their way home. This upset me greatly as it was highly unlikely Santa would appear while they were still up. I climbed back into bed unable to sleep, crippled with excitement.

Back in my bed, I’m sure I heard bells ringing. Now I am not 100% sure of this, but something stirred outside making me hold my breath to aid my hearing. There was a rustle of papers and stamping of feet and I heard my Grandad, who was babysitting, say in quite a clear and unaffected way, “Oh it’s you Santa, come in!” Without response I heard his heavy feet stamp on the doormat, I imagined him clearing off the snow from his boots before he entered the hall. I felt the air in the bedroom chill as the door continued to be held open for what seemed an age, and finally I let my breath fly out of my nostrils into a frosty cloud when I was sure he had entered the lounge.

I was terrified and excited all at the same time but I noticed I was frozen to my bed. I was quietly frustrated at my Dad for curbing the essential drills that would have enabled me to sneak out of the bedroom and into the living room where Santa was being entertained by my Grandad. But I was also grateful because I’m not sure how I would have responded coming face to face finally with the great man that Christmas Eve.

Transfixed, I lay there wide awake, breathing deeply, wishing and wondering about the delights awaiting me the following morning when I got up. If I didn’t sleep in I’m pretty sure I would find out…………………..