I've enjoyed reading the Mother's Day celebration reviews on Ciao lately and was tempted to add my own, (I suggested the title), but decided instead to celebrate Mother's Day and two centenaries by writing about another special person in my life; Mum's Mum, my Nan. My Nan would have celebrated her 100th birthday this year and this is my 100th review for Ciao so it seemed apt.
My Nan was born into a large Irish Catholic family in Liverpool in the spring of 1911. I know little of her own parents other than that they were poor, and her mother died in my Nan's arms one Christmas day. Nan married into another Irish Catholic family and gave birth to six children; two girls, (my Mum was the second), followed by four boys. Her husband, my Grandad, sold fruit and veg, he had a disability which meant he walked with a stick, Nan took in washing and sewing to help make ends meet. Grandad was a great believer in education, their house was unusual in that he had a large collection of books, he was a left wing activist, political meetings were held at their house. He died young, of lung cancer, when my Nan was in her early forties and my Mum was seventeen. Nan never remarried.
My strongest memories of Nan are from my childhood. Throughout the seventies me and my brother would be taken to visit her every Sunday afternoon without fail, there would usually be other family there too. Being a girl, I would be expected to help Nan in the kitchen while she made tea for the grown-ups and put out plates of Jacob's crackers, cheese, biscuits and glass bowls of jelly with 'cream', ('Carnation' condensed milk). A run of early Sunday evening television shows were watched, my absolute favourite was 'Black Beauty', also 'The Golden Shot', 'Celebrity Squares', '3-2-1', and 'Bullseye' were programmes I'll always associate with Sunday afternoons at my Nan's. In the eighties there always seemed to be something about Princess Diana on the telly and Nan, my Mum and other relatives would enjoy dissecting her latest fashion decisions and hairstyle. On the way out Nan would slip me a coin in return for a peck on the cheek.
In the school holidays when my Mum was working, me and my brother would spend the days at Nan's house, sometimes with another young cousin for company. I was the fourth grandchild to come along, born shortly after the sad death of one of her sons. Nan loved all her grandchildren fiercely. I remember once when a neighbourhood dog bit me, Nan chased it and battered it with a brush, causing murder with the neighbours - despite how this may sound, she did actually love animals. She'd had various cats and dogs over the years, but I only remember Jip. A big black all-sorts dog who who used to smile, really, if you said smile he would lift his lips up and show you all his teeth. After Jip's death from old age Nan never got any more animals, she said it was too much heartache. I think she didn't want to leave any behind, she was fond of telling us, for many years, that she wouldn't be around much longer.
Memories of Summer holidays at my Nans: 'Rooms', 'Crown Court' and greyhound races on the telly; chippy chips and shop bought single trifles for dinner, (dinner was at lunchtime, evening meals were tea); long hot days watching the progress of huge spiders in the garden - wrapping and eating flies and having millions of baby spiders, (I'm slightly abashed to remember that sometimes if really bored we would catch small insects and feed them to the spiders - we thought of it as just giving nature a helping hand); setting up garden obstacle courses and jumping them with 'horses' (brushes); Nan telling me I needed to grow a thick skin when I came in in tears after a falling out with one of the neighbour's kids; playing with the cut out dolls clothes from the back page of 'Bunty'; being given swings, teased and tickled to death by one or other of my uncles. There were often visitors, a couple of my younger uncles still lived there on and off and they had friends call round, or neighbours and friends would pop in to see Nan for a chat and a cuppa.
Nan was down to earth, 'there was no side to her' was something people often said about her. She really did just say what she thought and if that was something you didn't like, well it somehow didn't matter, because she made you laugh. Nan would back me up if my mum wasn't happy with me. I remember during my late teens when I having trouble settling down to a job or college course my Mum was understandably exasperated with me, but Nan cheered me up by talking about the plethora of jobs Mum had had and quickly tired of, the record being half a day. Nan didn't always say a lot, but she had a pithy way with words. The inflection in her voice could say it all. She was comical, although it's hard to explain why.
Christmas at Nan's house was a fun, if squashed affair, with all of her children, in-laws, grandchildren and great grandchildren squeezing into her living room, (Nan lived in a council house that was bought for her by one of her sons when they first went up for sale in the eighties). As we left Nan might make a comment about whether she'd still be there the following year and one or other of the family would laugh and tell her how she'd outlive the lot of them.
The last ten years of Nan's life weren't kind, she suffered several illnesses and falls and was in and out of hospital, but for as long as she could, she still managed to shuffle down to the local pub every week with her best friend. The pub was run by old family friends and she was well known in there. Once that became too much for her, she still enjoyed a tot of whisky in front of the telly. Nan liked a good crime drama, or maybe the word 'good' isn't quite true; 'Harry O', 'Vegas', 'Starsky and Hutch', 'Quincy' and 'Miami Vice' were all shows she enjoyed.
Nan died in 1994 at the age of 83. She left a big gap in a lot of lives. I don't think I'd appreciated how she'd always just, been there. I always knew she loved me, even though I don't think she ever said so, not the way things were done then. She'd had a hard life with more than her share of tragedy, but it never embittered her, she remained kind hearted, 'soft' she would have said, and pleasant. I only have one photograph of my Nan which I took a few years before she died, but I won't upload it, because even though she was gone before the impact of the Internet was felt, I think if she'd known about it she'd have killed me. In fact, if she'd known about me writing this I'd no doubt be accused of 'making a show' of her.
I know Nan would have loved to have seen me settled down and would have idolised my daughter. I don't have any religious belief in an afterlife, but sometimes I like to think it's possible that she's still around somewhere and knows about her most recent great grandchild. If so maybe she'll hear me when I say Happy 100th birthday Nan, lots of love, Tricia xxx
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