Friday, March 03, 2017

My grandmother and me

My uncle was already working away from home when I was born. When his son was born two years after me it was discovered that he had tubercular meningitis meaning he needed constant care through his short (27 years) life and any journeys needed careful planning and could be cancelled at the last minute if he were unwell. So Uncle's visits home were few and far between.

But when he did come, oh, my gran laid on a feast fit for a prodigal. Or at least the 50s Mumbles equivalent: she'd open a tin of best red salmon. It must have been after a particularly trying journey that, with my gran fussing around him, Uncle finally snapped. 'I don't even like tinned salmon,' he declared.

I felt sorry for my gran then. And cross with Uncle. How dare he throw her desperation to please him back in her face? I was maybe in my early teens then and was angry with this stranger.

Four generations of women
It was unusual for me to feel sorry for my gran. She was a formidable character. As the oldest of eight children the care of both her parents and then just her mother fell mostly onto her. I grew up in a house with my mother, grandparents and great-grandmother. A very matriarchal house, the epitome of woman power.

Because my mother had to go out to work it was my gran who was largely responsible for my up-bringing. A job she took seriously. It wasn't that she didn't love me; it was about being loving. And being lovable. She was confident and liked to think she was better than others. At the same time she'd be ingratiating with those she looked up to.

She wasn't like Auntie Gay who had no children of her own and doted on and spoiled me. She wasn't like Auntie Vi who preferred gadding about, as my gran would call it, to cleaning her house but who could make you laugh at the grimmest of times.

She just wasn't cuddly or lovable. But maybe she couldn't be: maybe her life was too hard for her to demonstrate emotion. If you look at photos of her you see a strong facial structure, a way of holding herself, an undeniably resilient woman who perhaps has seen too much. 

I fear I have inherited many of her traits but not her best ones: her self assurance and magnificent singing voice. Or her pastry-making skill. Nobody made apple tarts like my gran.

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