I originally wrote this piece for the Scottish Book Trust‘s ( http://www.scottishbooktrust.com/ ) ‘Family Legends’ series. My husband reminded me about it the other day and I thought it would be nice to post it on the blog – especially since I now have the privilege of being a grandmother myself.
She died two days after my eighth birthday. It was my first experience of bereavement. The last time I saw her was in the week before she died. It was a Thursday in August. On Thursdays she got the bus across Edinburgh from her home in the Boswall area of the capital and spent the day at our house on the south side. I could never wait to get home from school to see her.
On that last evening she left her cardigan behind when she set off for home. Mum told me to take it and go after her. I called out to her as I ran along the road. Eventually she heard me and turned to wait for me to catch up. I’ve never forgotten the hug she gave me for my trouble. For a long time after she died I often thought I saw her walking ahead of me in the street. I wasn’t allowed to go to her funeral and I found it hard to accept she was really dead.
My Granny had time for me. I was the eldest of five girls and sometimes my mother needed a break. So in the school holidays I was often sent off to Granny’s to stay. The memory of the taste of her mince and tatties with HP sauce can still make my mouth water. Lunches such as this would be followed by watching ‘The One O’clock Gang’ on the television and then a trip to the ice-cream van for a vanilla cone with raspberry.
Granny was born in 1890 when Queen Victoria still ruled the Empire. She was one of six children in a middle class Glaswegian family. Her intellect was sharp. In more modern times she would probably have been an academic or a writer.
In any event she should have lived a comfortable life. Two world wars meant that was not the case. During the Great War she nursed wounded soldiers. My grandfather was one of these soldiers. They married in 1920 and settled in Edinburgh. She was 42 years old when, three months prematurely, she had my mother, the younger of her two daughters.
Everybody in the Boswall area knew Peggy. There are people in the area today who still remember her. She loved to write and she loved children. In the 1930s and 40s she combined those two loves when she wrote and directed plays for the local children. One of her motivations for doing this, apart from a love of writing, was to give her extremely shy, younger daughter a chance to come out of herself.
At the beginning of the Second World War she took a party of evacuees, including her own two daughters, from the local primary school to rural Tayside. I still have the diary in which she recorded the fascinating account of their evacuation.
My grandfather died in 1942. In order to support herself and her girls, Granny had to get a job, her first job for thirty years, at the age of fifty two. She found work as a typist in Bruce Peebles, a local engineering company. From her modest salary she found the money to send my mother to a new school which opened in Edinburgh in the 1940s. This was the RudolfSteinerSchool, offering a very different form of education to the conventional model. Granny made a leap of faith, believing that the holistic and arts-based approach that the school offered would suit her withdrawn little daughter rather well.
All my earliest memories are permeated by the presence of this formidable but kind woman. I loved to get into bed beside her in the early morning and listen to the amazing stories she told. These were stories of feisty young girls, both princesses and commoners who triumphed over injustice, trouble and their own failings. I also loved when she got me ready for bed, washing my face while I sat on the draining board at the side of the kitchen sink, telling me I was her china doll. Afterwards I was allowed to put on a little of her special, Nulon hand cream.
The plays she wrote for my mother and her friends were revived for her grandchildren. My sisters, cousins and I, along with many of our peers at school and church, took part in several shows, pantomimes and concerts – all produced and directed by my grandmother.
One of my first memories of her, is of us sitting side by side on a bench outside the City Hospital in Edinburgh. I was only about four years old. My first little sister had acute bronchitis and was receiving treatment there. My parents were with her. I had insisted on going to the hospital too, but I wasn’t allowed in. So Granny and I kept vigil outside.
I also remember her barefoot on the beach, in her seventies, playing football with all the grandchildren during family holidays at Loch Long. I recall her nursing me and my little sisters through measles and chickenpox and the doses of some sort of tonic that she inflicted on us afterwards. I remember her administering poultices for my poisoned finger and her faith in herbal remedies.
Even now the smell of roses in a summer garden takes me right back to sitting on the seat at Granny’s back door, shelling peas into a basin, and listening to her talk.
She instilled in me her own values of self-reliance, independence and compassion; more than that, she showed me the power of unconditional love. And more than forty years after her death I still carry her in my heart.
I grew up to be a primary school teacher and have put on a few children’s plays myself during my thirty years in the job. My hobby is writing. Granny’s influence lives on.
Now, with grown up children of my own, I look forward to maybe being a granny myself one day. I would be proud to be even half as good at the job as she was.