I’d sit on my Grandma’s knee and snuggle, encompassed in her warm, substantial breast. I felt loved. She encouraged me to sing to her. I’d watch her cook Scottish shortbread, always her favourite. She’d sit on a stool to relieve her arthritic legs, saying, ‘ It is always better to sit, rather than stand, so sit here beside me.’ I’d perch up next to her on another stool.
At seven I started music lessons. This meant that I stayed with Grandma two nights during the week as she lived closer to the music teacher’s house. Walking to school afterwards, I’d have to hurry not be late for school.
We’d have sardines on toast, or asparagus from the garden, with milk coffee for tea, (supper). That meant warming the mik and putting the coffee grains in the milk before straining. Sometimes we’d have coffee and chickory essence, the sweetness still appeals to me, even though I drink black coffee unsweetened now. Getting scared in the night by my grandmother snoring and haunting noises, such as the stairs creeking, would wake me. I’d lie awake in that soft bed with the blue feather counterpane looking at the shadows, waiting for a ghost to appear.
At nine I was given my first bicycle that had belonged to Auntie Mary; it had bent and rusty handlebars. I was so grateful to have a bike, that it didn’t matter that it wasn’t new like my friend Penny’s. This now meant that I didn’t have to stay with Grandma, I had a choice; whether to ride in the pelting rain, holding out my arm to turn right, wobbling, feeling water drip down my neck, or stay at Ronald Street. Keeping a balance, dividing my time, that felt best.
I enjoyed music but really wasn’t motivated, so I didn’t achieve much progress, though I did get a distinction one snowy morning, with frozen fingers playing for my Preliminary Exam. Snow fell twice during those school years, though we did get many severe frosts. Putting a saucer of creamy milk out at night, to collect it frozen next morning, was a popular thing to do and it tasted wonderful. A boy at school lost an eye, being hit by a snowball with a stone in it that snowy day.
As I got older, Grandma demanded more of me, ‘ Wash up the glass first, cutlery second, then plates, with saucepans last. Make sure the water is very hot!’ her repeated refrain. I loved her, so it didn’t matter. I didn’t mind running messages, as she’d say,
‘Your legs are younger than mine!’
Penny and I stayed with her at Uncle Henry’s farm at Deloraine, where Penny couldn’t believe it when we were asked to redo the washing up. Penny wasn’t nearly as accepting as me and muttered under her breath,
‘She can’t be serious, the old cow!’
In later years my mother became very tired of having to visit her, especially as her visits were
never considered long enough. As soon as my mother would get up to leave, Grandma would say, ‘I’m sure there was something else I had to tell you. If you wait a while I may remember.’ Or she’d say,
‘You’ve only just arrived, you can’t go yet!’
Being habitually late had been one of her ways of taking control. When she was older and sedentary this was no longer possible. Instead, she remained the matriarch from her chair or bed, in other ways.