Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Two grannies

Unremarkably, I had two grannies. One was born in 1885, the other in 1895. I was born in 1950, so as you can probably work out, one was 65 and the other was 55 at that point.

For both of them, my older brother and I were the only grandchildren.

The older one, Granny S, moved down to England when I was 5 and we didn’t see her much from then on – only on occasional visits. She developed dementia in her early 70s and grew gradually more confused until her death when I was 18. I don’t feel I really knew her. I never knew at all Grandpa S, who died the year I was born. I feel sad about this.

The plate above was part of her wedding china. One day she was carrying a lot of it through to the dining room on a tray when she dropped it. This is one of the few pieces that survived.

My other granny, Granny C, lived just along the road from us until we moved house when I was 12 – but we moved only about a mile away. She and my grandpa were very much part of our lives. Granny C was an absolute darling. She lived for her family, had the illusion that my brother and I were perfect and loved all things domestic: sewing and knitting and cooking and gardening.

However, she had a sad family background. Her mother was from the island of Arran but left the island, went to work in Glasgow, got married, developed TB and then died when her children were 7, 5 (my future Granny) and 2 years old. Their father got his sister to come and be his housekeeper, but she wasn’t a very motherly person and didn’t give the children much love. Even more sadly, the 2 year old daughter also got TB, was a sickly child and died at 14. Granny C and her elder brother, Alec, were very close. Then their father remarried when they were 16 and 18 and their step-mother made it clear that they were no longer welcome in the house. Alec joined the army and Granny came to Edinburgh and got a job as a sewing maid in a big house.

Alec was gassed during the war. He was never well again and survived only till late 1921.

My granny and grandpa got married in 1921 and Alec gave them a wedding present of two blue and white vases. These sat on either end of the mantelpiece until my granny was an old lady and had a home help once a week – and this cleaner broke one of the vases. This is the other.

Both my grannies seemed like very old ladies to me, with cottage-loaf figures and white hair pulled back into buns. I'm now 57, two years older than my younger granny was when I was born. Strange thought. I'm not a granny yet, nor does there seem any prospect of becoming one in the near future. Fortunately I already have the cottage-loaf figure and the hair will probably be at least grey by the time it happens so at least no one can say I'm not prepared.


  1. Was so lovely to read about your family members and special possessions, and the memories they trigger. I was lucky enough to have both grandmothers live within a few miles for most of my life. Makes my eyes tear up to think of how I miss them so, now, and they're alive, just far away. I shall go, now and pen a letter to them! :)

  2. I don't have a lot of memories like that in my family, ones that are attached to something, you know? But it would be great, I think ... to be able to glance at something in my house and have a little grin over the memory flood.

    Maybe someday my children and grandchildren will have that, since I wasn't left the legacy of memories that I would have so loved to receive.

    I've still got a long way to go before I'm thinking of grandchildren though, so in the meantime, thanks for sharing your stories with me. I'm a lover of old things and family treasures, so it was a great read.

  3. Cottage Loaf- what nonsense. You don't look much like a granny either, in my opinion.

    I remember that vase from my visit. Such a history it has, and it's lovely that you know the story. So many objects keep their histories to themselves.

    I had a granny like Granny C. I thought I was her favourite, but as I found out later, all of us grandchildren, eight of us, thought the same.

    Come to think, she was rather a cottage-loaf shape too.

  4. I loved reading your post:-) Some of those bits and pieces we inherit are very precious.

    Sadly my earliest only grandparent memories were of photos. Nana and Grandad B travelled to NZ when I was 14. Then I met Nana C when I went to Scotland aged 19. I feel I missed out on a lot.

    As you know I'm enjoying being a Nana now. Although I'm trying reasonably hard not to look too much like one!

  5. Beautiful keepsake china from your Grandmother's.
    I hope my grandchildren have happy memories of me when I am gone.

  6. Lovely glimpses of your Grannies. My parents are both 10 years older than my granny was when she became a grandmother, and 2 years older than she was when I was born. I remember "Granny in California" visiting every summer, and being an old lady, but an energetic one who gardened all day and spent time with me. My parents will likely be 70 by the time I have kids, which makes me a little sad, I am telling them they have to make it to university graduations...

  7. Jeeminy. Such hard times. It's easy to forget now, but the past had its own special brand of hardship.

    It's amusing and odd to realize that one is at the same age that one's relatives were at a certain time in childhood. Why, weren't they positively ancient, with teeth missing and bodies stooped from osteoporosis and hard work? Yet I don't feel "old" and I doubt you do either. Thank goodness for that!

    Your keepsakes are lovely. I'm sure your grandmothers would be pleased that you have them.

  8. Isabelle, this is a wonderful story, that should be documented for posterity - not just here in cyberspace! I'm sure you will have done so anyway. I would be absolutely furious with a cleaner that could be so careless with such old china...grrr..well it is lucky that one survived.

  9. Lovely stories about your grannies! It is so great that you know the stories about those pieces of china - too often that kind of information gets lost when people are just not interested at the time, and later wish they had asked a few questions before it was too late.

    One of my 'grannies' is still around, and she's almost 98!

  10. Beautiful post, Isabelle. I love having bits and pieces around the house that have meaning, and it doesn't matter how "valuable" they are in the usual sense. I have a headless crystal swan that I inherited from my granny and which was decapitated by my son when he was only 6 months old (my own fault, I shouldn't have been holding him within swiping distance). My granny loved the swans (there was a pair) and taught me how to tell crystal from glass on them. She would have been sad if I had broken them but I suspect if she had lived to see her great-grandson, he would have been forgiven!

  11. Stories like this one make me reflect on how very lucky we are to have been born into this generation. Most of us grow up with the expectaion of long. peaceful lives for ourselves and our children.

  12. I'm so grateful that dh's parents live near us -- and love their grandchildren enough to see them often. My mom's mom died when she was two and my dad's mom died long before I was born.

  13. Hi Isabelle. ive just popped over from Gina"s..
    Lovely Story about your Grannies and precious china keepsakes..Both my Grannies passed away before I was born, But I have a complete Tea set that was given to my Mum about 1921...
    BTW, If you want to hear A Kookaburra laugh see my Febuary 2007 Archive...

  14. OhMyGosh Isabelle -- you're so funny! Such a lovely wonderful story about your grandmothers, and then you wrap it all up with talk of gray hair and cottage loaves! (And btw, I'm just a little upset that I'm just now finding this post and it was written several days ago -- my bloglines is failing me!) I'm the same age my mother was when I made her a granny and 12 years older than my granny when she became a granny. Like you, there are no babies on the near horizon. A sad byproduct of this age when we all wait longer to have babies. Thanks for another great post!

  15. Better a cottage loaf than a bloomer! ( like what I am, I'd rather be a baguette...)
    Such sad lives people so often had, yet they endured. Perhaps that was why they seemed old before their time?
    Lovely post.