When I was born my Granny (dad’s mother) was 82. When she died I was 11. By the time I was old enough to remember her she wasn’t remembering much any more, she had Alzheimer’s. Most of the visits to her house involved my Dad telling her the same things over and over again, answering the same questions.
I have gone through life knowing very little about my Granny. After my father died we found a bag stuffed into his closet that contained things he must have rescued from her house after she died and then never looked at again. These things included a scrapbook she kept from about 1911 to 1917, and I have very much enjoyed exploring her life.
She was, it turns out, a very interesting lady.
Now that we are living in the town where she grew up, I have been looking deeper into the family. She and I, it seems, have a lot in common.
Not only do I look a lot like her – I see it in the pictures, and other family members have said they see it too – but we are both the youngest of five siblings. (Only on my father’s side for me, but I disgress). When she was born her father was 51, when I was born my father was 48. Our parents were 13 years apart in age.
We both got married at age 26.
Now I am living in this place that she left 100 years ago – 100 years ago she left this town and moved to the city where she would meet her husband and build her life, which is how my life became real.
I know now that she was strong-willed. Some would call me the same. She was independent. Her husband went off to war for a chunk of time and left her with two children. She sent him a telegram while he was away letting him know the mortgage was paid off.
When he died in 1956, she travelled the world. I have pictures from trips – slides she brought back, mentions of her in letters.
According to my dad’s papers, the house that she lived in until almost the day she died was a house that she had moved into herself, with her mother, before she was married. It was hers. For 70 years that was her home. If you mention 367 to any member of the family they know where you’re talking about. We all know it.
I didn’t think I had many memories of her, I remember the house had awkward corners, a wee staircase, so that you wouldn’t have any idea how they got any furniture upstairs. A well-organized kitchen. Then one Boxing Day my brother brought fudge, Granny’s fudge, and as soon as he opened the tin, I remembered the smell. That was the smell of Granny’s house.
When I look at her in the pictures of her younger days she is clearly having fun. She is surrounded by friends, laughing, going places. Slowly the boys in the pictures start wearing uniforms and the scrapbook ends.
In my father’s partially written memoir that he left behind when he died he writes about his own grandmother who lived with them when he was a child. She died when he was about 17. He says he doesn’t remember talking to her much or asking her questions and that is something he regrets.
I regret, too, not asking more questions. I have older siblings who knew Granny when she was herself, and even older cousins who knew her longer than that. (The age ranges in my family are all out of whack, the age difference between my father and his sister, and my father and my mother, means that my first cousins are my mother’s age, it’s a whole thing).
But there is still this unfairness in the air – why didn’t I get the chance to know her? Why didn’t my Dad talk about his parents and his childhood? How much will I just never know?