Great Gran died at the weekend. It was not surprising. She was 100 years old. She hadn’t been the same since her major stroke last year. She was also my husband’s gran not mine.
But it still had me in tears.
Because I loved her. I loved her, not just for being the major person who made my husband who he is.
She directly looked after him for significant periods of his life and always kept a close eye on him even as an adult. I loved her for the place she took in my life during the 16 years that I knew her.
She was a remarkable woman. A successful business woman in an age when most women didn’t work outside the home. When my husband’s dad and his older brother grew up she became a salesperson, a pioneer in Electrical Home goods (ovens, fridges) sales. Starting out by selling the new electric ranges by actually cooking delicious food in them and coming round to help people who had bought them. She went on to run sales for the North East and then the UK and then traveling internationally. My husband called her ‘car gran’ when he was younger because she was always driving everywhere.
When I met her, she was already in her 80s still living in the colliery house her husband Harry was allocated as Pit Head Manager, with its coal shed and outdoor toilet. Her mobility had gone downhill and she was struggling to manage the narrow steep steps to her bedroom. But she was still a formidable intelligent and independent woman cooking, cleaning, shopping (by bus not car) and looking after herself. She continued to do this until well into her 90s.
I remember the first time I met her. I was taken into the front room, where visitors were entertained, and gently interrogated. I passed, I guess, because she laughed with me and said I reminded her of her younger sister Hilda. She had a great sense of humor, she told me with a laugh that she spent her first pay check as a young girl getting her hair cut off which didn’t go down well at home as her eldest sister was about to get married and she would be a bridesmaid with short hair! She had a sharp tongue too and as I learnt way of hissing through her teeth when talking about something or someone she didn’t like. But mostly her judgements were fair.
With her age I didn’t expect to know her long. Soon after I met her she began talking about moving to a small sheltered bungalow closer into town. We drove by it. My husband frowned ‘I think she will die if she goes there’. But she didn’t. She actually revived. She could easily manage the tiny bungalow with its 4 rooms. She kept it spotless and often when I spoke to her she would tell me how she had been up on a chair cleaning the top of the cupboards, something I openly told her that I never did.
My kids went from babes in arms in that small house to toddlers reaching for the fire irons to little children running the circle through her bedroom and bathroom back to the hall and then sitting room again. They thought it a wonderful game. As older kids she put the Telly on to entertain them. Then as teenagers they would sit on a floor that seemed to have shrunk as they grew and play on their phones or iPads. She would gasp and say ‘oh my’ as they showed her the games.
We never lived close. So annual visits accentuated the changes in them. But mostly Great Gran didn’t seem to change. Certainly not when she was sitting in her arm chair with a cup of – extremely – week black coffee and a chocolate biscuit. It was her mobility that went. First she had a normal stick for long walks, then one with many feet when she went out of the house, then a walker to get from room to room in her little house.
She loved food and many of my happiest memories of our time with her were the times we took her out to eat. The Christmas we spent up there and my husband cooked Christmas Dinner. The first time she told me that anyone had cooked Christmas dinner for her as that had always been her job and she continued to do it into her 90s. My husbands amazing roast and Christmas dinners owe a lot to her. I’s grateful for that every time he cooks. Taking her out she loved fish and chips, pudding especially apple crumble and the real treat a proper English Afternoon tea. Both of which she could eat so quickly that blink and the food had disappeared it but her satisfied smile told the story. She had eaten it.
But though we lived far away she managed to be intimately involved in our lives. Till she got ill last year, she rang early every Sunday morning when mostly I was still in bed drinking my coffee, as my husband (a very early riser) was often out walking the dog, I got to talk to her till he reappeared. She would tell me about her trips to Asda or visits from her other grandchildren or my husband’s dad. She would ask about the kids and their schooling, my husband and his job and how I was. She was always concerned and interested in my welfare. Even though I felt I should really be ringing her to see how she was. It was always her who made the effort. When the kids were small she would also ring when my husband was away to check I was OK.
She was punctilious about remembering Birthdays. Her familiar handwriting was always on the first card to arrive and she even managed (and she was the only one who did) get a Birthday card to me on time when we moved to Texas. On the day itself the phone would ring and without speaking she would launch into singing Happy Birthday in her soft Northumbrian voice.
It will be my daughters birthday next week. Normally the card would be already here. But it isn’t and the phone call won’t come and the day will be emptier for it. For even though she lived to a 100 we still hadn’t had enough time with her. There is never enough time.