“Let’s go and sit on the Haystack, and whose got the lipstick?” I never knew the exact circumstances or what would follow, but somehow it symbolised Jessie, to my mother, the person whom she would know as a friend as well as family. The person I knew who was so different, a Stoic, Matriarch and Christian lady of the church and would not want to be recognised as the flirty young girl who once was, who gained three proposals before settling upon my Grandfather. I remember my mother telling me that it was something my Grandmother had shared with her once.
I am sure that there were still signs of the girl she once was to her friends from younger years and also to my Grandad and I for one would have loved to have known her better then, but by the time I came along, she was already Nanny, to look at her, you might think Grandma, but no she was always called Nanny. I knew very little about her younger years, just that she was a very attractive young lady who bore a striking resemblance to a young Princess Elizabeth, who would later become Queen. I was ten years old when I lost her, but for a moment would like to share in some of the memories I do have of this wonderful woman, whom I was proud to call family.
I recall how she was heavily involved with the church, a local Baptist church and organised the Christian Aid jumble sales to raise funds abroad. We always knew when Christian Aid week was or when Christ had Risen, since there was a poster proudly displayed in the front window for all to see. I passed a home the other day, with the same familiar purple and white Christ is Risen! text with a cross, which suddenly got me thinking about her.
She was a creative woman, I knew this since she taught me how to bake cakes, knit and read music when I was learning to play the recorder at school amongst many other things. She also taught me how to build an open fire and clean it out after it had burned away and toast bread on a toasting fork. She had a sweet tooth and a liking for “Lift” Lemon Tea, which she used to make in a tea glass with a plastic holder and a long spoon for stirring the sugar in. I have the two of those glasses still to this day the ones we used to share on cold winter evenings amongst many other sentimental treasures. She had three black cats all at once, which was unusual at the time for someone to have quite so many, they were named Buster, Timmy and Sooty and I thought they were great. Buster used to let himself in and out of the back door by standing on his back legs and pushing the handle down with his paw and Sooty was the last remaining one who lived to be 23 years old and outlived her. My Nanny could put on a fantastic spread for the whole family and cook a mean roast dinner with all the trimmings, but always overcooked the vegetables, we found out later it was due to her having trouble with the false teeth, but at the time we had no clue. I guess we were just too young to understand.
I remember that in the summer months, we would congregate at Nanny and Grandads’ house for Sunday Lunch and family gatherings under the huge weeping willow tree which stood in their garden, I was devastated when years later, my Grandad cut it down, it held so many memories. Nanny attempted to teach me to crochet, but for some reason, I could not do it, preferring to knit. Years before I came along, she had once ran a haberdashery store from the front of the house, which by the time we came along had been turned into her bedroom, but the wooden shop style fitted cupboards remained and held a plethora of the stock she had kept when she closed it down. There were bolts of fabric in there and packets of best knitting wool, which I craved to be able to knit something wonderful with since there was so much of it. Instead at the time I hadn’t the skill so ended up knitting small dresses and outfits and blankets for my Sindy dolls and Teddies.
Nanny would not have approved! She always kept things for best, there were cupboards full of things she was keeping for best when she died. But whilst she was alive and well, there were recycled buttons and unravelled wool for making things like that but I was just a child. She and Grandad were both really good at recycling things, I think my own quest for recycling came from there frugality.
If Dad had got his way, I would have borne her middle name Florence as my own. As a child of the 70’s I am grateful that Mum won that debate since the ridicule once I arrived at School would have been unbearable. The Magic Roundabout was a great program for kids, we used to watch and enjoy it but I didn’t want a living hellish part of it as I was growing up. For a sensitive child having a strange name was already difficult enough in a world full of Emma’s. In my infants school alone, there were as many as three Emma’s in every class I had. I craved for a more common name like Emma so that I might just fit in.
But back to Jessie. We had fun, we used to go to their house at weekends. Saturday night into Sunday, with my cousins and my brother, we would stay over and all head off to church together the next day. It was walking distance from Nanny and Grandads’ and because he couldn’t fit four children and two adults into his car, Grandad would drive down and bring Nanny back in the car afterwards. This served two purposes, we would walk there and back, which involved playing on the way home and so would be sufficiently tired by the time we reached Nanny’s and Lunch would be almost ready by the time we all arrived there. Since my Brother was four years older than me and the eldest, and my cousins were only a year or two around me in age, there were safety in numbers and our grandparents only lived four roads from the church, it was deemed safe for us to walk home without getting into too much trouble. Nanny would be putting the finishing touches to the Sunday Lunch that our parents would join us to enjoy when we arrived back. Sometimes, I would be able to help with the cooking.
On other occasions she would bake and I loved baking with her.
I remember being invited to Nanny’s one day to help her bake some cakes. She had one of those 1950’s kitchen store cupboards in her house, with numerous doors and drawers, which served as an extra work surface when needed and small children were assisting in the kitchen. There was also a blue Formica covered kitchen table, which was her work surface for rolling out pastry etc. and after my grandparents passed away, I inherited the table for a while, for sentimental reasons. I had to get out the kitchen steps to be able to reach the top shelf of the cupboards which contained a large selection of Homepride Bakers with Bowler hats, who held all the wonderful ingredients we needed for baking. Along with a selection of Cornish pottery with the blue and white stripes. I loved being in her kitchen. It looked out from a huge double sink over the garden. My Grandad had built the kitchen as an extension years earlier for her and it was just the right size and had become the hub of the house. On this particular occasion though, I’d been invited to bake with her and she had let me have free reign. Nanny loved to make scones which were would be later drenched in butter and jam whilst still warm from the oven. It was our treat for making them she said. Margaret, was our Minister’s daughter from the church and had been invited to join us on this occasion.
We assembled the ingredients to make the pastry and Nanny asked what we were going to make. She had hoped for some jam tarts for a cake stall maybe, or just for tea, but creativity kicked in and we made furniture.
Yes, Pastry furniture. On a baking tray, we rolled, moulded to create a three piece suite each, sofa and two chairs, with pastry arms and cushions made from Jam. They were kind of like tarts, weren’t they, but much more inspired! Margaret and I had such a wonderful time and since there was still a little of the pastry left over for a more traditional jam tart, Nanny also got her wish. But the sofas were out piece de resistance, and I can remember her mother’s surprise when we answered her question, “So, what did you make today?” when she collected Margaret later that day and we chorused “Jam Sofas and Chairs” “I’ve had such fun, when can I come again?” she said. Her mother’s eyebrows went up and she took her away, I don’t think she was allowed to come and play again.
Christian Aid week was always hard work for Nanny, she would spend the weeks leading up to it, collecting and sorting through donations from people. They would be dropping off sacks of jumble for the sale, and Grandad would be getting cross that she had taken over his garage again and he had to park on the driveway instead. Since we lived in the next road, Mum and I would be called upon to help and sort things through before they were sold. We were not well off, so if there was something that we needed in the clothing department, then Nan would let us have it just for helping, since the items were donated for people in need. If there was a toy there, we had to make a donation from our pocket money for it. I am sure that it encouraged our love of bargain hunting in later years. Nan’s philosophy was that these were donated goods for children and families in need and if we were in need, we should also do what we could to help.
There was always heaps of clothing, toys and bric-a- brac and it all had to be sorted out. Nan’s kindness was a double edged sword though, since I often received clothing which had been donated by families locally, I would then turn up wearing things at school, since we did not have a uniform at our school, only to be bullied for being poor, and wearing someone‘s old clothes, or wearing something that Mum had made or altered to fit me, amongst other things.
Nanny must have been great at selling though, she was always busy at the jumble sales, there were regulars who would queue up to come and buy from her stall no matter what and we would be roped in to help. My brother and I once had our photograph taken for the local newspaper chattering away on some toy telephones we had picked out from the jumble sale. There are just not enough of them around now, Jumble Sales. Time has moved on with the arrival of boot and table sales, have we lost the community spirit which used to surround these events and the joy to rummage. My curiosity never wanes but rummaging is now met with displeasure for messing up someone’s display. I miss the jumble sale.
I remember fondly those Saturday nights spent at Nanny and Grandads’ house, the boys used to sleep in the back bedroom, whilst the girls used to share the big room at the front with Nanny. We were always getting told off for talking late into the night and giggling. It always backfired though, when we would be awake several hours later when Nanny came to bed, then she would keep us awake with her snoring. One Sunday morning we were discussing that Nanny snored, much to her horror when we demonstrated just how loud it was, to the boys amazement, she retorted with “Well you all talk in your sleep” We sat there in disbelief. Grandad corroborated her story, yes they said, you don’t stop talking even in your sleep. We were amazed and immediately asked what we had been saying. It wasn’t as interesting as we thought it would be, but nevertheless it must have hatched a plan in her head. The very next weekend, they decided to prove it to us.
We all stayed over as usual and had forgotten the conversation during the week which had followed. Some time after we had all gone too bed, Nanny opened the bedroom doors to our room and the boys. There she sat in the hallway, poised with tape recorder and microphone and recorded my cousins and I having a conversation, from two rooms away. So there were four children across a hallway conversing in their sleep. At the breakfast table the next morning, she played us the tape to our absolute amazement.
As an adult, I have a picture in my head of my dear Grandmother, sitting in her hallway on a Saturday night tape recorder in hand, just to prove her point and realise that I am so much like her in so many ways. If I have a point to prove, I will go to any lengths to do so. I am also stubborn, just as she was. It’s been over thirty years since I have seen her, but I am so pleased to be able to tell you these small stories about her.