Friday, 3 October 2008
My Grandmother's House - Part Three
So you left me last sitting in the corner chair listening to the highly entertaining gossip of my Grandmother and her cronies. Before continuing on to the rest of the house I would like to take you back to the outside toilet. I have mentioned in Part One that my mother saw an apparition whilst out there so I will illuminate.
My Mother adored her Grandmother, Eliza. When this incident happened Eliza had been in her grave for five years. My Mother was expecting her first child and had experienced problems right from the outset. She was in about her fifth month and still bleeding from time to time. One evening she was at my Grandmother's house and experienced sharp pain. She thought she was miscarrying and hastened to the outside toilet in horror and fear. She sat there waiting for something to happen and ready to call for assistance from my Aunt Bet and Nan if she needed it. She had left the door open as she did not like being shut in there either - and she told me she had stared out into the darkened garden . She lifted her eyes skywards to the bright moon and scudding clouds and murmured a prayer that her baby be protected. Then she closed her eyes and let the tears trickle down her face. Suddenly she heard her name being called softly and thinking it was Nan she opened her eyes. Standing in the full moonlight was Great-Grandmother Eliza holding out her hands. For some reason my Mother felt completely calm as she stared at the familiar loving face. She told me that although she did not see Eliza's mouth move she clearly heard the words "It is alright my dear, your son is safe, you have nothing to fear. Another son will follow and when you think childbearing is done you will be surprised with the birth of a daughter, may God bless you." Then, before her eyes, the figure faded to nothing. Mum noticed that her pain had gone. From that moment on she experienced no further problems and in due course she did give birth to a son, followed eighteen months later by a second son and over ten years later by me!
So, the gift of experiencing strange things seems to have passed down to me.
Nan also had the second-sight. When first married she used to read the tea-leaves and was very good at it and very very accurate. I think she must have been a genuine medium because she often gave "readings" to people without the tea-leaves. She never charged money, it was just something that happened naturally in the course of a conversation and many came to her for advice. She only stopped when a woman barged into the house one day and accused her of doing the "devil's work" and told her she would burn in hell. She never did another reading. So maybe it is the Celtish blood, I really do not know but the three generations have had it and maybe generations before although it has not been passed to my own daughter. I have followed the example of my Nan and never gone looking for things or dabbling in what I do not understand. The experiences that I have had over the years simply happened.
Now, we come to the upstairs. Really nothing remarkable, a carbon copy of the rooms downstairs. No carpets on the floor, just linoleum, bed, a chest of drawers and a wardrobe in each. I hardly ever went upstairs in the house because there was really no need. There were a few occasions when I would go up with cousin Alan, six years younger than me and play with his toy cars but we mostly played in the street which was customary in those days.
As for my Nan's bedroom, I only ever went in there once and I cannot recall it as being a nice experience. There had been a family party either for Christmas or New Year and the house was packed. Everyone had far too much to drink and it got too late for everyone to go home. So the men slept where they could, on chairs, on the floor, under the table, whilst some of the women slept in the other bedrooms. I was told I would be sleeping in Nan's room, but I did not realise I would not be sleeping alone.
Into one standard double bed piled little me, Nan, Aunt Bet, my Mum, Big Annie and my older female cousin. It was a nightmare. I was between Nan and Aunt Bet. Now, I was a very skinny, underweight child although you would not think so to look at me now and there I was with these two enormous people either side of me. I must have looked like a sardine between two whales. I never got any sleep that night I can tell you. I was so afraid that one or the other of them would roll over onto me and I would be squashed flat. They also both snored heavily and the aroma of alcohol hung heavy in the air. I clutched the sheet tightly in my hands and prayed for morning to come. I have never spent such an uncomfortable night.
That is the only time I recall being in the master bedroom.
Some of the happiest times, when the house rang with the most laughter, was when Bill came home. Bill was Nan's eldest son and the apple of her eye. I think it broke her heart when he chose a life at sea and was away for very long periods. She loved my Mother, of that I have no doubt, but not the way she loved Bill. Although my Mother was the oldest child, her twin brother, Robert, had died at the age of fifteen days. Nan had so wanted a son and had called him Robert after her beloved Grandfather. In those days when boy and girl twins were born and only one survived it was invariably the girl. Maybe girl babies are just that bit stronger. Anyway I think Nan for some reason blamed Mum that she survived at the expense of Robert. So, although she loved my mother and tended her well, when Bill was born he became her favourite. They also had a special bond in that they shared the same birthday - 6th August. They were so alike Nan and Bill, they resembled each other in looks, had the same sense of humour, they had a really special bond. My Aunt Liley was always annoyed when her husband Bill, coming home on leave, would always visit his mother first. It does seem strange but Bill knew how much his mother loved him and would be so anxious to see him, especially after Grandfather died. That was just the way things were.
I have never met someone as outgoing and friendly as Bill was. He was a man who truly lived life to the full and wrung every drop of pleasure he could get out of it. He was the sort of person who, when he walked into a pub and nobody knew him, within about ten minutes he had the whole place in gales of laughter. He had so many stories to tell of his life at sea and his experiences and he always had a fund of jokes. It was him that brought home Nan's parrot. He always had a parrot of his own. You should have heard those parrots swear! Well, they had been on board ship for months flying loose in his cabin and they learned the language of the seamen. When people became his friends they stayed so for life. He had the rare gift of being able to get on with everyone.
So there was always great rejoicing and celebration when Bill came home, sometimes in the house and very often in the pub or various pubs because we all ended up going from one pub to another during the course of the evening. I was too young to be allowed inside so I sat on the steps with a glass of Lemonade and a packet of crisps but I could hear all that went on. I loved Bill very much and I know he loved me. The last time I saw him was at my twenty-first birthday party. He should have gone to his own daughter's party as my cousin and I share the same birthday but he insisted on coming to mine pointing out that Joan had already had her twenty-first so he was not going to let me down. I danced with him most of the evening and he made me feel like a queen.
Another regular visitor to the house was Ellen Jane. She was Nan's youngest sister and two sisters more unalike you could not find. Whereas Nan was large, Ellen Jane was very tiny indeed. She was what would be called today a "special needs" child. The last of a large brood something went wrong during her birth. She remained very childlike and suffered bad epileptic seizures. In the days when she was born there was little in the way of treatment so when her father uprooted the family to England, she was at first cared for at home but as her sisters married and departed, she was placed in an institution where she was to live out the remainder of her days. However Nan was very fond of her and had her for long stays, usually several weeks in the summer, visited her regularly and on at least one occasion took her back to Scotland for a holiday.
So there were always people coming and going from Nan's. She never travelled the world but the world came to her. Her house was never empty and I always felt so safe and happy there. I preferred my Grandmother's house to my own where I did not have a particularly happy childhood. I think Nan sensed that I was unhappy and she made up for it in whatever way she could.
In the next entry I will tell you about the last room and my memories of that. Until then, dear readers..................