So tonight the tears have come for my beautiful Nan. I am full of fleeting images, memories of colour and sensations of sitting at her feet while she tickled my back with her thick strong and always painted nails. From toddler to teen I remember that.
I remember her helping Emma and I put up our hair, Emma’s all whispy when she was so young and the pair of us mostly jealously trying to work out who’s ponytail ended up highest.
I remember sitting at her coffee table counting copper coins, or using them to make pictures, or that we would sit there and use a necklace chain to make pictures while she worked nearby in the kitchen of the Cumberland Hotel that she owned and ran, for a while, with my grandfather.
As much as I remember the bed-making and the discussing how the german guests soaked their cereal in the orange juice and drank the milk, and the cold chewy leftover toast I got to eat sometimes, I remember my Nan covered in paint and dust from decorating and repairing walls, and how just as easily she turned the plaster into pieces of artwork set with shells and paint to put up in the rooms..
Button boxes for playing and copper, brass and silver to polish.
And the impossible length of her cigarette ash
My Grandpa calling her Fag Ash Lil, and him telling me she was beautiful like a gazelle, in the days it was okay to show children tricks with smoke rings and cigarette packets.
The fact and way he called her Anna.
My Nan in the sunshine in gardens over full of flowers, sweet peas and runner beans. Tomatoes and tomato red fabric. Coral coloured nails.
So lucky. So lucky, to grow up in dessing up clothes that were not ready made costumes from shops with a role to play, but the loveliest of my Nan’s scarves, shoes and petticoats, to twist and tie and be as glamourous as the black and white actresses we watched…and the jewellery! Mesmerising in its hundred tiny rainbows and lights and the feeling of beauty to wear her things, the trouble we got in when we were not careful…the too many layers of nail varnish, and as I got older the trouble I got in for going out in her red lip-pencil and dark eyeliner.
The felt-tips. In tidy rows, great big packs, we had to keep the lids on and when we damaged the nibs I remember how cross she got.
How strong and clear her anger was, how she would swear and sometimes smash things and curse customers under her breath (and not under her breath)…and how regardless of that she wouldn’t sell the tea-bar to the man with long little finger nails because she could just imagine him using them to clean his ears and then serve her regulars.
And you can fuck off too.
I remember how I laughed the first time I heard her swear.
I remember her being so angry with us one day that she banished us to sitting under the table and when my uncle came home with a smile for us, she told him off too, and told him what cows we’d been. I think that was possibly the same day she was angry with me because I said I hated my grandfather and in no gentle way she made it clear I was not allowed to say I loved her and hated him.
I grew up through ages where they were angry and bitter to each other, times when drink, or work, or money made for rows, and I grew up through decades of their love and knowing there had been two decades before me…and there were two after Grandpa died.
The love of her life, caught clearly in her gaze in a photograph secretly taken in London in the late forties, that you could hear clearly when she spoke about him in 2017.
My Nan moving furniture, sitting on tea chests, digging in the garden, black soil in the cracks of her hands, making leaves out of pastry when she baked pies.
Apple and sugar sandwiches.
From high heels and pencil skirts, copper suntans and admirers to fierce independence hard fought for against time.
Finally surrendering her waterfall hair for something manageable.
Hearing she had fallen again, and broken more bones.
She hated Dr Spock, and still hurt for the distance of her mother and her childhood lonelinesses even as we talked about another great-grandchild. Even as, to me, she began to look herself like a beautiful child, with white hair and the most sparkling eyes.
I wish I had more of her.
I wish I had been with my younger cousins as they were minded by her as they grew, as she had done for Emma and I, so I could have seen more of those moments.
I wish I had more of her elegance and her navvy stamina
I wish I knew more of her stories. ❤