Wednesday, 14 April 2010
My nan 1920-2010. Mother, Nan to 4, Great gran to 6.
My nan died this week. Here is the speech I will say at the funeral, attempting to speak for the grandchildren. I miss her so much.
It is very difficult to know where to start talking about Nan, there are so many memories from the near and distant past. We are all lucky, the cousins, to have had a nan for so long that there is so much to talk about. Perhaps the most shared memories amongst all the grandchildren are of the long weekends we all spent at Nan and granddads and More Nan’s houses, all of us together, while Nan took on the responsibility of shepherding us through a weekend of sleepovers and cousinly arguments. Having two children of my own now, I can only boggle at how much nan did having all of us around.
We all used to love sleeping round Nan’s house. The huge dinners, the staying up late, and special drinking chocolate. Nan shouting up the stairs for us all to be quiet or she would send Grandad up, it was past our bedtimes. Grandad would come grumbling up and we would all settle down with giggles. Not because Grandad was scary, but because that was Nan’s final warning, we knew, and any more nonsense and there would be trouble. Sundays was cooking day, and nan was patient in letting us mess up her kitchen and giving us all bowls to lick out and fight over. We all loved her food so much it was all I used to write about, week in week out when It came to writing my “news” at primary school on Mondays.
So it was that I remember on a holiday home from university asking nan to write down her recipe for Stew and Dumplings, and steamed treacle pudding. She was at a total loss. She never measured anything, she said, just mixed up the ingrediants how it felt right. I pressed her to measure out the handfuls and so I could know a guideline. It wouldn’t work, she told me, it depended on the weather and day of the week. I was enormously frustrated, but she was right. An excellent and instinctive cook, she knew when to allow for humidity, and outside temperature in her pastry and dough work.
Thinking of what to say about nan, it struck me that her lack of need to stick to a recipe was a good metaphor for how she handled her grandchildren. She knew the vital ingrediants for shepherding grandkids through life, and through her, so did we. Good manners, listening to each other, patience, saying sorry, and treating everyone equally were paramount. Nan was a stickler for sorting things out and behaving well. But around these vital ingrediants, she had the instinct to allow her grandchildren recipe to alter when needed. She treated us all alike, but allowed us to be ourselves. She let us depart from the rules to have fun, as long as we returned to them. She remembered that spice was a vital ingredient too, and let us muck about supposedly “unattended”, with a beady eye all the same. She knew she didn’t want her grandchildren to turn out hard and unpalatable, so she encouraged fairness and kindness. Occasionally she added a little salt and threatened to “shake us all up in a bag together” (I never figured out what that meant), but always, her skill and patience helped us turn out alright. All the cousins have the shared memories of nan, and granddad, crammed into a caravan with us all at Clacton, charging around at the park, Nan telling us to behave, collecting pine cones with us, or feeding Smiley the fat dog snacks even though she shouldn’t. But we all have separate individual memories too, of a nan that was just ours, because that was how nan made you feel, part of a whole, but unique and special to her too, something she would fight for when needed. I know that nan and I shared conversations about many things, (we shared a love of gardening and thrift), and she encouraged me to be the best I can. I know the great-grandchildren can say the same too. I hope I can say as much for my grandkids should I ever have any, if I learnt anything from nan, they will be able to.
I hope I can manage to say it all. Funny the things I keep thinking I'd like as nan-keepsakes. She always had superb nails, and the biggest array of polishes for them. I'd like the box she kept them in, it was a Saturday night treat to select nan's polish for her. And the tan ceramic mixing bowls, I would love to use one in my kitchen and bake something she did. I know I will not be able to smell the lavender in our garden this Summer without thinking of her.