I wrote this for the Weekly Writing Challenge – A Few of My Favourite Things. It did not end with the thing I expected or in the way I expected. Off to find a tissue!
Do you remember those days when summer holidays were long, hot and hazy? When we were children and we just accepted what we were told without thinking about the ramifications of it?
I would go to stay at my nan’s house for a few days every summer. She lived about half an hour’s drive from our home, so my dad would take me on his way to work. We would walk up the path to her bungalow early in the morning and when she opened the door the smell of her house would hit me straight away. Looking back it must have been mainly the odour of cigarettes, but I don’t remember it being foul, just distinct, with the addition of her face powder, a thick pale powder in a deep, dark blue round tub.
After my father left we would go into her little kitchen where she would make us each a cup of tea. This followed a precise procedure that I was taught as I got older. Three teabags in the sterling silver tea pot (one for the pot, one per person). Fill it up with hot water. Add a dash of hot water to the thin bone china cup and give it a swirl, to heat up the cup. Stir the tea pot and then pour the tea out, first a dribble in the sink (I still don’t know why, but apparently that first pour of the tea is just not as good as the rest) and then finally into the cup, pouring of course from a height and with a flick of the wrist at the end. Add milk and sugar as required, one for nan, two for me.
Nan would clean her teeth, a fascinating process for any child to watch since she would give them a good scrubbing with her toothbrush and rinse them out under the tap before popping them back into her mouth. Then the day’s activities would begin. This might involve a trip to town on the bus, where I would be displayed to all the other regular travellers as ‘This is my Mary’s daughter you know. Hasn’t she got beautiful hair?’, a cue for lots of little old ladies to pat me on the head and feel my long, thick tangles.
On other days nan might spend the morning cleaning the doorstep or scrubbing the windows. Whilst she was working away on keeping up appearances for the neighbours, I would be investigating the spare room in her two bed bungalow. There was no bed in here, just a dining table and chairs and a sideboard or two.
I don’t recall what was on them, presumably pictures and personal items from her married life before my grandfather died, in the same way that I don’t recall the table and chairs ever being used. But in the sideboard there were photo albums that I was allowed to look through.
When that lost it’s appeal, I would climb out of the spare room window pretending to be a spy and sneak around to the back of the bungalow to the long thin garden, referred to as nan’s field, where she would be pruning her roses. There was an old, rusty hand roller leaning into the hedgerow about halfway up that I would try and pull up and down a bit. At lunchtime we would go in through the back door, past the large coal bunker that some sooty men would come and fill with a couple of sacks every few months, for a sandwich.
In the evening I would crawl down into my sleeping bag on the sofa, nan would settle down in her armchair and turn on Eastenders. Then she would open a roll of chocolate eclairs, lay them out in a row along the arm of her chair and munch her way through them one by one, apart from the one that I would be allowed.
As I started to doze while watching her big old TV that stood on its own four wooden legs I would take note as always of the two horses that stood on top. One was a big, rather cheap, heavy carthorse that I have a vague idea my nan once told me she didn’t really like but was given to her by someone close by ‘because she liked horses’ so she had to keep it, possibly some younger cousin of mine.
The other was a beautiful, delicate figurine of a race horse, brown with white socks and a white blaze on it’s nose. My nan loved this horse, I was only allowed to touch it under supervision and it was made clear that when she died this would be given to my mother. Why, I have no idea, as my mother hates horses, but has it she does. It has pride of place on a table out of reach of her own grandchildren, where my brother’s and I look at it and know that it is our nan’s horse.
However, that horse is not the item I think of when I remember my nan. Nor is it the gold watch that she wore every day and always told me, ‘One day, this will be yours’. As a child I never really understood that when that day came, my nan would no longer be with us. It was drummed into me over years of visits that the horse would go to my mum and the watch to me. Other possessions were identified and their future owners made clear, over and over again. But the idea that my nan would be gone never occurred to me.
Now, when I think back to my nan, when I hold her gold watch and touch the brown racehorse, there is one other item that means so much more to me. One item that she wore every day. On one of our trips to town on the bus, I dragged my nan into the local church hall where they were having some sort of fair or sale. We went from stall to stall until we found an octagonal locket, gold coloured but definitely not gold in metal, on a long chain made in the same material. On the front of the locket was an enamelled picture of a brown horse’s head on a white background. I can’t recall now whether I tried to buy it for my nan, or just watched as she fell in love with it for herself. She wore it every day after that and kept a picture of my grandfather inside it.
The locket itself was cheap. It had no financial value. But I remember it whenever I think of her. And when ‘one day’ came and my mother returned from sorting out nan’s house with her brothers, carrying horse and gold watch, I asked where that locket was. But sadly, my mother had not known how much that meant to me and had passed it, along with the other costume jewellery, to my younger cousins.
So these were a few of my favourite things, that each hold so many memories of my beloved nan. But the main one is the one I don’t have anymore, and haven’t seen for the last eighteen years. Miss you nan.