Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Nana Thorne

Below is a letter I recieved today from my lovely Auntie Margaret, with some of her memories of her Grandmother, (My Great Grandmother). Perhaps one of my kids will read it one day in the future, and it will bring to life for a moment, their Great, Great Grandmother. (I'm the Chris mentioned at the end)

Nana Thorne

I only remember her in old age, and she seemed very old but was the age I am now when I spent most time with her. She was of small to medium height, round and lumpy with a low, heavy bust, a sweet face, little round glasses and long slate grey hair twisted into a sort of sausage round the back of her neck. She favoured darker colours or small prints with little touches of lace, like collars, cuffs and jabots, which were removable for washing. She wore “sensible” lace up shoes which were regularly polished. She lived at no 9(?) Marlborough Road, Brynmill, near Rhyddings Church, in a terraced house next to a lock-up shop, used for storage originally, but eventually it became a funeral parlour. It never occurred to me that mightn’t be very comfortable. They certainly never mentioned it. Nana lived there with Gramps till he died, in the back room, next to the kitchen. They had a bedroom at the back of the house too with a high brass bed with knobs on each corner that I was fond of unscrewing. Down the linoleum floored passage Auntie Mary and Auntie Alice lived in the middle room of the house with a tiny kitchen built into a glassed over lean-to in the return. They all shared the front room, the outside loo and the small back garden. There was an Uncle Dick living there too, an unmarried mason (I think) who was tall and skinny with a rather bulbous nose. He died first. All I remember about him was that he wore waistcoats and was kind to me but I sensed that he had no real interest in kids. He liked eating crab and used to bring fresh ones home (whether he caught them or bought them I don’t know.) Nana knew how to cook and dress them in the old fashioned way with vinegar, mustard and hard-boiled eggs, separating the brown from the white meat and returning it artistically to the shell. They looked a work of art when she had finished. She was a good cook and appreciated freshness and quality. She and the aunts had an order each week from the shop and Mum and Dad would deliver it on their way home on the Saturday night and pick me up at the same time

We used to have all the aunts and uncles plus Nana and Gramps to our place for Christmas lunch every year. As the only child in a big family, it was expected that Mum would “do the honours.” Dad or Don would pick them all up in the car at about twelve. There used to be ten to fifteen in all around our big dining table. After a mammoth turkey meal with trimmings (the parsley and thyme stuffing and the Christmas pudding would be made by Auntie Mary in advance) all the oldies would collapse into armchairs around the coal fire, bellies uppermost, snoring lustily, while we washed dishes and prepared the tea, a turkey sandwich and they always complained that they could only manage a sliver of the Christmas cake.

Nana returned the hospitality on Boxing Day when she cooked a goose, her favourite meat, with sage and onion stuffing, and yet another of Auntie Mary’s puddings (with silver coins hidden in it for me to find). Dad always took a hip flask with us because Nana was teetotal (her father, a pilot in the docks, she once told me, drank heavily and her memories of getting him out of the pub had made her “sign the pledge.”) Dad had to coax her out of the kitchen for a moment or two to slip a shot of brandy in the white sauce. I suspect she knew though as every year she made the same remark,
“You see, Haydn, you don’t need brandy in a sauce to make it taste as good as this.”
We would all agree.
After lunch Mum stayed and relaxed and we would walk down the hill to see Swansea play the Watsonians. There were a lot of hip flasks in evidence there too

I was dropped off on Nana and Gramps’ doorstep every Saturday on Mum and Dad’s way to open the shop and I would spend the day there. Nana had been “given a trade” as a seamstress and often made clothes for me. I had to stand on a pouffe ( I still have it) and be pinned, which I found very boring. I didn’t like the things she made either, they were old fashioned, and not what my friends were wearing. After lunch the three sisters used to gather for an afternoon chat and I would join them. Friends would call, mostly widows and spinsters, and they would gossip behind the net curtains and the aspidistra in the front window and spy on the neighbours. They had a dainty but uncomfortable Georgian suite of furniture, I remember, straight backed and arranged around a table which was for the tea things. Auntie Mary made the cakes. The fire was never lit; but they had good fires in their own rooms for the evening. Nana's stayed in all day and had to be black leaded as it was a stove as well and was lovely to sit beside. She used to make Welsh rarebit in a cup without a handle in a blackened saucepan of water on top of the stove while I held bread on a toasting fork in front of the embers. Welsh rarebit has never tasted so good since. Nana was very fond of grapes but couldn't abide the skin of them, so she would settle down for an hour with half a pound of grapes and peel every one. That was when she told me about Henry VIII and his six wives, the Great Fire of London and The Plague. She had a taste for the gory bits of history or perhaps she saved them especially for me. She had a set of large books with very graphic illustrations on thin paper. She fell and broke her hip in the back yard when she was in her 80s (I was twenty at the time and working in Aberystwyth) and she never really recovered. Recently I found an entry for her death in an old diary of Mum’s “The worst day of all” it said, nothing more, that was Mum’s style, but it was heart-felt. I can’t remember the funeral service but afterwards there was a sit down meal in Marlborough Road for all her friends and relations.
“Why didn’t you do a buffet, Mum?” I asked, as we laid out the places.
She didn’t reply.
“It would have been so much easier,” I persisted.
Eventually she replied, “It was what your grandmother wanted.”
It was the year Chris was born.


Blogger Nick said...

Isn't it great to be able to publish stuff like this.

7:46 pm  
Blogger grumunkin said...

It is truly, truly wonderful - I'm so lucky to have an Aunt who not only has a brilliant memory but is such an excellent storyteller too!

10:20 pm  

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