Grandma

My grandmother was born in Glasgow in the 1920s. She was a bright and intelligent girl, but any family funds for sending the children on to higher education were reserved for her brothers. In this photograph, she is about sixteen years old, and she had probably been in the workforce for a year or two by then.

Flora Gebbie, 1938

During WWII, she served in a women’s auxiliary unit. From her descriptions of that time, I realize that I envision her experiences of the Second World War as a sort of giant Guide camp. Her stories were all about sleeping in tents and managing to cut twenty slices from a single tomato.

She was married just after the end of the war. In her wedding photographs, she is wearing a 40s style navy skirt suit, cut to minimize the amount of fabric needed.

My mother was born in 1949. During her childhood, my grandmother was a successful businesswoman who ran a dress hire shop in Glasgow. When I was a child, whenever I was shopping with my grandmother, she was adamant that dresses were to be tried on by pulling them over the head, never, never by putting the dress on the ground and stepping into it. I have one item saved from the dress shop — a sixties era floor length bottle green velvet cape. It’s gorgeous, albeit of limited utility, but I have in fact worn it (to a midwinter wedding), and plan to again.

My mother was the first generation of her family to go into higher education, but my grandmother was not far behind her. When she was in her fifties, she enrolled in the Open University and finished a bachelor’s degree by correspondence. By the time I came along, my grandmother was a highly educated successful businesswoman — but of course, that’s not what I remember from my childhood.

I remember a woman who used to mix lemonade and ribena for me and call it a “Grandma’s Special”.

I remember my brother taking what must have been some of his very first steps, across her kitchen, with her right behind him making sure he didn’t fall.

My family lived for several years in various parts of Africa when I was a child. My grandparents came to visit us for two weeks on a sugar plantation about two hundred miles south of Khartoum, Sudan. As if that wasn’t adventure enough, I managed to come down with a case of malaria while there were there. So I remember my grandparents loading my brother and I into the back of a Toyota and heading out in the middle of the night to find my parents (who I think had taken up an offer of babysitting) while I sweated through a fever in the back seat of the car.

I remember a woman who cautioned me against falling for the charms of American men (I have always suspected she was worried about my having my head turned by a few pairs of nylons and a Hershey bar), but who welcomed Spouse Phor into the family, declaring him to be “very well spoken”. (Spouse Phor, by the way, still owes me some stockings.)

My grandmother died on Monday night. She lived well. She will be missed.

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2 Responses to “Grandma”

  1. bread and roses Says:

    I’m so sorry. She sounds like an amazing person, a life well-lived indeed.

  2. frog Says:

    I’m so, so sorry.

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