This was quite difficult to write as it brought back memories, lovely memories of my Granny and time spent with her. It reminded me just how much I miss her….
This was aimed at 12+yr olds.
My grandmother’s sitting room was my sanctuary. Taking the first door on the left as you entered my parents house, just before the stairs took you up, my grandmother resided. Phyllis Pegg moved in with us just a year or so after we got settled into our new home. The downstairs accommodation was more than big enough for us as a family but she still required her own space, somewhere for her bits and pieces, and more importantly, somewhere to call her own.
Granny’s sitting room was somewhere that quickly became the place that I could be found. Perched in the middle of her wooden framed settee with a large cup of tea and a pile of rich tea biscuits on a plate in front of me, we would while away the hours talking about everything that was going on in my world. This included everything that was good, bad and ugly, which included the bullying and what it was doing to my self-confidence.
It wasn’t a large room, but it was cosy. It felt warm and safe. I remember the wooden furniture, the large coffee table with the shallow shelf underneath stuffed with magazines. The glass-fronted china cabinet in the corner, which still stands in that room today, containing all her best tableware, crystal glasses, and Concorde memorabilia that she had “come by” on a day trip to Bahrain (she wanted, to quote, “blow some of my money rather than leave it as inheritance”).
Her faded brown corduroy upholstered reclining chair took pride of place opposite a little television set that was usually turned up very loud and which was set to all the sporting events, snooker one afternoon, horse racing the next. And if the sport wasn’t on, the drama of the soaps were.
I should point out that my parents live in the same property, which is a late Tudor/ early Elizabethan. Wooden beams line the ceilings, which hang low and which create a certain atmosphere – I always felt that it looked like an upside down skeleton. The wooden-framed, lead-glass windows looked out across the small front garden to the opposite side of the street. Along the windowsill was a wide variety of geraniums in various states of growth; some tiny, some huge. The colour palette of the blooms ranged from the palest of pink to the most vivid cerise; I always felt that the window sill was blushing, both in colour and embarrassment.
One afternoon I recall sitting in my usual position on the settee and it came to mind that granny would not be alive forever. As bold as a child can be with little inhibition or thought for how it may have been received, I turned to my granny and told her that I wanted to go around her sitting room and let her know which things I wanted to be given when she died.
I must have only been 7 or 8 years old when this happened. I picked up my cup of tea and walked around her little room looking properly at the many trinkets and favourite things that were on display. I could have had a packet of stickers and marked things as though putting items up for sale in a car boot. But no; I pointed at, picked up, fiddled with and generally poked around through her things.
What on earth possessed me I don’t know? It makes me cringe now thinking back to the arrogance I took upon myself. My granny took the whole situation in her stride. Sitting on her reclining chair, the reading lamp behind her shining through her grey hair, she smiled at me and giggled. She was amused and surprised by my boldness instead of being offended. She even proffered comments here and there, joining in when she felt it necessary but generally stayed quiet, albeit for the laughter.
I’m not totally sure what came of my utterances. I know that I took myself round her entire room stating quite clearly which things I really liked and, more importantly, wanted when she died. I do know that granny did remind me that my twin brother would need to have things, too, but at the time I couldn’t understand which of the many feminine pieces a boy could possibly want.
The conversation then took a more morose tone and we started talking about granny dying. This sort of conversation is never one that you actively want to discuss with someone you adore, but I remember distinctly my granny being very matter-of-fact and calm about it. She was at this time in good health and hadn’t started to suffer from the minor strokes that plagued the last 10 years of her life. She had all her faculties about her and was definitely of lucid mind.
She told me that yes, she would die at some point and that I must not be frightened. I asked her if she was scared and she said no. She told me that she hoped that she would get to see friends and family again, those who had passed and who she missed very much, such as my grandfather who died when I was quite little. I asked her whether she believed in ghosts and she smiled. I’m not sure what made me ask her this but I remember her looking me straight in the eyes and saying to me that she would come back and say hello.
This scared the hell out of me.
The thought of my granny appearing totally unexpectedly as an apparition shocked me to the core of the soul. I vividly remembered the mental image that came to mind; her shuffling around with outstretched arms, a white sheet over her head and a ghoulish wail accompanying her round the house. Perhaps the odd rattle of chains, too, but then I scrubbed this part out of the image because she hadn’t been a prisoner.
Whilst I was incredibly frightened at the idea of granny making her presence known to me after her death, I was also strangely comforted by it. I found myself striking a deal as to how my wonderful grandmother was haunt me; I made her promise that she wouldn’t scare me.
Again, that brilliant smile, all dentures and pink lipstick. She told me this;
“Don’t worry, Amy, I won’t scare you. But you’ll definitely know I’m there.”
I had no idea what this meant and it did little to quieten the trembling murmurs inside of me, and the hairs on the back of my neck went up.
I spent many years after this conversation wondering how and what was going to happen to me once granny had died, and on numerous occasions after she had shuffled into my bedroom and sat on the corner of my bed to have a quick chat, I would consider what my life would be like without her.
It wasn’t that I was wishing her gone. It was more the realisation that I was becoming more aware of her mortality that bothered me. The growing realisation that she wasn’t going to be around for very much longer hurt me more than I could ever imagine and the desire to stop her from leaving me was extremely hard to deal with.
Eventually, the inevitable happened and my granny died. A few days after the funeral, I sat in her sitting room with all her possessions around me. Perhaps I wanted to feel closer to her somehow. Perhaps I felt that being surrounded by her things would mean that she hadn’t really gone, that she hadn’t left me. Sadly, this wasn’t the case.
That strange afternoon years before when I had selected things with such conviction that I wanted to own came flooding back to me. I realised then that what I wanted was her. Not the trinkets, the china, the stuffed bear propped up against the footstool. None of it meant anything any more with her gone. It had all lost its importance, its relevance.
It took a few months. She did come and visit me; I definitely knew she was with me.
Waking to a glorious sunny morning I lay in bed and stretched my legs and wiggled my toes. I pondered briefly what the day had in store and was suddenly aware of a shuffling noise coming along the corridor outside my room. I dismissed it as one of the cats playing with a toy.
Another few minutes passed and I was about to get up when I felt the corner of my bed move; it felt as though someone had sat down. And then it hit me. Granny was here.
I deliberately didn’t look towards the end of the bed for fear of seeing her. Instead, I closed my eyes and started talking to her in my head, thanking her for visiting me. My heart was racing in my chest and I was really frightened. And then I felt a finger stroking my cheek. Very light, very indistinct, but definite. She realised that I was scared and she was trying to comfort me.
It was the first time that I had ever experienced anything like this. Having had many discussions with granny over the “spirit world”, I had always been a sceptic up to this point. And she had managed to firmly change my mind.