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U3A Writing: Jinny

Jennie Boothroyd tells of one of her faqvourite people.

One of my favourite people has always been my late maternal grandmother. She was Sarah Jane Brook - Jinny to her friends, which is where I got my name from, after her. She was widowed at 40 before I was born, and when I was three she moved house with us and shared our lives.

My first memory of her is visiting with her and my mum to a relative of hers, I forget how. But she was always known as Aunt Sally, my Gran’s friend.
She had one of those horsehair sofas which scratched your legs. I had to kneel up to get to the table. On the way I sat on Aunt Sally’s black bonnet, all jet-beaded, and it was even worse than horsehair.

Anyway, Grandma Brook came to live with us. She was so kind and caring. If you’d had a bath, she would say, “Get into bed and I’ll bring you some warm milk. You mustn’t go out when your hair is still wet.” How would she cope today?

Our house was in a nice row, and at the top of the road was a building which belonged to Kirkburton Council. The main building was used as a baby clinic or a whist drive room, and underneath was a place which during the war became an air raid post. But before that it was the local mortuary.
I sometimes heard that a body was in there, and it gave me the creeps when playing out near it.

Our house had three bedrooms and a bathroom. Mum and Dad had the large front room. I had the small front, and Grandma had the cosy back bedroom. I used to go into her bed in the morning, and we would talk, play I Spy and when it was dark look out at the stars at night. One was always shining in the winter, brighter than the rest. I think it was Venus, but to this day it’s up there around Christmas time. I always used to think it was Grandma looking for me after she died. In fact I still do.

The other reason for moving into her bed was when in conversation I heard that someone had been killed in an accident or sudden death, and my dad would say, “Yes, they brought him to the mortuary.” So when that night I got to bed my over-active imagination used to take over and I would call out, “Grandma, can I come?”

“Yes,” she’d reply. “Bring your pillow across the landing.” I would scuttle and dive into her bed and cuddle up. It was bliss.

Grandma gave me a love of books and reading, and we would both read the same book and then discuss it. That was my day of Little Women, Black Beauty, Anne of Green Gables, Freckles by Gene Stratton Porter. I think it was in the latter that the young girl used to go out and bow nine times to the new moon. It was said to be lucky. So when the new crescent appeared in the sky, out in the back garden we would go and solemnly bow the required nine times. Idiotic, but great fun.

My parents had a chip shop up the road which they opened evenings. Dad was a miner by day. So Grandma and I had lovely times on our own, by ourselves.

I would tell her what I had done at school, and she would tell me of her younger days in Lepton. It think it’s sad that so many families since the war moved around the country to do jobs further afield, and grandparents are no longer on hand to encourage, teach and input family history and often religious leadership, much as Jewish families have always done.

We were C of E, and I can still recall sitting in church with Grandma, leading on her, and can recall the smell of the long fur which she had wrapped round her neck, still with its tail in situ, a blend of camphor, eau-de-Cologne and just Grandma’s lovely aroma.

She loved her church. In those days the Easter Day collection was a gift to the vicar. How pleased she was when it first topped £50. My uncle used to say, “I think my mother gets a commission from the church!”

In summer we used to go walking up the fields which had hedgerows of hawthorn and blackberry bushes. How we watched the berries turn black and juicy and how we fussed up the fields to beat any latecomers.

We also had a little quarry nearby and were walking carefully down the grassy slope when two geese came out cackling noisily. I was behind Gran and was terrified, but I picked up a small stone to throw and in the process knocked Grandma’s pudding basin hat off and it rolled down the hill. How I cried! And who picked it up? I forget, probably not me.

When I was 16 the war broke out, and we were introduced to dark streets and the blackout when all windows had to have black curtain linings so that not a chink of light could be seen. A retired joiner came to fix up the rods on which to run the curtains. It was a job for a tall man, and one had to be tall to put them on. He said to my mum, “Yer mun watch yer muther. Yer know what owd fowks are -- they will romp.” Grandma was not amused!

As I was now a teenager I had met Denis, the man of my dreams. He was in the choir and on a Sunday evening we came back to our house. Mum and Dad had gone to friends often, and we’d tell Grandma what had happened and we’d all sing once more the hymns. She made our supper - dripping and bread and beetroot, home-grown. Food of the gods!! Then she’d say, “Well, you know what it is tomorrow, Monday again.” And so began another week.

Grandma lived to the ripe old age of 87. She had the sorrow of losing three sons, each in their 40s. I remember two of them, and my heart ached for her. “Why wasn’t it me?” she wept.

She loved people. We always had friends coming round or popping in, and she was a great conversationalist. I suspect sometimes that Mum wished she’d have an early night and leave the friends to chat a bit, but she was so happy with people.

She taught me how to knit too, and whilst I was never great shakes at it, too impatient to get a long scarf to end, I managed a few dolls’ outfits before my enthusiasm waned and Greenhead homework took over my evenings. But she was always my friend, mentor, guide and beloved Gran to the end of her days.

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