My grandma would be a hundred today if she weren’t dead.
I’m named after her. Joan. Elliott, before she married. I wonder what she was like in her twenties, during the 1930s. She met my grandpa in London while they were both studying to be librarians, but she didn’t finish her studies. I wonder what she thought of Hitler. I don’t remember hearing her opinion about very many things apart from meat, pudding and knitting. She died when I was sixteen, which was a long time ago, so my memories of her are viewed through a haze. These are the things I remember most:
The way she said ‘bloody hell.’ She was the best person in the world at saying bloody hell.
The way she sat in front of Coronation Street, turned up loud, knitting like a hummingbird would knit if hummingbirds could knit, without even looking.
The way there was always magically a tin of the whitest, crunchiest meringues you’ve ever seen whenever we visited.
The way that, although she’d brought her family up in France and Germany, once I knew her, she never went anywhere.
The way she’d say ‘oh, you ARE an angel’ whenever we did anything to help, like fetched water from the spring or cleared plates.
Her face which looked like she had a wicked sense of humour but kept it mostly to herself. There were lots of lines around her mouth, not from smoking or pursing her lips, but from trying to hold something in.
The bean stew. The bilberry pie with bilberries from the moor and the finest pastry in the world. The whipped cream, which I didn’t, don’t, even like, but which was magical in its white bowl with two lions. The steak and chips in the wide steel bowl. The french beans. The roast potatoes. The choc ices permanently in the freezer. The coffee in wide two-handled bowls.
The way she would ring my mum every Sunday morning.
The way she was the most sensible and unflappable person I’ve ever met.
The way she always fell asleep in the bath.
The nuts she gave me at christmas instead of sweets, because she thought I preferred them.
The small piles of coins in the glass-fronted dresser.
The smell of her room.
The way she sat in the Yorkshire sun like a cat.
The way that the men would talk (endlessly) at the table, while she and my aunts played peek-a-boo with us and let us slide out under the table, only coming back in for chocolate from a Quimper tin.
The way the cats sat at her feet, next to the coal fire, and licked the soot from the glass door of the stove. The poppy pattern on her chair. The afternoon tea. The way the big clock ticked in the kitchen and I thought it would never ever stop.
The way she’d declare, after having cooked a huge lunch for 19, and when people would ask her what’s for supper, just this:
‘Sauve qui peut.’
Which is the right kind of sentiment for when you know your kitchen is full of food, and everyone around you is happy and capable of fending for themselves.
Born during one war, she lived through the second and part of me’s glad she’s not around to hear how empty that phrase rings today. I don’t think she would be impressed.