I dreamt of her last night. The woman on the right, my Nana. I have very few pictures of my paternal grandmother, other than a couple of images recently resurrected from some old negatives. In this one she stands nervously, a new mother in her late 20's looking on at her disapproving mother-in-law and husband.
In my dream I was back in the house where she raised her children. A lovely wooden villa, on a generous sized plot, in a small town. My child eye found the home dreadfully old fashioned, dusty and dark. But as my adult mind journeys through the modest property, in the right location it would be a dream to own now - bay windows, dark wooden paneling, a cozy dinning room complete with two comfortable chairs around the fireplace, an oak dinning table that easily sat eight and a matching sideboard that housed The Good Silver and other such precious domestic items bought out for special occasions.
How I’d covert the garden now! Not my aunt’s precious rose collection lining the driveway but the big vegetable patch out the back - with the fertile soil it grew enough produce to supplement the needs of a family of six through the depression and war rationing years. There were chooks of course at that time, recycling the table scraps and laying golden yolked eggs. I remember eating crab apples from the tree that hung over the back fence, picking lemons from the abundant old trees three times my height and digging up the maiden haired ferns that thrived in the dappled light below to re-house in a pot in my bedroom.
I never knew my grandfather, he met his fate with the pointy end of a bus after a day at the races not long after I was born. But his presence was enshrined in the shed built onto the side of the garage. It must be 35 years since I was last in that space but I can still smell the potent aroma of metal, oil and wood dust. The workshop remained frozen, with the old vice on the wooden bench, tools neatly placed on the wall and in the drawers and so many exciting finds for a small child - a collection of old broken watches being the one that stays strongest in my memory.
But it's my grandmother's story that haunts my current memories. I never warmed to her as a child. Unlike my welcoming, doughy archetypal maternal grandma, this one was lean and edgy. She’d not had an easy life, raised during “the Troubles” in Northern Ireland by a wicked step-mother and her awful children. But Nana did bake some great meals - pork roasts with homegrown green beans, roast chicken minced with onion and mixed with mayonnaise in white bread sandwiches, date scones, chocolate cake and other such delights. But I sensed she never escaped the tragedy of her past.
While I spent two weeks following the tourist route in Ireland, having a blast. I spent all of two hours in Northern Ireland, the time it took to travel by bus through Belfast and wait at the railway station for a train to take us to the ferry to Scotland. I had no desire to visit Derry where my Nana was born and raised. It was the ‘80’s, the north still wasn’t safe and well, they had even weirder accents than in the south! A week after my transit through Belfast, the station I’d spent an hour or so passing the time was bombed. Of course Derry would have been much safer.
Nana lived to 97 years old, the last dozen or so lost to Alzheimers. I never unearthed her story and the little that remains is fragmented to the point of one-liners. The horror of seeing the Union Jack burnt as a child, snippets of farm life and a mysterious breakdown that sent her to a sanatorium to restore her mental health while her children were young.
I’ve never had a sense of my UK ancestory, though claimed it with gusto to get an open visa enabling me to live in England for as long as I liked. This woman who contributed to a quarter of my DNA remains much of a mystery.
* This post may have been prompted by Kat's recent musings on hybridity. I’ve been thinking about place, home and heritage a lot lately.