I could barely understand mi Grandma, she was a farmer’s daughter, lived all her life in semi-rural Wakefield outskirts, around Netherton I think. Granny, which was her real name, spoke too quick, her accent was strange to me and she’d constantly chuck out little, set, gem expressions that summed up complex situation in less than 20 words – sadly she died before I even thought of trying to log them.
‘Hell’s bells’ and Batley buses,’ was her version of an expletive that remains with me cos mi Mum will still occasionally say it.
Granny’s experience of being a sudden, homeless, single mother of three in the unforgiving ‘40s. My mother riding to school, through the snow on a huge white Shire horse seems romantic but it will have affected her, and subsequently me, differently to my kids riding to school in a fifteen-year-old Mini Metro with a heater and a tape player that sometimes work. I’m scarring my children in a twenty-first-century kind of way, the shame of the eleven year old if he‘s seen by his mates. When they spot us, they sing 'Chitty-Chitty Bang Bang', loudly; I’m a bad father who had a good mother.
I hate to think of the reaction my mum and grandma must have got in the ’40s. Gran went to her brother for help. He loaned her money to get a house and had to charge her more interest than the bank would have, had they loaned money to penniless, homeless women with three kids and no job, which they didn’t. It mattered not what kind of income a woman had, they were not responsible or intelligent enough to have something as complex as a mortgage in them days. It was a man’s world back then as my grandfather, who I never met, proved.
Anyway, when Granny died we were all invited over to her house to take a small keepsake to remember her by. I moved from room to room searching but nothing caught my eye, nothing encapsulated her, no object 'was' her. I was getting a bit sad and panicky, feeling like I dint know her at all. All the little knick-knacks must've meant something to her but they were just bits of shit to me, no emotional meaning whatsoever.
I sat in the front room that I’d painted, watching siblings and cousins coveting the little bits of Granny they’d chosen, my heart pounding sad, head hot with confusion. I apparently dint know mi Granny and she was gone, I no longer had chance t’ get t’ know her. Olive Robinson was a complete stranger to me.
I should explain that as a kid (maybe 14 yrs-old) I suddenly decided that I should wear extremely effeminate clothing and full make-up around the inclusive and ultra understanding, late '70s streets of East Leeds – fully covered in Coming Out. As well as shopping in women’s clothes shops, that involved getting help making clothes or adapting women’s clothes that I picked up from jumble sales – for any of you young whippersnappers out there, that’s the ‘70s equivalent to boot sales but held in church halls and the like.
I think we underestimate how much we can get
attached to clothing, how comfortable or secure certain items of
clothing can make us feel, how ‘special’ clothes can be.
Anyway back to Granny’s wake, I was holding back the tears, trying to picture Granny in mi head with some object, but she wasn’t there. My buzzing head couldn’t even see her face never mind associate her with one of her things that surrounded me and I was feeling very sad and a bit insincere, like my love was fake... it had to be.
I gazed out of the window trying to compose myself and there she was, in vibrant technicolour, she almost gave me a hug. Those curtains were Granny, they were her, they’d caught her solid in pink and grey thread, in her glittering glory.
‘Uncle David. Can I take the curtains?’
‘The curtains?... You want the curtains?’
‘The curtains?’ He gave me a ‘you always were a weirdo' look. ‘Well give me a minute, I’ll check.’
Two weeks later I felt complete, walking around East Leeds in mi jacket made from mi Grandma’s curtains. She was with me, her strength, her wisdom, her determination and courage were wrapped around me and I could growl back at anyone who tried to diss me or shout abuse – which dint happen that often, considering.
You won't be able to tell if y see me but I've recently rediscovered my love of clothes and we've recently decided to move house. Part of the moving process means you empty cupboards and box shit up. It was when digging through stored stuff that I stumbled across mi Grandma's curtains jacket. I've started wearing it again and when I do, although she died 30 years ago, she is with me, she isn't beside me, she's right inside me, she's still a big chunk of who I am and the jacket makes me feel it.