Friday, January 14, 2011

My Ann

Ann was an old lady by the time I was born. She continued to be an old lady for the next 13 years. Widowed at forty-five, she spent the next ten years in poverty until her youngest child was grown up. This took its toll and she rapidly became the white haired old lady of my childhood.

This was taken in 1936, when she was fifty-five. When I first looked at the back of the photograph, I thought it said 1956. You would easily believe she was seventy-five, wouldn't you?

I remember her wedding ring – a typically thick Edwardian band that never left her hand. One day, my mother’s wedding ring slipped from her finger and disappeared inside the sofa. Ann was so angry with her. “Your wedding ring should never leave your hand. Don’t you understand, you silly young woman?”

My mother made all my clothes and I would be required to stand on the table while the hem was pinned. One day, when I was whining quietly, Ann told her to take me down from the table. It wasn’t perfect. My mother was a perfectionist. “No king will get off his horse to look at it”. Hard times had taught Ann that good enough was good enough sometimes.

When she was confused and “going home”, I would sometimes sit with her while my mother and aunts rushed around shopping and cleaning. As a twelve year old, I didn’t really know what to say to this old lady. We would sit quietly, either side of the range. I would mainly have my head in a book just on the look out from the corner of my eye for hat-coat-hatpins and out-of-the-door. She would gaze into the distance, probably somewhere before 1927. But sometimes, she would say. “Let’s have some coffee” and we would make a little pot to share. My mother firmly held to the belief that coffee stunted the growth of the young. I remember Ann laughing at her, “So what’s your excuse, then?” My mother was (just) 5’. No inches. Ann was a stately 5’5". I'm 5' 4". So who was right?

Ann died on July 15th 1965. The funeral was about a week later. I was sent to school and returned to the house after it was all over. All that was left was the scent of lilies.

1 comment:

  1. People became old at a much younger age in those days. I have a photo of my grandmother, grey hair, wrinkly stockings and one of those aprons that covers everything. She would have been 52 when it was taken, 7 years younger than I am now, but she looked at least 70.
    Was it the hard life or the state of mind that made people old at 50 then? Or is it that nowadays we are better fed, more cosseted and have higher expectations of ourselves?


Go on, have a little mumble here. You know you want to.