Tuesday, 25 August 2009

"To see if I could do what my grandmother did"

I have lifted that quote directly from Rhonda Jean's blog here because it reminded me so much of the correlations between the life I am trying to live and the one she had that I know of - there are years and years of my grandmother's life that I know nothing about!

My grandmother was a marvellous old woman when I knew her - I was born when she was 69 so by the time I was old enough to remember her, she was already an "old" woman; she took a nap every afternoon between 1 and 2.30pm, and then it took her nearly half an hour to get washed, put on an afternoon dress and come downstairs for afternoon tea at three. Her life was full of ritual and routine. Breakfast at 9, making beds, preparing a hot lunch every day for 12 noon, her rest, her afternoon tea, and eventually retiring to bed again at about 9pm. She moved at her own speed and seemed to get a lot done in her own time. I know that she had a thrombosis in her leg which gave her some pain and made her walk with a stick so she was limited when we went out and about, and she frequently would sit in the car and look at the sea whilst we went for a walk on the beach.

My grandfather is a shadowy figure, dead before I was born, and so I know only what others tell me of him. He fought in the First World War, he had something to do with the first Arsenal football team when he played football, he was considerably older than my grandmother... and that's really about it. My grandmother owned a row of cottages, an orchard and some pigs and poultry which lived in the orchard, and I am sure worked very hard looking after them. She sold the orchard land at some point in the sixties and used the money to buy land in the same village in south Cambridgeshire on which she planned to have two houses built for her two sons. The younger son didn't go for that plan, and some of the land was sold off. The remaining land forms a very large garden where my Uncle J gardens to this day. He and Granny moved in there sometime about 1962, and he has lived there ever since. She lived there until her death in 2002, just less than a month short of her 99th birthday - as sharp as ever, her body was failing her but her mind was very clear.

So, I don't think that I can do what my grandmother did, as I can't have pigs here, and I envy anyone who has an orchard - but I am doing my little bit. I made my last batch of plum jam tonight, thinking of her again. I can do the "make do and mend" that she practised, although I haven't got to the keeping of the button box yet. The chickens are definitely an interest that has come from her, and she was a good plain cook. She used rags for cleaning as I do, but she used beeswax polish on her good wooden furniture once a month whereas mine is more damp dusted and left at that! Recycling and composting were second-nature to her, and growing your own fruit and veg was just the done thing as far as she was concerned - she rarely bought anything like that, just as Uncle J rarely does even now. She shopped in an old-fashioned way right up until the late 1990s; she would send a list to the village shop on a Thursday by my uncle, and then he would go back on the Saturday to pick up a small cardboard box containing their groceries for the week. It was really only the things like flour, sugar, tea bags and loo roll, for example. My mother always bought their meat from our local butcher and we took it over on our weekly Saturday afternoon visit.

It was a different way of life, but one that we would do well to learn from, and one that I can easily learn about as Uncle J keeps up many of her traditions and ways of doing things.

I have set the 12 Black Orpington eggs tonight in desperation as the third incubator still has not arrived; I have had to squeeze nine eggs in alongside the Gold Partridge Orpington eggs and three in with the Lavenders in the automatic incubator. It is temporary but I didn't dare leave them any longer.

Today we have also been to Downham Market to the shoe shop; it is time to buy school shoes again! For an inordinately large sum of money, we came home with two pairs of black shoes - the styles this year are all very plain, but with feet like my two have got, we were over the moon to have got some - the lady fitting them said she felt like she had won a prize when she found a pair to fit the EFG. It took 45 minutes to fit them both and we were still there 15 minutes after closing time! I cannot recommend the ladies at Smith's Footwear highly enough - they came close to sainthood for their patience and excellent attitude today.

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