Thursday, 23 September 2010

Magpie Tales #33 Acqua di Parma

The other day I was thinking of my grandmother, a gracious old lady who was an important part of my young life. She lived a short distance from our house and I visited her every day. Sometimes I was allowed to sleep in her guest bedroom, a pretty room decorated in lavender and white.

I enjoyed the bedtime ritual in her house. First I would have a bath in the claw-foot tub in her huge, chilly bathroom and then wrap myself in one of her large soft white towels and go through to her bedroom where she would brush my hair – one hundred strokes counted out in her soft voice as the bristles swept smoothly through my long straight locks. Then my grandmother would give me her box of talcum powder and I would dust my body with the sweetly scented puff, loving the feel of the satin ribbon between my fingers.

Whenever I stayed with her she would give me a sprigged nightgown that had belonged to my mother when she was a child. It had a high neck and long sleeves and fell from a smocked yoke to my feet in gentle folds. There was plenty of room in it to tuck up my feet later until they were warm enough to make contact with the cool bed linen. 

Then we would go downstairs to the sitting room, a room full of curios and books and plants. The subdued light in this room made it welcoming and comfortable and though I must have stayed with my grandmother at different times of the year it is the winter evenings that I recall most clearly, a log fire burning brightly in the grate and casting flickering shadows on the walls and ceiling. My face would grow hot as I leant forward to push the long toasting fork ever closer to the coals. Crumpets dripping with butter and honey – ‘As many as you like’ she would say and I would hug myself with glee at that possibility. At home such treats were strictly rationed and my sister and brother and I always longed for more than we were allowed. Strangely, at my grandmother’s house I could never manage to eat more than the two we were given at home, but it was the thought that I could have more if I wanted that gave me more of a warm feeling than hot food ever could. 

After the crumpets my grandmother would read to me as I sipped hot chocolate. When the story had finished, always at the same moment that I drained the last sweetness from the dainty china mug, my grandmother would hold out her hand and together we would go upstairs and she would tuck me in to bed, pulling the sheet and blankets firmly round me so that I felt safe and contained, much as a baby must feel when wrapped snugly in a blanket. She would kiss me – ‘Good night, sleep tight, don’t let the bed bugs bite. God bless.’

I would turn on to my side and draw up my knees and gaze around the room, lit by a night light – my grandmother knew I hated the dark. The pictures on the walls were of flowers, primroses, honeysuckle, bluebells, that my grandmother had painted and framed. The curtains and bedspread were made of the same floral material – tiny pink rosebuds entwined with delicate violets. On the bedside table, next to the water carafe and glass, was a small charmingly decorated tin of sweets more treasured for their scent than their taste. They smelt like my grandmother – or should it be that she smelt like them?

The next morning I would go home, happy to join my family once more and knowing that I would be seeing my grandmother the next day. I thought I would see her every day for the rest of my life but of course that could not be so.

My granddaughter lives nearby and visits me most days. Sometimes she spends the night in my spare bedroom. Yesterday she burst in excitedly. ‘Look, Grandma, look at these. Aren’t they lovely? Mummy put them in a special box for me. She said you’d like them.’ She thrust a tissue wrapped parcel into my hand and hopped from foot to foot, impatient for me to open it.

The first thing I saw was the lid with its painted flowers and I knew, before I removed it, what was inside. Slowly I took off the top and there, nestled in shreds of lavender paper, were Parma violets. The released scent seemed to fill the air. I offered one to my granddaughter. She sniffed it then put it in her mouth. ‘Ugh!’ she said and I smiled. I don’t like the taste, either, but the smell reminds me of my grandmother – it was the cologne she always wore.
Thanks go to Willow who organises and hosts this meme. To read more Magpies please click here.

25 comments:

  1. This is really beautiful. I felt like I was right there in the grandmother's house, sipping hot chocolate in front of the roaring fire! I love how the narrator is a grandmother in the final paragraph, and how the story comes full circle with a really strong ending.

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  2. What a lovely story.
    Its amazing how smell triggers memories, what a lovely relationship you had with your grandmother.

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  3. This made me remember vividly being a child myself and also made me cry ... wonderfully written :o)

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  4. What a lovely story! Thanks for sharing it with us.

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  5. Lovely story made from wonderful memories.

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  6. What an absolutely charming story. If this is indeed a picture of your childhood memories of your grandmother you were truly blessed.

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  7. jabblog, what happened to my (friko's) picture in your followers' list?
    I could have sworn I added my avatar.

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  8. I loved the sweet, gentle flow of your story. I can only hope my granddaughter will have such lovely memories of me. (I have a nightgown very much like the one you describe.)

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  9. Thank you all for your kind comments.
    I wish this had been a story about my grandmother but my maternal grandmother died many years before I was born and I met my paternal grandmother only once.
    I'm quite sure my grandchildren will not have memories like these of me! I wish they all lived closer but the distances aren't great, though not walkable :-)
    Friko - I don't know what happened to your picture. One day you were there and a few days later gone . . .

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  10. What a beautiful story, I was there wrapped in those warm and wonderful words. Nice writing!

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  11. I actually have a bag full of the rolls of tiny, violet cachous that I ordered online when I happened upon them months ago. I hand out one to each of my OAP friends, as a blast from the past when they come to visit. For years, my Auntie had a tiny pottery scent flagon, decorated with violets, that still held the magic scent long after the perfume was gone - wonderful blast from the past!

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  12. Comfort all the way..just lovely from top to bottom..lucky memories!

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  13. Comfort from top to bottom..just lovely..lucky memories!

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  14. Warm and comforting imagery - a sweet taste of nostalgia!

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  15. What a wonderful story or memory or both. I wanted to be the grandchild so bad!

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  16. Beautiful. Thanks 4 sharing this. I cd c u very clearly in ur grandmother's house getting ready 4 bed.

    Cd taste the crumpets.

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  17. I thought this was beautifully descriptive and grew more sentimental with each paragraph. When I read your comment that told it was fiction I was surprised; the scenes were totally real in my mind. :)

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  18. I just saw in lydias comment that this was fiction...it felt so real, as if i was there too, i took it for a memory! It was beautifully written, there's no love as wonderful as the kind of grandmother you described

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  19. what a beautiful memory of the time spent together...and the hint of humor with her puting in in her mouth there at the end broke the mood nicely...nice magpie!

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  20. Your words lived a lifetime of memories. It must have been drawn from a secret magical place and proves it's true, fiction can be as real as true experience.

    Janice - you need to write a book if you haven't. Your writing has that totally believable quality that hooks the reader from the start to end.

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  21. I loved reading this post; it took me back to the days I used to spend with my own grandmother when she was young and well enough to look after me. It was such an adventure for a little girl to spend the night in a huge sleigh bed, wrapped in my grandma's scent.

    CJ xx

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  22. How deliciously delightful! Quite excellent! Grans are the best part of growing up!

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  23. Beautifully written of memories for so many fortunate children who do get to spend time with their grandparents. Lovely tale, well done.

    Thank you.

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  24. You did a fine job of describing this; you took us with you on your adventure.

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  25. Lovely piece. It left me craving a soft, sprigged nightgown.

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