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.