I love this photo of my grandmother, taken in the Twenties. She’s talking to one of her sons, and I’m guessing she’s on her way out for the evening – judging by her silky coat and smart hat and shoes. Very Gatsby-esque.
It’s so interesting to see her like this, because although she was always very smart (she would never leave the house without lipstick and loved her jewellery and hats), to me and my sister (and our cousins) she was Granny, the woman who never forgot our birthdays, made fabulous cakes and always kept her house spotlessly clean. She was very patient, and taught me how to cook and knit (and tried to teach me how to crochet). My sister and I loved spending summer holidays with her – some of our favourite childhood memories are sitting at the table in her kitchen eating toast, listening to Radio 2 and helping her do the Bingo in the paper.
Even though she and my grandfather, who was a jockey, made their home in England, they were both Irish-born and raised. My grandmother was from Curraha, a small village in County Meath, and she never lost her Irish accent. Everyone called her Sheila (I don’t think anyone knows why), but her real name was Julianne. She was one of six, but one of her sisters, Jean, was killed by a motorbike.
During World War Two, while raising four children, Granny worked in the local munitions factory, supporting the war effort.
She was also a cook, and while working at a well-known racehorse trainer’s estate, she and my aunt made tea for the Queen and the Queen Mother – and tried on the Royal fur coats, one keeping a watch out for the other. That’s one of our favourite family stories, because it shows her rebellious spirit. I’m sure that’s where my mum gets it from. And in her later years Granny had a bit of a thing for Boy George.
Just before she died, Granny and my uncle had been staying at my mum’s house in London for the weekend. At my request, Granny made a batch of scones, and we ate them with jam and cream, warm from the oven.
If I’d known that would be the last time I would see her, I would have taken the time to talk to her more and ask her about her life.
*This is my entry for The Gallery and the theme this week is ‘inspirational women’.