For my part, it’s a celebration of the life of someone who helped make me who (and what) I am today - but also a celebration that should have been, but didn’t quite make it.
My Nana would have had her 100th birthday on 20 June this year. Sadly, she died less than a month before her Big Day.
As these photos show, we had good old family ‘do’ to celebrate her long life back in January, before she started going downhill and could still pass for a sprightly 80-year-old.
This first photo is far from flattering of either of us, nor is it particularly sharp, but there’s something about it that captures just what she meant to me.
Our gathering of the clan brought together all her direct blood descendants, which delighted her.
It gave her the chance to cherish her children, my uncle and my mother, who she raised almost single-handed during the Second World War when – like so many others - my grandfather was away fighting. They were uncertain years, never knowing if she would ever see her husband again, or if the doodlebugs flying overhead en route for London might stall short of their target and fall on her home.
Her many memories were captured in scrapbook my sister and cousin had lovingly put together, marking key events in her life with old photos, scraps of party dresses, copies of deeds of the house she lived in for more than 70 years. Though not sentimental in the traditional sense, Nana loved it.
She was the ultimate Little Old Lady, more than qualifying on all counts:
-- at a tad under five foot, she was definitely little, just about reaching my chest. She took great delight in telling us that precious things came in small packages – but so did poison;
-- she was undeniably old (I don’t think even she would have got cross at me for saying so -she was born before the First World War, for goodness sake);
-- and she was a “lady” in every sense of the word.
She was remarkable - delightful, coy, charming, often infuriating, fiercely independent in her own way and unmovable when she’s made her mind up (you could tell from the set of her jaw when she’d dug her heels in).
Up until the point when she became very poorly in the last month of her life, Nana remained as sharp as a knife and a devil at the Scrabble board. Beating her at Scrabble was a major achievement in our family. The words she used to come out with to catch those triple word scores were not what you’d expect from a genteel lass raised in a strict Chapel household. But challenge her and her defence would be ready: ‘It’s in the official Scrabble dictionary!’ And of course when you checked, there it was, in all its outrageously obscene glory. I think she must have memorised the entire thing.
But that doesn’t mean she wouldn’t put on her ‘helpless old dear’ act when it suited her. It came in very handy when charming visitors and getting them to do something she was frankly capable of but couldn’t be bothered with - especially after she’d plied them with proper tea (made in a teapot) and her unbeatable homemade shortbread.
If you’re lucky enough to have a Little Old Lady in your life, don’t write her off.
Spend time with her, enjoy her company, have a giggle with her, take her on at the Scrabble board (if you’re feeling brave and willing to accept defeat gracefully), look her in the eye and tell her you’re not falling for her tricks…. and then watch her chuckle quietly to herself as you swallow a classic line.
And who knows, maybe one of these days, you might be celebrated as someone’s Little Old Lady yourself.