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9:24am on Friday, 27th May, 2011:

100 Today


Today, my paternal grandmother would have been 100 years old, had she lived. As it was, she was the first of my grandparents to die, dying of lung cancer in 1978 caused by her habit of smoking 40 Capstan full-strength cigarettes a day for most of her life. I didn't attend her funeral because she died just after I had gone to university, and my parents didn't want to disrupt my studies; indeed, I didn't find out she'd died until after the funeral because I had to be informed by letter (there were no telephones in university accommodation).

Here she is as I remember her:

Of all my grandparents, she's the one I knew the least. This was mainly because we never stayed round my dad's parents' because they didn't have a spare bedroom, so we only ever visited for a day then we left. She came from a mining family, from most of whom she became estranged — we never really found out the details as to why. I've traced her ancestry back further than any of my other grandparents, to a couple who were married in 1659; every single person I have in her family tree was born and bred in Yorkshire. She came from Glass Houghton near Castleford, and so had a slightly different accent to my dad and my grandad (who both grew up in Harrogate); the primary way this was manifest was in the way she said the letter I ("knife" rhymed with "half").

She kept her house in immaculate condition, and we were always worried when we visited that we might make a mess. My abiding memory of her is sitting in her armchair watching show jumping (which for some reason I never fathomed she loved) on the TV — the first colour TV I'd ever seen. Behind the armchair she kept a tin of sweets for when we came round: it contained pear drops for me and rhubarb and custards for my brother. Looking back on it, she probably ate them herself so always had supplies in, but that's not how we saw it as kids! She had a collection of 20 or 30 six-inch costume dolls that my mum liked but which was of no interest to me or my brother (although she always maintained it was worth more than my grandad's collection of 26,000 matchbox labels).

Hmm, what else do I know about her? She brought my dad up on her own for the first 5 years of his life, as my grandad got drafted to fight in World War 2. She was very beautiful as a young woman and was selected to be Queen of the May (or May Queen in modern parlance). Her family was poor and she had to wear hand-me-down shoes as a child, which left her with badly-shaped feet. She liked fish & chips. She was a bit strict, which is another reason why we didn't ever really chat with her.

My brother got to know her better, because he went to stay for a week one summer (a spare room having arisen because my uncle had left home by then). Sadly, she died before I ever got to ask her about herself — or realised the importance of doing so.

Tune in (or, if you prefer, out) in August for the final installment of anecdotes about my grandparents who would have reached 100 had they lived.

Referenced by 100 Today.

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Copyright © 2011 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).