When I think of Auntie, it’s funny how certain little anecdotes come back: for example I was travelling on the tube with her once, I was perhaps 14, and she must have been taking me to the Science Museum or something of the kind. The train had just stopped at one station, and in order to test my reactions, I suddenly jumped out on the platform through the open door, looked at the open door from the platform, and then went back inside before the door shut. For me, this was a sort of experiment which I remember I wanted to perform, having several times before wondered how it felt to do that. But what I had not counted on was Grandma’s reaction to my experiment! She was quite shocked and frightened, and I was surprised to realize it. From outside the train I saw her frantic face looking at me and calling me back inside immediately. As soon as I had got back on, she told me “Don’t be so daft, Vivi!” This must have been the worst thing she ever said to me. I deserved it of course, but had not at all anticipated I would have put her under any such stress.
Another anecdote that I still tell occasionally when referring to Grandma is when Paco and I saw her unblock the downstairs toilet in which too much paper had been thrown (after somebody’s runny number had been dropped there). She actually plunged her hand and forearm into the bowl, and even if I knew she had no sense of smell to make the operation very unpleasant, she couldn’t not feel what was inside blocking it!! For me this little fact represents Grandma’s power of self-denial and practicality. She might have waited for a skilled worker to come and do the job, or try first with a stick or something. But no, she knew how to do it, she had probably done it before, and this man’s job was not too much for her!
Grandma had a fabulous sense of hospitality and help, something I gathered as instances of them added throughout the years. Of course the house was big, especially after Monsieur Père’s death, but I always knew this didn't explain everything. She had hosted a guest for one year, a young girl I believe – those who lived in England at the time will remember better than I can – and I still think that this hospitality was remarkable, because the young person had problems, perhaps a disrupted family, and having her meant risking the quiet of the house and upsetting its routine. I know this type of help was extended at other occasions, and not only to family.
Grandma also extended educational help to all her grandchildren, that is, those who were in need, and while this isn’t as noteworthy as having a stranger stay in her house, I look upon it as a feat, because it meant reading and studying books, plays, and novels so as to be able to provide her grandchildren with the needed encouragement & help. Now I know that Grandma wasn’t a born scholar, saying this is no insult to her memory. She must have known it, at least partly, and yet she willingly tasked herself to do the homework. I know from Auntie Olive’s letters that she enjoyed some of it, for example she loved reading novels like Pride and Prejudice, but this doesn’t take away the merit I think she deserves.
One funny thing we occasionally still laugh about with Tini or Paco is that Grandma would always celebrate our birthdays by sending us a card in which she would enclose a 1£ note. I naturally realize that if she did that for all her grandchildren, it meant 23 pounds each year, still it seemed to us an increasingly laughable gift, I am ashamed to record. We would pronounce the word with our French accent, "pooned" and associate her with the repeated and recurrent little gift she would send us right until the end of our teens, never mind the inflation. We would of course spend the wretched pound, anyway! Today this little banknote simply evokes the gentle attention she bore to each of us. Among all her activities, she found the time to send those birthday wishes, and perhaps I wouldn’t remember them half so well if they had been better calculated.
May 9th 2014: Jan has just been telling me about how when she was 8 Grandma had bought her this sewing machine which she still uses today!
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