Hello, yes it’s me again! She came back! I can’t possibly write or dictate in my case, another word until I have thanked you all for the response and encouragement of my last blog! Thank you! Blown away to say the least! So today started off like any other day, Dylan the Villain up to villainous things, being shouted at, the sound of running water in the bathroom and a fluffy excited 32kg deadweight upon my chest, good morning Dylan! Then my Mother’s voice, he’s been naughty again, he stole a sock! Then it’s a death defying slalom to get down the stairs, Mam goes to work and Dorothy my carer arrives to get me ready for the day, including breakfast. Nothing unusual or out of place there. But today is a different day, I can’t call it special, I always feel that implies something great and out of the ordinary, though maybe today should be described as special now that my mind has just drifted back to that day? Today marks 3 years since my Nanna passed away, I can’t say died because she’s still very much here and alive inside everyone of us. My Nanna was special to us all in so many different ways but I’m going to be selfish and tell you about MY Nanna.
Out of respect for my family, I will not and cannot go into much detail, I’m going to be in hot water for sharing this much but I promise you, you’ll feel richer for reading. The 11th April 1932 Elizabeth Isobella Middleton was born, she married John Featherstonehaugh Clark and was known as Betty Clark, here starts the life of the most strongest person I am ever to meet! It was a hard life and I don’t mean that lightly, men worked but the women worked harder, big families, illnesses, deaths, violence, abuse and kids went hungry. In society now, we give these things fancy names like domestic abuse, in those days, you got brayed, it’s exactly the same thing though and just as awful. Most of us have read Catherine Cookson’s Fifteen Streets, well, I need not say any more. I have never heard a story like my Nanna’s and I pray I never do. You’ll learn where my dark sense of humour comes from as you walk along with me, hopefully! Please stay!
When we all get into full swing of reminiscing which isn’t too often, there’s always a story that pops up. It’s about the Toby Jugs that sat above the living room window on the wooden pelmet. There were once 6 Toby Jugs but out of necessity to feed her 5 kids while Johnny splashed the cash on a night out, she’d pawn a Toby Jug. She’d spread the remaining jugs out to hide the gap but live in constant fear my Grandad would notice, a few Toby Jugs found their way to the pawnbrokers and my Grandad never ever noticed or found out, she took that and many more survival tactics to her grave and we smile and belly laugh at some of the tricks she had to pull. Unfortunately, those laughs quite quickly turn to sadness, resentment and yes, anger for what was allowed to pass.
I have mixed feelings about my Grandad, it’s like I loved two very different people and I’m guessing it was like that for Nanna too but on a much grander scale. I loved him yet I cried many heartbroken tears for how he could and had been. My Grandad was a hard and sometimes cruel man, having been brought up in a cold hard era, he suffered abuse, i remember being told about my Great Grandma Clark clenching her fists, rolling her sleeves up and asking him to choose between instant death or long term sickness. There was always a joke made of it but it was so very true. He was a educated man, he was a scholar, I learned a great deal from him and this is where you’ll all think I’m away with the fairies but my Grandad was just as much the gentle, kind loving man who taught me wood work, about Kings and Queens, about the pioneers of the North East and a multitude of things, I could keep listing and listing. He smacked me once when I was 3, my mam moved out of the family home and we got our own flat, I bloody loved that flat, even if my teddies bottoms did get stuck with ice to my windowsill and had to be chipped off and defrosted in front of the fire in winter. It gave a whole new meaning to bottoms up! My Grandad sent for us a short time later and he apologised and promised never to lift a hand to me again and he presented me with a wooden sledge he’d made, my Mam refused to move back but he was as good as his word and never smacked me again. I’ve made peace with my Grandad over the years and I did love him.
When I was 19 and I had gotten my first proper stable job, training to be a Veterinary Nurse, my Nanna left my Grandad for good.
Oh how life took off for her. She had her own little granny flat, decorated how she wanted it, she bought clothes, shoes, even “scent” with the little bit money she had, if she really liked something she wouldn’t just buy one, oh no, she’d buy it in 3 different colours, I’m giggling away to myself here, nearly everything was green. She went to the bingo, in her words she’d say “your Nanna was a jammy get, it comes in threes Elizabeth so I’m going to bingo again tonight” and sure enough it did, whether a bingo win or lucky scratch card or tombola, she’d win it lad. See, my Nanna slipped out again there! She even won the lottery you know, not the jackpot but seriously, she did, she got a few numbers, it wasn’t big money that week but she won it and gifted almost all of it to her kids, bless her. She looked after nearly everyone in that sheltered accommodation, she walked up a great big hill to go get them fish and chips on a Friday, she did little bits of shopping for them but one of my favourite things I must tell you, so please hang in there! In the big day room downstairs where they sometimes played bingo, it was decided that the local dementia group would meet there to do crafts, listen to music and play dominos and such likes. My Nanna very much feeling the need to fill a void offered her services, it went from sitting nattering to the old dears to her helping in the kitchen washing dishes and taking tea towels home to wash, to waltzing to all the old classics to THEN getting her NVQ. Yes that’s right (Oooow, I’ve just got goosebumps writing that!) at 79 my Nanna got a NVQ and became a fully pledged volunteer! When the dementia club first started up, there was a residents meeting as a few weren’t very happy about them meeting there. My Nanna was stopped on the stairs one day by a neighbour and was told it wasn’t right having all these insane crazy people in their building. Well, I can tell you, that lady was handed her pedigree right into her hands. “Don’t you go around calling them that, be careful what you say, it can happen to anyone of us!”
Years later that lady joined the club as she had developed dementia ….
I could write about her for hours and hours, days in fact. I often got called Katie or Katie Jane but I mostly got called Flossie and when I later decided to inflict my art on to the world, I wasn’t courageous enough to expose myself for fear of criticism, I named my artists page and work, Flossie Inspired because she truly inspired me.
I was very proud of my family the week leading up to her passing, we all piled into her tiny granny flat, we let the Hospice at Home nurses go, though we’d only had them a few nights, we cared for her ourselves, it was a promise my Mam had made her many years ago, that she’d never see inside a nursing home and I think my Mam is very proud that she could fulfil that. We decided as a family it would only be us at the end, no carers. Me and my Nanna loved to sing, my Nanna used to sing to me as a baby and there was always one song that got belted out. We’d sing in the car on our days out and I even joined a choir at one point. I remember the afternoon well, I was sat on the seat next to her bed and we had her music on, we were singing and holding hands and she kept waving my hand back and forth in time to the music, we were singing Elvis, the man is a god to me but that’s another story for another day. Suddenly I could not hold the emotion and hurt back any longer and my voice broke, that damn pesky lump in my throat the size of Australia nearly cutting off my airways, snuck up on me and my mask of bravery disintegrated. You might not think it a tender moment but my Nanna said “nu come on now Flossie, we’ll have less of that, nu stop crying, you’re going to miss the chorus, sing!” so I did, very poorly and very difficultly, it was more of a rasp than anything.
Passing can be a slow process, we each took turns to sit with her and say our peace, I was particularly proud of my Uncle who is a man of very few words but once something was on his mind he’d be up, grab some tissues, tap the person on the shoulder to shift and he’d sit and share his thoughts and love with her in private, though she always knew how loved she was, it was more about us giving her our final love and emotional gifts to take with her. Everyone was comfortably far enough away to have a little privacy. When I sat with her I never had anything to say because I’d always told her throughout her life, we used to have little chats you see, so I sat and thanked her and reminisced about trips to Whitely Bay (I have a bag of sand from Whitley bay that I plan to put on her resting place once I can – Shhh! I know it’s naughty!) and how we were going to sail to France on the boat moored on the Quayside which later became a floating nightclub. I did however thank her and apologise for being an arsey teenager and sobbed when I said my only regret is that she’ll never meet my children if or when I have them. That seat next to her bed was never empty for even a minute throughout the day and night, for days we lay on the floor, accidentally kicking each other or crumpled up in a chair, one night I slept for 2 hours on the visitors chair in the corridor outside my Nanna’s flat. On the 18th of July, just after 4pm my Nanna found the strength and courage to leave us (goosebumps again!) THOUGH the buggar nearly left without me and my Auntie! I had nipped to my Auntie’s literally up the road to have a very quick shower, we got back just in time, my hair was still soaking wet and I have to confess Nanna, I had no knickers on when you left! She passed away on this day, surrounded by us lot, the lot that usually can’t be in the same room together for 5 minutes without shouting and arguing, in her own home, in her own bed, with the birdsong dancing through the open windows, the shadows of “that bloody tree” outside projected onto her green carpet (she always threaten to chop that tree down!) surrounded by respect, admiration and love, on this very day.
When I was rushed to hospital back in January, I couldn’t feel her near me and I was getting myself upset, a male nurse was making the bed across from me in the dependency unit and he was whistling and humming away to himself, I instantly recognised the the song, as he walked past my bed I said with my best speech I could muster, you’re quite young to know that tune and sounding like a Nanna myself, he replied what tune?
The one you were just whistling and humming.
Yes, for a good 10 minutes.
He giggled and walked away completely oblivious. The tune was Bring Me Sunshine and was featured on the Morecambe and Wise Show that I used to watch with Nanna and Grandad, he taught me the paper bag trick and if you don’t know the paper bag trick, I suggest you get yourselves onto YouTube or Google it and find out! I looked upward and smiled, aye, she was there alright!
So who am I, well I am that girl but I’m also Betty’s Granddaughter.
🎶 Que sera, sera, Whatever will be, will be, The future’s not ours to see, Que sera, sera, What will be, will be …. 🎶