About Me

My photo
I like to write and I like to party, but mostly just the writing. Disclaimer: A lot of these stories are true ones. The memory of growing-up in and around Killybegs. When you hold a mirror up to small communities, sometimes there are those who don't like the reflection. Capote knew this only too well. If you find the refraction just a little too much and would like the angle of incidence changed in your favor, please email me at georgevial@hotmail.com and I will be happy to make a name change here or there.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Granny Nessie

Granny "Nessie," never just Granny. I was six or seven-years-old the first time I met her when she and my aunt Jane came over from New Zealand to visit us when we still lived at St. Cummin's Hill . Up until then all we knew about her was from pictures and occasional packages at Christmas and birthdays.

We'd call her Granny from New Zealand when talking about her in family circles. It was strange having a granny that lived 13,000 miles away when most of the people around us had all their grandparents within a fifty-mile radius. Other kids in school said we were just showing-off when we said we had a granny in New Zealand, but it was a fact.

Her packages would contain sweet treats from New Zealand, books about The Maori people and sometimes clothes that she sewed herself, like a nice pair of pajamas. And sometimes a small check for ten or fifteen dollars inside a small card with a New Zealand black robin or fern on the cover. She once sent over these store-bought Kiwi bird pillow cases and Derek and I thought we were the bee's knees with them on our beds.

Needless to say, we were very excited about meeting our mysterious Granny from New Zealand for the first time. Derek and I got home one morning, from staying at cousin Paddy's, and there she was. She had kites for us as gifts that looked like silk octopuses and we were shy and didn't know what to call her, that's when we started calling her "Granny Nessie."

She was a little woman, even back then when we were little, with silver hair, tanned skin and a polished colonial accent. She said things like "Sambrosa" when she liked some kind of food and sang little jingles from her younger life back in New Zealand. We found her ways very amusing and she would whisper when she knew she was talking about something just a little off color like when she first met my wife she whispered to my cousin Charlotte "My goodness, what are the grandchildren going to look like." She never meant any harm by these asides, it was just her way of thinking out loud with no filter.

She was a great woman for the morning constitution. Tea and toast with peanut butter on it. Wheat germ on her cereal and semolina in the evenings. She ate things we'd never heard off and exposed us to interesting and delicious foods and taught us not to rush our food "take time to digest" she would say. My favorite thing she made were piplettes, small pancakes that you ate cold with butter or jam slathered on them.

Granny was an all or nothing person. You were either immediate family to her, or someone to be set adrift on an iceberg and never heard from again. Like when Mum's sister Pat, who was working for Dad at the time, opened the fridge at our house out The Five Points and Granny slammed the door shut on her and reprimanded her with the phrase "that is for immediate family only." Never one for tact.

Mum and Granny didn't hit it off instantly either. I remember how Mum would fret that she was constantly under the disapproval of Granny Nessie. But in the end they found the goodness in each other and were very close towards the end of Mum's life.

When Granny came to live permanently again in Ireland in the mid-90s she shipped all her belonging over from New Zealand in a giant container at a considerable cost. Dad would never let it go and always talked about how it was a container "full of shite" but to her those were her possessions and our heritage. Furniture from New Zealand and when she lived in Coradina House in Dublin years ago when she and Granda were still married.  

Heritage and the knowledge of one's roots were very important to Granny and she instilled in us a sense of pride in who we were and were we came from. Even though I've never been to New Zealand I feel very connected to the country and feel like an honorary citizen because of Granny. Stories of our great Uncles fighting in the Commonwealth boxing championships against each other, another Uncle who played for the All-Blacks, Joseph Lister who invented medical equipment sterilization back in Edinburgh where her family came from. Family heroes and legends that are ingrained into my memory no matter how true or false.

I was working at Dad's fish factory when I was in my late teens she'd have us out to her little rented house in Bavin for dinner every few weeks. You could see the resistance in Dad's eyes, but you knew he loved it at the same time. Granny's food was to a certain taste and sometimes it was the best thing you ever tasted, other times it was something Dad would poke with a fork and Bruce or Alan, having adopted Granny's lack of tact, would say "What is this Granny? Sure we can eat it?"

As the years passed on and I moved away I once again had a long distance relationship with Granny Nessie. We'd write and make short long-distance phone calls at random times. Her letters, sometimes indecipherable hand written letters, covering both sides of an airmail envelope, would ramble on about her veg garden and some news about a relative back home in New Zealand that I'd never hear of before: Uncle Tommy's cesna or Aunt June's daughter Bridget was in Oxford and we should try to meet her there. But it was the contact and the connection of getting a letter from Gran that was important, just like when we were children.

Eventually she came to visit Linh and I in Kansas City. Linh was terribly worried what she was going to do with Granny while I was working my management job all the time she was here. Linh must have felt a little like the way Mum did on her first meeting. But Linh took the bull by the horns, so to say, and took Granny all over the city. They'd come home at the end of a day and regale me with stories of wine tastings at The La Fou Frog and art showing at The Nelson and Happy Hour at some restaurant or other. They got along like a house on fire and to boot, we all got hang out tending the garden, raking the leaves and picking up walnuts and trimming tree limbs. Granny was very popular in Kansas City and for weeks after her visit people would ask me "How's Granny getting on?" "When is she coming back?"

Granny loved to make her own jams and chutneys and she and Linh made a big trip to the city market and canned a whole big batch of chutney that we used to make delicious curries with for months after her visit.

On her second visit to Kansas City, we took an all day road trip to Hannibal to visit the famous Mark Twain caves and Granny was a little scared of the dark and twisting tour through the caves and on hindsight it was probably not the best thing to do. But back in the town of Hannibal we took a horse drawn trailer ride through the town and that was much more the pace we should have been tending. Granny was always singing the first few lines to "Meet me in St. Louis" so on the way home we went via St. Louis and visited the Arch and had dinner on Laclede's Landing and returned home late that night to Kansas City. Granny wasn't in the best of energy on that visit and on her return to Ireland she had a bad bout of jaundice.

We hoped to have Granny back to Kansas City again, but her health wasn't the best and she even had to postpone her annual trip back to New Zealand to stay with Jane and the gang in Marlborough.

By the time Granny passed she was just as polarizing as always. There were people she cut out of her life, because of one silly thing or another, but people knew that that was just her way and to know her was to deal with these eccentricities. I am sad she is gone, but she lived a long, great life and if any of us can make it near 86 years of age, that'll be something. So, here's to you Granny Nessie, from a young girl growing up in Ashburton and Christchurch, to the midwife at St. James's in Dublin, to our Granny Nessie that we loved, we raise a small glass of Chardonnay in your honor.


Jeanne Rohner said...

So nice, George. I'm glad I got to spend time with her. Sorry she is gone.

kc food guy said...

Great story George. I'm sorry she's gone.

brigid alpers said...

I have only just read this, George, and it is just as I remember her too (although as my great aunt). Do you also remember the bran biscuits?!