Life, Living, Becoming...
Gerry Coughlan


Did you have a nana or a granny? Granny sounds so ancient and Nana is a funny name; just missing a B and an A to be a curvy, yellow fruit! Anyway, I had a nana, God rest her soul. Born in 1900, died in 1994 ... now that's a good innings.

She was a bit of an eccentric but great to spend some time with. She had a huge overgrown garden with apple and pear trees, loganberry bushes and a few more exotic trees that never bore fruit in my childhood. The apples were only good for making apple tarts and the pears were usually too soft or full of maggots by the time you found them.

Myself and my sister would often sleep over at her house. My granddad had died when I was very young and she had a huge house to herself. One of the beds was very high off the floor and each room had its own fireplace. She taught us to play Rummy and we'd play cards by the firelight for hours and hours till I began to think about being a "Jack" when I grew up. I wondered what they did exactly . Maybe it was similar to a Knave. I had a rethink when I thought of the Queen of Hearts making my life miserable with all sorts of stupid demands.

My nana boiled a sheep's head sometimes. Thank God it was only used for stock. It would be on the cooker for the whole weekend. One Sunday we came back from Mass and the bottom of the pot had burned through. The gas had been left on too high. Thw whole house stank for ages. Once, I lifted the lid and saw the eyes. I felt guilty because I thought it was like opening the oven door when a cake was baking.
"Don't go near the oven and don't slam the front door, you'll stop the cake from rising"

My nana made a great steak & kidney pie with real pastry. The first time she cut through one at the table I was shocked to see one of her good cups sitting upside-down in the dish surrounded by the meat. "It's to help support the crust". Oh Really, Oh Reilly? I'd thought maybe it was like the ring in the Halloween brack - like if you found the cup, you'd never want for a cup of tea for the rest of your life.

One of my Nana's things was you weren't allowed to say "I'm full" when asked if you'd like some more food. "You must say - I've had sufficient"
"Or I've had enough"

"I'm starving" was even worse. That would stop any adult in their tracks. "The Biafran babies are starving. You haven't a clue what's it like to be starving. Go and wash your hands and come back here grateful for your food and thank God you've got it and beg God's forgiveness for your stupid remarks."
When you were growing up, off-the-cuff remarks were a potential minefield. And I thought it might be a compliment to say you were starving when you smelt the meal cooking.

In 1981, I saw her when she was living in an old folk's home. She wasn't out of sight. Her daughter ran the place. She kept calling me Barry and I didn't have the heart to correct her. We spent one memorable day together in town. Everyone we met from the bus driver to every single shop assistant, got introduced to her grandson that lived in South Africa. They were gracious and accommodating and I held her hand when she wanted and lifted her scarf onto her head when it blew off in Henry Street.

She was a special person.

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