Saturday, November 12, 2011
It was my Nana’s birthday yesterday. She would have been 88. Nana died a year and a half ago and I miss her so much. I can still hear her voice and it’s horrible that I can’t pick up the phone and call her. You just think people will always be around, but they won’t.
Thinking back, there were many ways Nana was a chic mentor to me, although I might not have realised it at the time.
She was a tiny thing, less than five feet tall in her later years. Nana was always a ‘normal’ weight, but in the last 5-10 years she became concerned with her weight and eked her Christmas and birthday chocolates out so she didn’t get fat. 'I’m getting a little pot you know’ she would say to me as she patted her flat stomach.
For breakfast Nana would often have a piece of toast, and a coffee with cream. I remember her lunches would be a slice of ham and some fresh salad vegetables on a small oval plate.
She lived near to town in her tidy and stylish flat, and mostly walked to buy a few groceries or to meet my Mum and Aunty for lunch. She kept her home immaculate and maintained her clutter-free status by asking for ‘consumable’ gifts if we gave her anything. Her home style was very classic and elegant, and I now proudly have her sofas in our living room.
I also have her Belle Fiore dinner-set which she started collecting as a young woman, adding on pieces as the years went by. It wasn’t cheap, and she used to buy it from a beautiful shop in town which was a jeweller but also sold fine china. I have always loved this dinner-set. It is English but looks Italian (hence the name which means ‘beautiful flowers’). She didn’t keep it for best either - it was her only set, so she used it every day.
Even though she was 86 when she died and a great-grandmother, she always seemed youthful. When I was in my late teens or early 20s I remembered buying a pair of shoes and finding out she had the same ones. How often would that happen to a young girl? I probably had mature taste for my age, or maybe we both liked the classics.
I borrowed some of her tops and skirts then too. I remember she would offer for us to have a wear or two of one of her new skirts before I shortened them for her. Since there was over half a foot difference in our height, a nice mid-calf length on her would be knee length on me. This was the late 80s/early 90s when mid-calf was THE length.
The elegant scent that always surrounded Nana my sister christened ‘Eau de Val’. Her home smelt lovely and so did she. She favoured spicy florals, and after she had gone and we were sharing out her tops and scarves, her fragrance lingered.
Nana’s hair was mostly in a silky silver bob which she would comb back and then pat up at the back and towards the crown of her head. If she came somewhere with us she would always dash into her light and airy bedroom to powder her nose and put some lipstick and perfume on. And she would always self-tan her legs in the summer so they would look nice with skirts and cropped pants.
Nana remained youthful I think by not really acknowledging her age. She always dressed appropriately and not too young, but she didn’t really identify with her peers. She just always seemed younger than the other women her age who had their hair set and wore floral frocks with a cardigan and comfortable shoes.
She would often pick up groceries for her elderly neighbours and run errands for them. When the local post office closed down she wasn’t concerned for herself, but said ‘what about the old folk, what will they do?’ We found this so cute that she didn’t think of herself as one of the old folk even though she was well into retirement age.
She was a registered nurse and until she was about 70 worked part-time at a rest home. Because she was often older than the residents, visitors would often confuse her for one of them rather than a staff member.
If you called around to Nana’s after work on a Friday, you were offered a brandy and dry ginger-ale. I could only have the one if I was driving home as she did a good pour. When I was first going out with my beloved, we went to a house party where everyone took what they were drinking. He had some beers in a cooler bag. I felt like a brandy so I took my bottle along, with a bottle of dry ginger-ale. The hostess, quite a hard-case beer-drinking girl herself screeched ‘Brandy! That’s an old lady’s drink!’ To me it was a normal tipple choice.
Nana was just plain good fun. There aren’t many grandmothers you would look forward to going and staying the night with, or call around for an after-work drink as a young adult. One day it was my sister and I and she, with a brandy each flipping through Hello magazines. ‘Bloody Rome!’ she exclaimed, as we pored over beautiful photos of the Italian city.
Happy Birthday dear Nana. We miss you.
PS. I chose this image of a Daphne flower, as Nana would often have a sprig of Daphne in a dainty vase on her dining table in the winter, casting its divine perfume. Now that we have our own house, the first thing I am going to plant is a Daphne bush.