We were never close but perhaps that’s hardly surprising considering I was born the year that she turned eighty. She was very deaf and had very little mobility when I reached comprehension. To a young child like myself she was just an old lady who spent most of her time in an armchair, saying little but watching us intently. When she did speak, she was often confused. I remember on one occasion she asked my father about her late husband who died a long time before, in the first year of his retirement. I think I was always slightly scared of her.
Her favourite colours were pink and green, and I once tried to write a parody of the Jenny Joseph poem ‘Warning: When I am an Old Woman I Shall Wear Purple’, to reflect this. I got as far as writing about how, into old age, she would dye her hair orange (another fact I had gleaned from her daughter, my grandmother).
As my adolescent years approached, she became even more frail and confused. One day she was rushed into hospital after falling in her flat and breaking her hip. After that, she was never the same again. We visited her in Fowey hospital, and I remember her commenting on my glasses, even though I had been wearing them for five years by then. When she had recovered, she was transferred to a care home. Visiting her at the care home was even more frightening than visiting her in her flat. She was always in the living room, surrounded by elderly people in armchairs, staring mindlessly at the television. I always felt shamefully relieved when it was time to go.
I don’t know how long we visited her there, but her condition deteriorated to a point where my grandmother forbade us to see her, as that wasn’t how she wished us to remember her mother. My great grandmother, Nana Lillian, died in December 2004 at the age of ninety-five. I hadn’t seen her in at least eighteen months.
I never really felt I knew her, but I have always associated the last day of September with Nana Lillian, even after her death. My earliest readers may remember that last year would have been her hundredth birthday. Today she would have been 101. Happy Birthday Nana Lillian. On this last day of September.