Granny’s house was in the same street as my own home, just two hundred yards away. As a young child I spent much time there with my brothers and sisters, we played lots of games indoors and outdoors. Granny had a large garden at the back and a huge area at the front, this gave ample scope for all sorts of children’s games. At the top end of the garden there was a swing slung between the trees which provided a great deal of fun. Sheds, fences, trees and bushes were all good cover for playing hide and seek and more often than not time was forgotten as we played happily. Now and again Granny asked the older children to help her with some light talks which provided their own entertainment too.
One part of the back garden was fenced off from the rest and here there were red currants, black currants and gooseberry bushes. When the fruit was ripe we helped with the picking. Each child was provided with an enamel basin or pitcher, then it became a contest to see who could pick the most. The gooseberry patch was directly in front of a window, whether this was by accident or design I do not know but when trying to sneak some of the luscious berries for ourselves we always kept a wary eye on that window in case Granny was watching. I don’t think she did watch but feeling a wee bit guilty we kept a look out to be on the safe side. Once the fruit was gathered in it was time for jam making. While the pink coloured liquid bubbled away we read The Christian Herald or any other material we could find. We used to wait patiently for a piece and a taste of the newly made jelly or jam. At the end of it all the task of washing and polishing the large brass pan usually fell to me, I didn’t like it one bit.
Granny had many hens and ducks and later she kept geese as well. Occasionally when a “clocking hen” had disappeared for a time I was given a stout stick and instructed to search for it among the whins and bracken just outside the garden. More often than not I would have to go further afield and the nest would be found containing a dozen or more eggs. It gave me a great deal of satisfaction when I could report that the mission was completed successfully. At the bottom of the front garden there was a long low wooden fence that was divided into about half a dozen compartments, each compartment was filled with clean straw. It was in these compartments that the hens made their nests and I was sometimes allowed to collect the eggs. A china egg was left in some nests but I don’t think that really fooled the hens. Some days there was a surprise in store for me, instead of being confronted by a hen placidly sitting on the eggs I found our big black tom cat curled up comfortably fixing me with a bland stare as if to say “Shift me if you can”. Tom usually followed mother to Granny’s and he quickly discovered the comforts of the nice clean straw and subsequently made himself at home there.
It was customary at that time for people in the village to send an occasional fowl or some smoked haddock to relatives in distant places. Granny often sent a hen to her own folk. One time she decided to send a duck and I had to catch it for her. After chasing and capturing several she released all of them. After releasing all my hard work she then decided that the nice plump white one would be ideal. When I tried to grasp it from its roost it immediately flew down and started squawking round and round the shed with me after it. However, there was no escape as Granny barred the door. Quite suddenly, without any warning it just dropped dead at my feet. Whether or not this one pleased Granny she was now stuck with it. I didn’t try to find out if it had been sent to its intended destination, or if instead it had found its way to the home table.
At the time Granny’s house was painted a nice buff or ecru colour with the fine pointing on the frontage done in white. My Uncle was responsible for all the paintwork. He didn’t mind splashing on the main colour but was averse to doing the narrow white lines. He allocated that task to me, telling me that my hand was steadier than his. It was a job I thoroughly enjoyed. Neighbours and acquaintances would stop for a word or two when passing by, however no one thought it at all odd that such a young girl should be perched precariously on a ladder while balancing a tin of paint with one hand and painting with the other. The neighbours were used to seeing children doing all sorts of jobs in those days. I still posses a photograph of Granny’s house as it was long ago and very smart it looked to.
There was another way in which I was able to assist Granny. She grew lots of flowers but the beds at the front and along the sides of the house often got over run with weeds. On different occasions I can remember digging up all the plants, apart from the shrubs and laying them on the pavement. When the offending weeds were removed I replaced the plants in a nice clean patch. Granny was always really grateful as she found gardening a bit heavy. Near the gate there was a bush of sweet smelling southern wood and passers by often snipped bits off to sniff as they went on their way. A beautifully scented pink rose grew at the side of the house and round the back there were masses of large red poppies. I can remember bright purple and yellow irises growing at the east side.
Those outdoor tasks often gave me pleasure and I didn’t resent them as I did some of the indoor work. As I grew older I was able to help in many other ways. Granny found jobs for the boys in the family too and they usually had fun there as well. At the end of the day we had the satisfaction of knowing that Granny trusted us and we had done something worthwhile.