By Annie Douglas, a writer who lives in Edinburgh. Annie's currently working on her first novel and enjoys kayaking, exploring Scotland and mindfulness.
Granny Douglas – Ella - knew how to create a home where comfort and nourishment were everything. I used to visit her in Hawick during the holidays. She had a small house and she’d say, ‘there’s a place for everything and everything is in its place’.
We guessed she was referring mostly to the kitchen, since this is where the magic happened.
She’d make a dozen jars of jam every year from the raspberries in the garden and store them at the back of her cupboard. Homemade scones would appear, cut in halves, with butter, jam and scooshy cream on top. Double Biscuits (Empire Biscuits) and tablet were other favourites. The smell of her soup, with a real ham stock, would welcome us when we arrived. Her morning rolls - with Hawick meat paste or ham - cut into semi circles, were moreish.
Granny would wheel out her table from the kitchen when we were preparing to eat. A table cloth would be laid and china plates with a floral rim would hold the day’s nourishment, as eyes brightened and taste buds tingled. There was a sense that every little thing was under control; our only duty was to indulge. If we looked like we were too full to take much more, Granny would suggest another scone, another biscuit, crisps or anything at all. Afterwards, she’d do the dishes in water close to boiling but her hands were the softest and most delicate I’ve ever known. We’d help to dry the dishes and she’d tell us where to put things in her cupboards. When we were really young, she bathed us in the kitchen sink as well.
The same table we used to eat on would be transformed in to a card table after dinner. It had a green felt cloth and drawers where the decks of cards were stored. We’d spend hours playing Rumi, Seven’s and Patience. The atmosphere would be calm; steady, as we simply enjoyed being there with her. The joy at winning didn’t surpass the enjoyment of the connection she offered. The gas fire would be on and her West highland terrier, Scruffy, would be at her feet or on the rug. One day, during light conversation, I revealed I’d like to marry a black man. I said it in all seriousness. Granny’s cool soon turned to fright. ‘My goodness, think of the kids,’ she’d said. ‘They’ll be neither black nor white!’ What would she say about the fact that I’m now settled in a gay relationship, I wonder?
Our granny cried to us about Scruffy dying in her arms when I was about 14. He was given to her as a surprise, after my Papa died. Scruffy was everything. My granny was always knitting and I’m sure it became a form of therapy rather than necessity. I used to be impressed by how nimble her fingers were, how rapid each twist and turn was. Later, I learned that Granny had been a seamstress for Pringle, in Hawick, for most of her life. Her best friend had been her best friend her whole life too. They’d go on the coach tours together and enjoy a sherry.
Not a day would go by without a swim in the local pool when we were at Granny’s too. Hawick people were very proud of their pool, with its palm tree, sauna and slides. This place to relax was just a part of our routine and routine was everything. We’d walk down The Loan (a big hill with housing either side), then through the High Street, without Granny. She’d be waiting at the window when we returned. One day, my best friend and I took a lot longer than usual to get home, eager to buy Granny a gift. We browsed every store which might sell that special something, completely unaware of the time. Poor Granny was out on the road side when we returned, in her peeny (pinny/apron), looking desperate. All we had to show for ourselves was an ornamental dog!
Sometimes we’d go with Granny and Scruffy to the local park as well. We’d skim stones from the pebble beach out on to the river. She’d be wearing her long coat and a scarf around her head. She took pride in her appearance. I remember the route we used to take, the same one every day. I remember being impressed by the beds of plants and the bridge over the river, the tennis courts and the playing fields, as if Hawick’s amenities were somehow better than those at home. It was as if the sun always shone. Maybe the love she had for us simply spilled over so that wherever she took us, great things would happen. Granny would give us a boiled sweet at the beginning of the walk and tell us to see how long we could make it last. Savouring the simple things was what life was all about. Or maybe she just enjoyed the peace and quiet!
At night, we’d get in to bed and struggle to squeeze ourselves under the sheet, which was below the duvet. It felt safe but I’d still go and get in to her bed where, if she was still awake, she’d be lying on her left side, reading a Catherine Cookson novel. In the morning she’d go out to get the morning rolls and her paper. Then she’d put on her peeny and get on with breakfast, another glorious day in Hawick had begun.