My First Summer Alone at Nan’s
I arrived at my destination up North at 4 am on Monday. Mum had told me there would be a taxi waiting for me when the ship arrived; she had told Nan to book one for me. I was the only passenger that came off the ship at that dock. I came off the ship and saw no taxi there. I waited for quite a while before I figured out that I must find where the taxis are, because it was too far to walk the few miles to Nan’s house uphill with my bags. But before I went off to find my lift, the taxi suddenly came and stopped in front of me. The taxi driver apologised for the delay and said the ship had arrived early. It took only seven minutes to drive to Nan’s house, and it cost me 30 krone (£ 3) for the fare to get there. I now only had 60 krone (£ 6) to last me almost two months.
Nan gave me a lovely little bedroom upstairs. It had only room for a bed and a small night table, a chair and a tiny cupboard in the corner to put away my clothes, but it was so cosy, I loved it. The first few nights I struggled to fall asleep, the sun was shining as bright as day in the middle of the night. The famous midnight sun kept me awake. I asked Nan for a solution and she gave me a blanket to cover the window so that I could fall asleep more easily. The first two days I was not allowed to leave Nan’s house at all. I had to sit and listen carefully to all her stories of all that she had been through, interrupted with her shouting at the voices she was hearing in the walls telling them to f***n shut up. She thought the devil and spies had occupied her house, and that they spoke through microphones that were fixed inside the walls, with wiring all over her house.
At first when she shouted, I thought it was me she shouted at, so I jumped off my chair in fright, but I soon got used to the fact that it wasn’t me she was on to, it was the voices she was hearing. In the beginning I even tried to convince her that I could not hear any voices, that they were not there. Then she went really mad and thought I was in on the plot and that I had been sent by agents to come and spy on her before poisoning her. For a while she was convinced that I was working with the enemy to make her ill, and to make her go insane from all the torture she felt surrounding her.
For the next couple of days I had to play card games with her at the kitchen table, which was very boring, because she went bananas if I won. She then changed the rules for her to win. She said if I had won one round I had to let her win the next round, that was only fair, and I of course just had to abide by her rules. There was no way I could cross Nan, she was too strict for that. She had a very sharp voice and I remember finding her eyes very scary. They were sunk deep into her head with dark shadows underneath. She stared from those sockets with a strange wildness that scared me; I guess it was the madness I could pick up in her eyes.
In the evening she dolled herself up to watch television. She said I had to sit really nice and not say any bad words in front of the telly. My language had become very bad by this age, I was swearing worse than the workers at the docks. Nan said I must not swear when the TV was on because the people in the TV could see us. She only told me off when I was swearing when the TV was on; she didn’t make any remarks when I swore badly during our card games or other times when I decided to swear. Swearing had become a big part of my language by now, very often there were more swear words in my sentences than normal words. But Nan was not exactly nice in her own language; I do remember I picked up a few swear words that I had never heard before from her.
Once the twins (my cousins) came for a sleepover and we all tried to convince Nan that people could not see us from inside the TV. The twins ran in front of the telly and mooned their bums laughing their head off; Nan went bright red with embarrassment, and shouted, “What on earth would the people think of me now,” while she could not stop giggling herself. Even in spite of all this, I used to think this is much better than being home.
Finally after two days of being stuck in the house, I begged Nan to go out and see if I could find some friends. But I could never think of leaving the house before I had done all the dishes and wiped and washed the floors. It took many hours to do the work, because I had never done housework before and she stood over me instructing every move I made to make sure I did a proper job and everything was up to her standard. I hated her for forcing me to do housework, but years later when I was older and had my own place, I was relieved that I had already learned how to do some things. It really helped me when I moved away from home and only then was I thankful that she had taught me, even though her methods were crazy. I learned how to make a home nice, clean, and tidy.
Once all the chores were done, I went off into the streets and had a great time. There were lots of girls playing in different parts of the long main street. But I was so anxious about all the money the trip had cost me so far, that the following day after dinner, I sat at Nan’s kitchen table counting the money I had left. Nan’s eyes became round and big, as if they were about to pop out of her head. She asked me what is that, had I been in her handbag and stolen money from her or what. I told her Mum had given me some pocket money to have the whole summer and I wanted to find out what was left. She became very funny and almost angry, and she said,” Don’t think you can just come here and live off me, do you know how expensive the milk is now? Its 1.90 krone per litre (19 pence) and you drink me out of my house. From now on you have to buy your own milk, that’s for sure. You’ve got your own money and it will teach you that things costs, nothing is for free.” I could not believe my own ears. Nan wanted me to buy my own milk! I was getting so worried and thinking how on earth I was going to make my money last when I also have to spend it on milk.
A few days later the twins Robert and Richard (age 8) and the younger brother Rick (age 6) came again to Nan’s for a visit. Nan always had boxes of ice cream cones in her chest freezer and she wanted to give the kids a treat. She came back with four ice creams and we all smiled from ear to ear. Nan gave one each to the twins and one for Rick and one for herself. I asked Nan, “Where is my ice cream, can’t I have one too?” “No way,” she said, “are you having any of my ice creams. You have your own money so don’t think you can have what I have bought with my money. Look at your cousins. They have no money at all and they are so skinny and deserve a treat.”
I was so disappointed. I thought to myself, “Granny at home would never have done anything like that, she always gave all the kids the same.” I was trying to figure out why I could not have an ice cream too. “I am only at Nan’s once a year. The twins are here all year around and get ice creams and treats all the time, and now Nan doesn’t want to give any to me because I have a little pocket money?” Nan never gave me any ice creams. Every time she just let me watch them all eat, followed by words like, “You go and buy your own. Don’t think you can have any of mine.”
Auntie Wilma told me later that Nan could never stand anyone having money beside her; she got so jealous even if you had a few coins that she became cruel to whoever she knew had money. It seemed as though Nan could not rest knowing I had some money.
A few days later I had to sweep all the dog’s hair from the kitchen floor, then Nan gave me a bucket of boiling water and a pair of gloves and commanded me to clean the floor. Her kitchen was very small and awkward to clean, and I still didn’t know how to do housework properly. With the long handle of her mop it was inevitable to bump into the work units around the kitchen. The worktops were fitted in an L shape and there was a very small kitchen table by the window blocking the way of getting around in just one sweep, so I had to move around all the time. Nan insisted I swilled up the mop just after one wipe, and I had to change the water many times till the water had no colour; she wanted the water to be as clear as from the tap before she let me clean another spot. In the opposite corner of the room was her cooker, and beside the cooker a small worktop, where she used to place her favourite china saucer and her coffee cup ready for her afternoon coffee.
I had almost finished my chores when the handle of the mop fell out of my hand and swept her cup off the worktop where it crashed on the floor in pieces. Nan went ballistic. It was her special cup, one of those you give as a present for Mother’s Day. This one had beautiful double jointed writing saying “Grandmother” on the front and a lovely pink rose on the other side. She yelled and screamed what a hopeless kid I was, and how evil I was to smash her cup, and she said she knew I did it on purpose. I better go to town the next day to buy her a new one or else she would send me home. Buying her a new cup was going to teach me a lesson to take better care of other people’s things.
Of course I had no choice; the last thing I wanted was to go home. I had to do as she told me. I walked around everywhere and the cheapest cup I could find cost 25 krone (£ 2.50) I knew I would soon be broke the way I was losing money. A few days later I experienced more embarrassment when Nan sent me to the local shop to pick up a few things for her. I also had to buy milk for myself. When I came to the till to pay, I had two separate lots, one lot for Nan with her money, and the milk for myself with my money. The lady at the shop knew Nan well. She was very nosy and she asked me loads of questions whilst shaking her head, saying what a cruel woman Nan was, that she could not even spare some milk for her grandchild who was visiting her only once a year. I didn’t know what to say to the lady at all. This was something I just had to accept. I had to buy my own milk at Nan’s every summer I visited her from then on.