The rotten Granny. A story for Christmas and throughout the year
I hope this is appropriate.
Through the mind of a child.
James had a rotten granny. At least, to his nine year old mind she was “the pits”. She wasn’t really his grandmother. She was actually his great grandmother. She was very old, at least eighty five. She wasn’t in a home, like Todd’s great granny, and she didn’t need any one to look after her. She did her shopping every week for herself, and nobody was allowed to bring her “meals on wheels”. When the woman from the council came to assess whether she might need any assistance with washing, or cleaning the house, James’s granny had chased her away with a broom. “Damm nosey parkers. Let them into your house and you will never have a bit of peace for the rest of your life” was the verdict of the crotchety old lady. Annie, (James’s Mum) had to go round to the council offices to dissuade them from prosecuting for common assault.
But the real problem that James had with his granny was that she did not seem to like him. Most of the other kids at school had grannies that always made a fuss about them. They were always talking about the great birthday presents that they had been given by their grannies, and if a bag of sweets was being shared in the playground, it was often because some devoted granny had bought it for her beloved grandchild. Mums and Dads didn’t buy so many sweets, but grannies seemed to have an almost endless supply of all the treats that young children loved. All except for the rotten granny that James seemed to be lumbered with. She didn’t even want to see him. Occasionally she would come to his house to visit with his mother. James was always told to play in his room until after she was gone. The only explanation he was given was that Granny was “a bit odd”, or that it upset her to see him. That was all that was ever said.
As well as the rotten granny, James did have two other pairs of real grandparents. His Mum was from Scotland, and both her parents lived there. But because James and his Mum lived in London, and money was always scarce, they never went there to see them. His Mum and Dad were divorced, and his Dad had moved to Australia, so there was no contact with any of that family at all. That was the reason why James always thought of his great granny as just Granny. She was all that he had.
He hated it that she never wanted to see him. Once, after school, he went round to the house where she lived, and knocked on the door. He imagined that when she saw him standing on her doorstep, her heart would melt. He had visions of being invited in, and being fed with buns and slices of cake, like the other kids were always getting from their grannies. That was not what happened. When the old lady came to the door, she just stood looking at him for about a minute. Nothing was said. Then tears started to creep out of her eyes. She waved him away, and turned and went back into the house, shutting the door behind her. As James wended his way back to his own house, he could never remember being so upset. He really hated that rotten granny.
This incident happened when James was just eight and a half years old. He was now nine. He had a party for his birthday, and he got loads of presents from friends, as well as from his Mum. Nothing from the rotten granny however, not even a card. By this stage James didn’t really care.
It was two weeks before Christmas. The excitement was really starting to build in James’s heart. The Christmas lights had been turned on a week previously in the High Street, and there had been the visit to Santa in his Grotto. James had been given a very cheap toy. His Mum had said that it was a right rip off. He didn’t really believe in Santa any more, but he still had the sense not to let the grown-ups know that. A clever child could end up with double presents that way, because he would have to get “Santa presents” as well as the presents from his Mum. If he admitted to not believing in Father Christmas, that could halve his haul.
That evening, just as James was getting ready to go to bed, there was a knock on the door. It was a policeman. The rotten granny was dead. James’s mother told him that she had collapsed while chasing a Salvation Army member that had knocked on her door to ask if she wanted to go to an old folk’s party. “That’s all I need before Christmas, organising a funeral”, the rotten granny’s granddaughter said. James said nothing. He still didn’t really care.
The following day James and his mother went round to the old lady’s house. The rotten granny had been brought to a place called a morgue, and the police had given her granddaughter the keys of her house, as she was her next of kin. The house was not very tidy, and there was a kind of old lady smell in it. At least that is what James thought. His mother started to go through the various drawers and cupboards. She was hoping to find some addresses or phone numbers, of relations or friends. If she could do that, she could make up the numbers at the funeral. There would certainly not be too many of the old lady’s current crop of neighbours willing to mourn her. She had fallen out with most of those.
While his mother was “mooching” around the upstairs rooms, James noticed a door in the kitchen that had so far escaped the notice of his harassed parent. When he opened it he saw that there were steps leading down to a cellar. He switched on the light that was at the top of the stairs, and went down to explore a bit for himself. The room he came to was empty except for a small chest of drawers. James felt that he wanted to look in those drawers. He was an imaginative child. He was thinking that he might find a book of spells, or some dried frogs and snails there. His childish brain had convinced him that the rotten granny had been a witch. The proof was probably in that chest of drawers.
But there were no dried out amphibians or molluscs to be found. When he opened the drawer all he found was an old newspaper, so old that it was brown round the edges. There was also a small picture frame with a faded photograph in it. This was lying underneath the paper. When James looked at the picture, he got such a shock, that he let it fall back into the drawer. He was looking at a picture of himself. He knew that it couldn’t really be him that was smiling out from the cheap frame. But the resemblance was absolute. It was definitely a photograph of a boy that could be his double. The old fashioned clothes were the only real difference. The child in the picture was also around nine years old.
James just sat down on the floor for about two minutes. His mind was racing, and his heart was beating from the effects of the shock he had just had. After a while he decided to take a look at the newspaper as well. James was a clever child at school, and he had learned his reading lessons very well. Finding out what the newspaper said, would not be a problem for him.
He continued sitting on the floor of the cellar as he unfolded the fading sheets of newsprint. The banner at the top of the paper said “Salford News”. James did not know where Salford was. The date said 19/12/1947. He did know that that was a long time ago. There were some ads for Christmas type things on the first page, and a photo of a fat man surrounded by loads of laughing kids. This accompanied a report of “The Mayor of Salford holds a children’s Christmas party”. On the second page there was a story that James read slowly and carefully. This was under a heading that said, “Tragic death of young boy”.
This is what James read.
“The people in Salford were shocked this week when a young boy was killed by a car while on a Christmas shopping expedition with his mother in the centre of Manchester. Witnesses said that the boy ran across the road after an argument with his mother over a visit to Santa Claus. Sergeant John Price of Manchester Police said “”That it was just a tragic result of a child reacting badly to a rebuke from an over stressed parent””. The boy was named as James Reynolds of 10 Jubilee Crescent Salford. His father had been killed in operation in Normandy in 1944”.
The photograph that was with the newspaper report was of the same boy that was in the picture frame.
Our James seemed to grow up suddenly, that night before Christmas, when he found the contents of the chest of drawers in his “granny’s” basement. Everything made a lot more sense then. The rotten granny didn’t hate him after all. She just couldn’t bear to see him, as he reminded her too much of the son that she had lost herself. In his nine year old mind, he was trying to make sense of the realisation that the guilt that she felt over the way her little boy had died made it impossible to stop mourning. The sadness must have haunted her for the rest of her life. In the empty cellar of that house in London boyish tears fell on the pages of the faded newspaper. Some of them were for the boy that must have missed so many Christmases. The rest were for the mother that could never be comforted for her loss.
At the funeral James heard a little bit more of the story. He overheard his mother telling a neighbour that the old lady had married her grandfather in 1949, when she was thirty three. All they knew about her was that she had come to London from Salford in Manchester. She had never told any of the family about her life before coming to London.
As I said, James did get suddenly more mature that Christmas. But he didn’t lose all of his boyish guile. It was another two years before he finally admitted that he no longer believed in Santa.
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