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Life Chez Dee Episode #11 : My little girl memories

Updated: Jan 24, 2021

So I watched the most beautiful video this morning. A friend of mine, taking her phone camera and walking round the garden of her parents’ house, listening to the birdsong, prompting memories of childhood. It immediately took me back in time to my childhood and all the happy days I spent in the garden at my grandma and grandad’s house. I shut my eyes and walked around the garden, and parts of the house too, and I looked at everything as I would if I were walking round with a phone camera today. It has brought back so many beautiful and vivid memories. They’re always there; always popping up; but somehow, I felt transported back and it’s been rather emotional, but so, so beautiful.

I set off from the kitchen. Really narrow, really small kitchen, prep surface on my left, cooker by the window, my grandma’s really tiny mirror hanging on the very narrow wall next to it. She looked in it every time she got herself ready to go out. Not even being able to see her whole face, she managed to put her rouge on her cheeks, and took off her overall (which was always worn around the house so as to protect her clothes) before she ever ventured outside on her errands. The sink was on the right with the pantry just outside the kitchen before you go into the hallway. The pantry with the stone slab … I can still smell it. Tins on the shelf, veg in string bags. The bag which was stuffed full of paper bags, neatly folded and ready to be used again. And above the door, the cupboard where everything was kept, all her tins, jars, serving dishes … the ones not used every day, all stored in the gloryhole, ready to come out as and when. As I walk past the prep surface there’s a jug of lemonade … homemade, covered with a lovely cream crocheted cloth with the beads dangling round the edge, to cover it from flies. I remember standing here with my grandad, chopping the carrots, prepping the dinner, using the knife with the brown wooden handle, which I still have today, which my children still use today and call nana’s knife. I walk down the two steps into the outhouse. The steps where my grandma always put the tray of treacle toffee to cool when she’d made it for bonfire night, the black tin which had patterns, very feint now, hidden and buried from the years of use, but which you could just about make out, and which transferred their pattern onto the set toffee. I sat on many occasions on these stone cold steps with my little squares of waxed paper which we’d cut up from bread packets, and which we wrapped each piece of toffee, twisting the edges to seal them in. The steps where I sat when topping and tailing the blackcurrants, and the gooseberries which were grown in my grandad’s garden. The steps where I sat with a colander shelling the peas which again my grandad grew in his garden, sneaking the odd one or two into my mouth, savouring the sweetness of them.

I walk through the outhouse and I see the little pram which I used to push when I was a little girl. I don’t know if there was ever a doll in the pram, there may have been, I don’t remember, but I do remember pushing the pram, and I do remember pushing the dog, which had wheels and a handle – which leaned to one side … I never remember it not leaning.

I walk out of the door into the back garden and down the diagonal path to the apple tree. The diagonal path, black and flecked with white, which followed the same angle of the washing line. Which hung over the triangular patch of grass at the side. Looking back I can see the tiny kitchen window, with the circular fan set into it. I can smell the passageway right underneath that window which housed the outside tap and the hosepipe.

I look at the apple tree. I remember the hours and hours I climbed and sat in that apple tree. I follow the path down the garden, which seemed to go on and on, wallflowers, and loads of flowers growing alongside, the washing line above seeming like it went on and on forever. My grandad’s shed at the end. Again I can smell it. There is no smell like it. The old garden tools, theres a garden, tool, rust, old smell to it. The greenhouse is set perpendicular to the shed, tomatoes and cucumbers growing inside, and beyond this, the two large low set wooden compost heaps.

I turn round to look at the house in the distance. I have nothing but love for this house, this garden, the times I spent here. I walk up and down the rows of fruit bushes, vegetable patches, all separated by grassy paths. Fruit bushes at the end near the compost heaps – gooseberries, blackcurrants – strawberries in the next patch along – all covered in netting to stop the birds from stealing them. The next two beds I can’t quite remember what was in each, but I know that in these two they had so, so much growing in them. Onions, beetroot, carrots, cabbages, peas, potatoes, broad beans and probably so much more than I can remember. I walk to the end looking at the vast hawthorn hedge which went all the way down, separating the garden from next door. Beyond all these allotment patches my sandpit sits in the corner. Brick based, brick edged with a wooden lid. I created some marvellous sculptures here. It was always damp sand being shaded by that big hawthorn hedge, being built with bricks, always having woodlice scuttling around.

My swing was in this corner too. Just a metal swing, but I went so high on that swing, making the frame leave the floor as I swung so high, and then leaped off, landing almost at the other apple tree. The Bramley. Such a big tree that we had to pick the many apples whilst standing on steps. The old sturdy wooden steps which had splashes of paint on them. I remember picking and passing the apples to my grandma, and we’d cook so many of them to make pies, and crumbles, and to have just stewed apple and custard on so many occasions. The rest we wrapped in newspaper and stored in trays in my grandad’s garage.

There was another huge bed of roses ….. dozens of roses, beautifully fragrant. I pinched so many of the petals off these roses to make bottles of perfume for my grandma, and my great grandma to wear. The lawn above the roses, adjacent to the diagonal path and the washing line, and just before the outhouse was used for everything, from running through the water when messing about with the hose, filling up buckets, playing in the paddling pool; and from getting a huge skipping rope for grown ups to hold so I could run in and out of it. This is where all my elderly relatives sat on a summer’s day on the sun loungers. Running in and out of the house – through the plastic curtain of long tapes to keep the flies out – bringing cups of tea outside, or glasses of dandelion and burdock, or Shandy Bass.

Looking out of the door of the outhouse, the rose bed to my right I could see the hedges which lined the garden, the privets, the hawthorn, the lovely lilac tree. The lovely smell of the catmint growing underneath, which to this day I always think of when I see that plant. The bird feeders hanging from the trees above, always having bacon rind tied there … always given to treat the birds, never thrown away.

This garden led onto another garden which ran alongside the house. I look up at the second sitting room or the dining room as it was used for. The room where I learned to knit with my grandma, where I sat chatting with my grandad whilst he was in his armchair, his chest wheezing, sounding like a harmonica, telling me tales, stories, teaching me to tie knots. The side door to the garage was accessed from this side lawn. A garage which housed my grandad’s car. The lovely white Saab which was his pride and joy. The smell of clean, but distinctive garage smell and oil … so distinctive that when I think about entering here I can still smell it.

The edge of the garden next to the path which ran alongside the house lined with pinks, again beautifully fragrant, leading to the rockery at the end of the side lawn. So many beautiful flowers in here, but only two stick in my mind, the London Pride, and the white rock. The privet hedge towering above with the pavement of the avenue beyond.

From here I can see the front window of the front lounge. The garden under this window was paved, with standard roses rising out of a few beds, yet still not quite as tall as the privet hedge which grew, offering privacy to the house so as not to be seen from the street. Not that it needed the privacy, as it was at the end of the avenue, and nobody really walked past, unless they lived there, or they were going to the farm which was down the lane at the back of the house, where many horses were kept, and where I remember walking to take the windfall apples, and packets of polos to give to the horses.

I turn and look at the house. I look around and remember EVERYTHING. The telephone table in the front hallway; the pattern of the carpet, the cupboard under the stairs with the ewbank in … always brought out to sweep the crumbs from under the table, rarely did I see the hoover used. I go up the stairs, a long flight with a turn to the short flight to the landing. My grandma’s bedroom straight ahead with her teas maid by her bed. We’d sit together chatting, drinking tea in bed in the morning, playing eye spy. Her dressing table to the left. A rather large, solid dark wood dressing table, with a glass tray on top to protect the wood … bottles of eau de cologne, and a black bottle of Coty L'aimant standing there. The drawers were full of her beads. I spent hours playing with my grandma’s beads, and silk scarves.

The bathroom, with the huge bath, which looked even bigger to a child. The egg and lemon shampoo on the side there – I know of no one else who ever used this shampoo. The huge old large sink with lux soap hanging there above from the magnet which was impregnated into it. I look out of the bathroom window onto the huge garden, the roses, the apple trees. I look and I think and I am calm, at ease, smiling. There is love. There is so much love which has been in this house, that has been put into this garden, that has been shared in this garden by the people who used it, sat in it, worked in it, played in it.

I am so thankful to have all these lovely memories – so much love in those memories that they have stayed vivid to this day, and will no doubt stay with me forever. For that, and for all the love I had from my grandma and grandad I am a very lucky girl.

by Elizabeth Dee

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