My first meeting with Granny Kelly
“She just lives up here,” said Paddy as he led me up Montague Hill, “Number5 Duke Street.” I didn’t know what to expect, although I was expecting an inquisition. The front door was ajar when we arrived at 5 Duke Street and Paddy marched into the hallway. I stood back and hesitated, waiting behind him. “Come on,” he waved me on, and I detected just a touch of annoyance in his voice. The door to Granny’s front room was also open, and this time, Paddy hesitated. He knocked gently on the door and waited.
“Alright Gran?” He enquired, but there was no reply. He shrugged his shoulders, made a face, and then peeped around the door. “It’s only our Mike, Gran. I’ve brought him down to see you.” Still there was no reply and Paddy turned to face me. “She’s praying. If I was you, I’d Just go on in and wait on the sofa.” He placed a reassuring hand on my shoulder. “You’ll be alright,” he said reassuringly “I’ll see you later,” and then he was gone.
I tiptoed into the room. My Granny was sitting in a rocking chair, gently swaying back and forth. She was holding a rosary in her hands, and she was praying silently as she rocked. Her eyes were closed and her gnarled old fingers were racing around the beads as she silently whispered her prayers to Jesus. I stood and studied her. My Granny wasn’t a witch after all. In fact, she was very much a proper granny. She had soft, shining, snow white hair, which was swept back and styled into a bun. The bun was then secured by a large and ornate mother of pearl hair comb. She was dressed entirely in black, apart from a white lace shawl which was draped across her shoulders.
I stood still and silent, not quite sure what to do next, but I felt Granny was aware of my presence and after a minute or so, she stopped praying. She didn’t open her eyes, but she pointed towards the tiny sofa. “Sit yourself down, Michael, and I’ll be with you shortly. I just have one more decade of the rosary to complete.”
I sat on the sofa and studied Granny and her room. It was a tiny room and sparsely furnished. There was just the rocking chair in the centre of the room, the sofa in the bay window recess, and a small dining table. There was an odd musty smell about the place, which was almost, but not quite, masked by the smell of the two scented candles which were burning in front of a small statue of the Virgin Mary in the far corner of the room. The walls were full of pictures of Jesus and his crucifixion, and of his sacred heart. There was just a solitary photograph of a non-religious nature. It depicted a young man wearing a multi coloured shirt, a riding cap and breeches. He was carrying a whip and was sitting astride a huge chestnut horse.
I was watching Granny’s lips as she rattled through the final sequence of the decade. She prayed aloud for the finale. “Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.
She slowly made the sign of the cross, opened her eyes and studied me.
“Come here, Michael,” She said eventually and motioned me to join her. She placed her hands on my head, and then gently ran her fingers over my face She stroked my forehead, my cheeks, my nose and finally my lips and mouth. I could see tears running down her cheeks. “Oh Joe,” she sobbed, “Oh Joe, Joe; to think I ever doubted he was yours.” She took a handkerchief from her sleeve, wiped her eyes and blew her nose. “I suppose you are hungry.”
I nodded, but she was already out of her chair and heading for the kitchen. I noticed her swollen legs and I wondered how she had managed to pour them into the tiny pair of slippers she was wearing. I stood up, crossed the room and studied the photo of the young man and his horse. The man looked very much like my father. There was some writing on the bottom of the photo. It read ‘ Jonjo O’Kelly, The Curragh, 1875’. I made a note to look up The Curragh in my dictionary when I got home.
“That’s your Grandfather;” I jumped, I hadn’t heard Granny return, “that photo was taken at the Curragh, just before he came over to England. The Curragh is the most famous race course in Ireland.” She handed me a plate containing four sausage sandwiches and a large slice of fruit cake.” I knew right there and then that I was going to love Granny Kelly.
The sausage sandwiches were good, but I wasn’t able to relax. Mum had warned me to expect an inquisition, and I knew I needed to concentrate. I ate in silence and allowed Granny to do the talking. “He was a good man, your Grandfather,” she smiled, “unless he had the drink in him.” She shook her head sadly. “It’s the curse of the male Kelly line. Drink, and that little bit of skin between their legs has been the downfall of each and every one of them. I hope you don’t go the same way, Michael.’
I grunted in reply. I had learnt a long time ago, that when the female inquisition started, a grunt was the safest means of communication. It had to be a very special grunt, one that sounded nothing like either a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’. In the face of constant vague grunting I’d found that the inquisition usually faded away.
I’m not really sure whether Granny was questioning me or not that day back in 1944. She spoke in strange, incomplete sentences and I couldn’t work out exactly what she was after. I happily let her chat away whilst I carried on chewing and grunting, and then it was time to go. She gave me a long, very slobbery kiss, and I could feel her whiskers rubbing against my face, but i didn't mind, because she pressed a three penny piece into my palm as she kissed me goodbye, and everything felt good.
“Make sure you come again, and don’t leave it too long.”
With my belly full of sausage sandwiches and cake, and with the coin burning a hole in my pocket, there was little doubt that I would return. Anyway, apart from the food and the money, she was also my Granny, and I loved her.