The house at 10 Redpath Street was nothing out of the ordinary. It was typical as far as old timber Queensland houses go, suspended high on timber stumps with a verandah that swept across the front and down one side. It was not magnificently large, nor was it perfectly positioned. The football field across the street set the scene for very noisy Sunday afternoon visits and often the footy fans who parked across the driveway roused Dad’s temper because they blocked our exit. Even the garden, which was kept neat and weed-free could not be described as beautiful.
Despite its inability to stand out on the architectural landscape, that old house holds a special place in my heart. It was Grandma’s house. It was the keeper of my childhood memories; the place where my entire set of “Grandma Memories” were played out.
Grandma was my great Grandmother and I was only acquainted with her for the first eight years of my life. The only words that I imagine I said to her would have been “hello”, “thank you”, “please” and goodbye”. Age earned her respect. Manners were mandatory. This was the sixties, children were expected to be seen and not heard.
The scenes of my memories take place on Sunday afternoons when my family visited for tea. The scenario never changed from one Sunday to the next. We always found Grandma in her bedroom during the hottest hours of the afternoon.
“Hello Grandma,” Mum softly announces our arrival as she enters Grandma’s bedroom. My sisters, my Dad and I follow.
Grandma looks up from her book, her blue eyes widen from surprise as they peer through rimless spectacles.
“Hello….I wasn’t expecting you so soon,” she gives us one of her faint half smiles.
“How’s Grandma?” Dad asks.
“One can’t complain,” Grandma replies as she pulls herself up against her cosy nest of pillows. She places her well-read book face down onto the blue vintage quilt and proceeds to push a few stray strands of white hair back off her face. The expanse of blue quilt seems to dwarf Grandma’s already diminutive frame.
“I’ll boil the kettle, shall I?” says Grandma. Her words are more a statement than a question.
The soothing aroma of hot tea and freshly baked scones warmly invite us to take our seats around Grandma’s oval table. The silent sound of anticipation clings to the steam that rises from the teapot as all eyes focus on Grandma. From the moment she takes charge of the pot, all the frailties of her 90 years evaporate, giving way to a demeanour of quiet self-assurance. She becomes that young school teacher she once was. She is in command of her class. We are her students.
As she churns the thick black brew with a silver spoon, I count to myself. First clockwise…one…two…and three. Her hand pauses, before it slowly urges the spoon in the opposite direction… one…two…three. She pauses again, then replaces the lid on the pot, lets it sit for another few moments before she pours the steaming black liquid into delicate china cups. Once she has handed out the cups of tea, she leans against the backrest of her chair lifting her cup to her thin pursed lips. With each sip, she seems to inhale the steam rising from the cup, savouring the moment, allowing that young school teacher to return to the past.
Whilst the adults sip their tea and slip into conversation, my sisters and I sink into our chairs silently stuffing our mouths with plump pumpkin scones smothered in butter and jam. I cannot concentrate on the adult conversation for long as there is too much to see and too little time. I love visiting Grandma’s old house, it is full of wonderful treasures. Everything is so old. Even the teacups seem to be as old as Grandma with their fine network of cracks and lines…just like her face!
These afternoon tea scenes at Grandma’s house play over and over in my mind. The details rarely vary. I cannot recall any conversations. Time has silenced Grandma’s Irish Brogue. My memories are like silent movies, the star of which I realize I know very little about. I wish I had been a precocious child who incessantly asked questions. If only I could revisit those years and quiz Grandma about her life; about her childhood, her life on the farm, her husband and about my Grandfather’s childhood escapades. It never occurs to a child that the words “The End” will one day appear on that big silver screen in the sky. It never occurred to me that Grandma would one day leave our lives forever. Hindsight leaves us with many “if onlys”. Sadly, when I visited Grandma all those years ago, there were no questions burning holes in my young mind.
I am forever grateful for my own set of memories from those Sunday visits. Although faded with time, they are precious. They are all I have to hold onto with any degree of certainty. Now, fifty years on, I am left with the question, “Who was Harriet Lyons?” During her long life, she was characterized by the titles of “Daughter”, “Sister”, “Aunt”, “Wife”, “Mother”, “Grandmother” and “Great Grandmother”. Who was the woman behind those titles? Born in 1875, she witnessed great changes as the world transitioned from the 19th to the 20th century. Her life would have also been tempered by two world wars and the great depression. Perhaps I might find clues lurking in the dark regions of those old cupboards that silently sat in her home. Year after year, they witnessed her life unfold. Perhaps, even you, my readers, knew Grandma better than I did, and have your own stories to be told?