Wee Helen looked at her great gran with a mixture of love, curiosity and uncertainty.
They were separated by 86 years, 3 generations and a gulf in their respective life experience and yet they were similar. They shared more than just a name. Characteristics hadtranscended the years, the blood line undeniable. Both were feisty , determined and independent. They were nobody’s fools.
“Would you like a drink of Iron Bru hen? My Gordon left it for me.”Helen was unsure. She wanted the sweet drink but couldn’t see any apart from Ella’s glass on her “barra.” Never one to miss an opportunity wee Helen quickly took a gulp from her great grandmother’s glass before her dad could intervene. It was a sweet moment.
Looking at her great, grand-daughter, Ella’s eyes lit up with a lifetime of memories. Thoughts of her own wee Helen were there, happy but painful, a loss never to get over. The similarities and memories of bygone days. Her 92 years had not provided any answers to the unfairness of life but had merely instilled her with the determination to keep on going, to try to make the best of the hand she was dealt. In the absence of answers this was good enough. It was the best we can do here on earth and Ella was an inspiration to all around her. Little did I know that this would be the last time I would see this wonderful old lady.
Ironically I first met Ella in the hospital that she was to pass away n more than a decade later.
I was the new boyfriend of one of her precious grand daughters. She was having some treatment for a “ minor” ailment that would not lay this stoic 80 year old low for long. Over the years I have known her it seemed like nothing could!
Jen’s mum looked a bit edgy as we made our way into the ward. Jen and I were floating on a cloud of new found love. Ella’s first words to me will always stay with me. “Hello son and I hear you are a Catholic!” Helen (Jen’s mum) was a bit embarrassed but Jen and I were laughing our heads off.
Ella displayed many virtues towards me in the time I was privileged enough to know her. Kindness, warmth and appreciation of anything you helped her with were her most prominent characteristics but my favourite was her ability to say it as she saw it. Her straightforward manner and honesty were so refreshing and coupled with her personality meant she would rarely cause offence to anyone.
A few years after this initial introduction Jen and I had the difficult experience of having a miscarriage and had taken a wee trip down to West Kilbride to see Gran. It was a sunny day and we all took a walk up the Main Street. Jen had saw a nice picture and Gran wanted to get it for her to help lift her spirits and so we all went into one of the wee arty shops. There was an artist there who carved furniture from drift wood and Gran cast her eye over a bench made by the artist. She had a wee look at the ticket and discovered the price was £2000! Never one to hold back she said what we were all thinking. “Yer awfy dear son!” He was not best pleased as we struggled to suppress our giggles. As I said Ella rarely caused offence!!
Ella’s kindness towards us was always there. Every trip to visit her resulted in her determinedly but discreetly slipping us a “penny” to cover our boat fare! Over the years she helped us in many ways as we were setting up home and having our kids. Always discreetly.
On the birth of our first son we made a trip to West Kilbride to let Gran and Papa see their latest grandchild. I can clearly remember the happiness it brought her. I also remember how impressed she was that I would change my new son’s nappy! “Look Bill that boy is doing the wean’s nappy!” she exclaimed as Jen raised her eye brows at the praise that was being heaped on me. Happy days indeed. Interactions with Ella seemed to somehow always leave me with vivid memories.
Ella was made of stern stuff all right and in the relatively short time that I knew her she had to ride out some difficult times.When her beloved husband Bill passed away she bore the loss with strength and courage that was an example to all around her. At the graveside on a bright day I remember her letting out a small sob as her husband was lowered into the lair. She promptly apologised to the gathering telling us all “ it was just a wee burst of emotion.”
A few short years later when her daughter succumbed to cancer it hit her very hard indeed. She could never quite get over the sheer injustice of it. None of us good but for Ella this reversal of the natural order of things was so very hard. She never came fully to terms with it, always insisting that it should have been her as she had enjoyed a good life. Hard as it was however she carried on showing the spirit of the Land Army girl she had once been. I’ve often thought she might have been wasted there working the land and had she and others like her, been on the front line the war would have been settled much earlier!
After the loss of her only daughter she bravely carried on. As she became frailer she always seemed to make light of it. She delighted in her grandchildren and family and was always supportive of others’ challenges. “How’s Andy? He’s a lot of work for you son. You do a good job,” she would always tell me and she meant it too! She always displayed genuine interest and concern for us no matter how much her own health was failing.
Her 90th birthday was a lovely day both for her and the extended family. The occasion was marked with a wonderful meal at the Seamill Hydro surrounded by all her loving family and friends. Memories of that happy day are perhaps a fitting way to remember her.
I am proud to have known her and prouder still that my children had her as a truly Great Gran.
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